Magic Ponies: Trump, like Obama, appealed primarily to emotion, which is a troubling political trend

Magic Ponies: Trump, like Obama, appealed primarily to emotion, which is a troubling political trend. By Peggy Noonan.

The poll left me thinking of what a high-ranking Republican who himself was once considered a possible president said last week in conversation in Washington. He knows the president and the White House, and he certainly knows politics. He speculated aloud on a hunch he’s had that Mr. Trump might not run for re-election. Think of it, he said. Unrelenting bad news is likely coming — final findings from Mr. Mueller, a new and hungry Democratic House, more investigations, little bipartisanship, economic uncertainty. It’s not going to be fun; the outlook for re-election will dim.

So, the politician said, imagine this: The president wakes up one morning and announces that, actually and amazingly, he’s accomplished everything he set out to do when he ran in 2016 — cut taxes, appointed judges, faced off with China, made better trade deals, controlled immigration, improved the outlook for financial markets. “I accomplished in four years what other guys couldn’t do in eight!” the president says: “My work is done!”

And he’s gone. The politician thought this just might happen.

Since we’ve already begun to look toward 2020, a thought on what we’ve been doing the past few cycles.

Here is my concern: Politics is part theater, part showbiz, it’s always been emotional, but we’ve gotten too emotional, both parties. It’s too much about feelings and how moved you are. The balance is off. We have been electing magic ponies in our presidential contests, and we have done this while slighting qualities like experience, hard and concrete political accomplishment, even personal maturity.

Barack Obama, whatever else he was, was a magic pony. Donald Trump too. Beto O’Rourke, who is so electrifying Democrats, also appears to be a magic pony.

Messrs. Obama and Trump represented a mood. They didn’t ask for or elicit rigorous judgment, they excited voters. Mr. Trump’s election was driven by a feeling of indignation and pushback: You elites treat me like a nobody in my own country, I’m about to show you who’s boss. His supporters didn’t consider it disqualifying that he’d never held office. They saw it as proof he wasn’t in the club and could turn things around. His ignorance was taken as authenticity. In this he was like Sarah Palin, another magic pony.