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No two words better describe the 45th president than “strikes out.” Clearly, the phrase has two meanings. In baseball, a batter is out after three strikes, either called or swings and misses. The other meaning is lashing out or attacking as a rattlesnake strikes.  

Depending on the audience, Donald Trump does both.  

Last week’s CNN Town Hall was a vivid display of how Trump strikes out. To his supporters, his attacks on E. Jean Carroll, to whom he will owe $5 million, were received amidst applause and laughter. Calling moderator Kaitlan Collins “nasty” was another. Despite her best efforts to corral all 250 pounds of him, Trump was too much of a challenge.

To his detractors (and non-partisans), Trump went down swinging. But he struck out not merely because he has no use for the truth other than twisting it to suit his purposes. It was because of the supreme ignorance Trump displayed toward basic matters of governance that should disqualify him from holding office. 

The law is one. Trump repeatedly asserted that all his presidential papers belonged to him. That is not what the Presidential Records Act says. All papers and materials related to the conduct of his office belong to the United States — full stop. Personal papers are different. But Trump’s “love letter” to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un was not personal.

Second, the president does not have the authority to declassify all material, specifically any related to the Atomic Energy Act. Further, declassification requires a process. Merely waving a hand violates the law.

Regarding NATO, Trump remains woefully ignorant. He did not force NATO members to ante up more money to “repay” the alliance. That is not the way it works. Each member is assigned a certain amount to cover basic expenses. There are no arrears. 

The issue has been, and remains, what percent of GDP nations will spend on defense. The goal has long been set at 2 percent. For decades, U.S. presidents have been pleading with and cajoling NATO members to spend more. Of the 31 members, only one-third have reached that goal.

But for Trump, facts are there to be ignored, twisted and tortured to support him. The U.S. has not provided Ukraine with $170 billion.  The number is less than half that at nearly $80 billion divided between weaponry and financial and humanitarian support.

And while claiming he created the world’s best economy, Trump conveniently ignores another reality. Upon taking office on Jan. 20th, 2017, the U.S. debt was $20 trillion. Four years later, he left the incoming Biden administration with a $28 trillion debt. That, along with COVID-related spending, is what caused the inflation facing the nation.

CNN has been harshly criticized for televising the Trump show in front of a highly partisan audience filled with his supporters and acolytes. And Collins did as well as she could under nearly impossible circumstances. After all, Trump had years of preparation on his “Celebrity Apprentice” shows and he bested the best Republican opposition on the debate stage in 2016.

One wonders what China’s paramount leader, Xi Jinping, or Russian President Vladimir Putin might have thought had each watched the 70-minute show. My guess is that both would hope for a Trump victory. Xi would have concluded that Trump would remain aloof over Taiwan, given how he ducked the Ukraine question. And Putin, who already knew Trump had once supported him over U.S. intelligence on the question of interfering in U.S. elections, likewise would order his minions to get Trump reelected.

Yet, among his base and despite his legal woes, Trump’s approval ratings seem to defy political gravity and grow. Decades from now, political scientists, historians and authors of fiction will be turning out thousands of books on this phenomenon of how Trump was elected at least once as president.

The irony is that striking out is what worked for him. Reality, facts and the law did not matter except how Trump interpreted each. That made little difference to his supporters. And to his critics and opponents, while Trump lost in 2020, that might not happen in 2024.

Bill Clinton was called the Teflon president because nothing stuck to him. Donald Trump is the complete opposite — everything sticks. Hence, the more Trump is attacked and strikes out, the more his popularity grows.

For President Joe Biden, or whoever might replace him if he ends his campaign for reelection, this is an enormous dilemma. How does one deal with this? 

Harlan Ullman, Ph.D., is s senior advisor at Washington, D.C.’s Atlantic Council and the prime author of the “shock and awe” doctrine. His 12th book, The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD:  How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large,” is available on Amazon. He can be reached on Twitter @harlankullman.

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