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Gail Collins: Way too many Trumps

Out of nowhere, WELT (Weirdly Liberal Trump) broke out, talking about a hike in the gas tax. He was soon replaced by NUT (Nearly Unhinged Trump) talking about how Andrew Jackson could have stopped the Civil War.
Out of nowhere, WELT (Weirdly Liberal Trump) broke out, talking about a hike in the gas tax. He was soon replaced by NUT (Nearly Unhinged Trump) talking about how Andrew Jackson could have stopped the Civil War.
Published May 4, 2017

Oh gosh, we've got another Trump.

This has been very difficult, people. Every day concerned citizens put together their critique of the president's policies, and before nighttime he's a completely different dude.

You remember the Somewhat Normal Republican Trump, who answers to both SNORE and SNORT, depending on his energy level at the moment. He mainly likes to repeal federal regulations — free mentally ill people to buy guns; don't let a little clean water stand between coal owners and their yen to dump trash. Last week SNORT issued a tax reform plan that was classic GOP in its extreme vagueness on how to pay for its multitude of cuts. ("Eliminate tax breaks for special interests.")

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, came Weirdly Liberal Trump (WELT). He mused about breaking up the big banks; special aide Ivanka plugged helping Syrian refugees. Liberal Trump even expressed interest in a gas tax hike to pay for infrastructure repairs.

"It's something that I would certainly consider," he told Bloomberg News. The idea of a Republican administration, bound at the hip to the energy industry, championing a gas tax hike is a little stunning. It would, of course, pay for a ton of construction jobs, repair crumbling roads and bridges and be great for the environment. But I guarantee you Mike Pence would never bring it up.

Perhaps we should rethink all that impeachment talk.

Lately Congress has been in an uproar over health care, and House Speaker Paul (My Life Is Ruined) Ryan has been going crazy trying to placate both sides on the matter of insurance coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions. WELT wants to be the progressive hero. "Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said, 'Has to be,' " Trump told CBS's John Dickerson.

That was shortly before Trump went off the handle when Dickerson asked about his claims of being wiretapped by Barack Obama. "I don't stand by anything," Trump said, unnecessarily, before he tossed Dickerson out of the Oval Office for pressing him on the matter.

Viewers got to witness a transformation from the new liberal presidential version to the very familiar Nearly Unhinged Trump (NUT). It's generally pretty easy to tell which president is talking. NUT was the one who thought Andrew Jackson could have stopped the Civil War. So, for sure, was the Trump who expressed astonishment that being president was harder work than his previous jobs. ("I thought it would be easier.")

NUT tends to reside in the world of Twitter. And sometimes he fights with his other versions. Weirdly Liberal Trump was very happy when Congress came up with a spending deal that guarantees the government will continue operating through the summer. ("This is what winning looks like!") Nearly Unhinged hated hated hated it. "Our country needs a good 'shutdown' in September to fix mess!" twittered NUT.

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The quick shift between Trumps is always a challenge to the minions in charge of interpreting him to the world. Budget director Mick Mulvaney, who is getting to be one of our very favorite explainers, said that the president was calling for a shutdown because he became "frustrated" when Democrats expressed pleasure at the resolution of the spending standoff. ("They went out to try and spike the football and make him look bad.") In reality, Mulvaney insisted, the Democrats were hoping for a collapse in negotiations because they wanted "to make this president look like he did not know what he was doing."

And the whole world mused: not a hard lift.

Neither the liberal nor the normal-Republican Trump is very good at interesting new ideas that might actually, in the real world, happen. Unhinged Trump is obviously the attention-getter, and a lot of the excitement comes from the fact that his proposals are often exactly the opposite of whatever he was championing last week.

He's also unfettered by the restrictions in imagination that would come from previous knowledge of how government operates. It appears, for instance, that NUT was surprised by the discovery that it took 60 votes to pass most legislation in the Senate. This came out in a tweet expressing shock, shock, shock that 41 senators could force the majority into compromise. "Either elect more Republican senators in 2018 or change the rule now to 51 percent," he recommended.

Senate Republicans dismissed the idea instantly. "We are not going to do that," said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Most of them had spent much of the Obama administration happily thwarting a Democratic president's agenda with that very rule. Perhaps some of them were already anticipating that by 2021, it would come in handy again.

© 2017 New York Times