June 14, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Trump’s habitual incoherence caught top CEOs by surprise

How is that possible?

Courtesy of MSNBC, via screenshot.
Courtesy of MSNBC, via screenshot.

Share this article

Sometimes I wonder if all the attention Donald Trump gets is going to backfire on him. I suppose “wonder” might be another word for “hope,” but I don’t hope (or wonder) without a good reason. There are just so many people, even very powerful people, who are not paying attention to this election. Why? Perhaps because Trump dominates the news of it.

For example, I was watching this clip this morning. In it, CNBC host Andrew Ross Sorkin reported what he heard from some of America’s top CEOs yesterday after their meeting with Trump in Washington.  

Many of them, Sorkin said, had been “predisposed to former President Trump” but walked away from the meeting “a bit disheartened, a bit questioning … I don’t want to say of his mental fitness, but questioning of just how meandering, how, in some cases, one said to me, ‘he could not keep a thought straight. He would go in one direction, then he would go in another direction, and there wasn’t necessarily a through-line to the way he spoke or what he was talking about.’”

He discussed his plans to bring the corporate tax rate down from 21 percent to 20 percent, and … was asked why he had chosen 20 percent, and he said, “well, it’s a round number.” I think that itself had a number of CEOs shaking their heads … I think there was a concern about whether we were going to see a similar movie to the last presidency where there were so many different issues that came up and made their jobs not easier but ultimately harder (my italics).

In other words, they appeared to have been surprised by what I have been calling Trump’s habitual incoherence, which is to say, incoherence that’s become so habitual that it characterizes virtually everything he says in every public setting, even sober settings, such as his criminal trial in Manhattan or, in this case, a meeting with America’s top CEOs. 

The question is, or should be: how could these top CEOs have been so surprised? I don’t expect very obscenely rich men like them to read the Editorial Board, but I do expect them to be thoroughly informed about politics, given that politics is central to their very obscene riches. 

The question is, or should be: how could these top CEOs have been so surprised? I don’t expect very obscenely rich men like them to read the Editorial Board, but I do expect them to be thoroughly informed about politics, given that politics is central to their very obscene riches. 

At the very least, I expect them to be attentive to the goings-on inside the GOP, including that time when Trump’s closest rival for the GOP nomination, Nikki Haley, drew attention to his habitual incoherence.

“Trump is at a rally,” she said in late January. “And he’s going on and on, mentioning me multiple times, as to why I didn’t handle January 6 better. I wasn’t in office then. They’re saying he got confused. That he was talking about something else. That he was talking about Nancy Pelosi. He mentioned me multiples times in that scenario.” She added:

“The concern I have is – I’m not saying anything derogatory, but when you’re dealing with the pressures of a presidency, we can’t have someone else that we question whether they’re mentally fit to do it.”

It’s reasonable to assume that powerful people who are inclined to support a Republican nominee, such as America’s top CEOs, would have known about Haley being the highest-profile Republican to call Trump’s mental fitness into question. Indeed, she continued to draw primary voters away from him long after dropping out, perhaps in part because she did what no other Republican had done up to that point.

How could they have been surprised?

One explanation is they aren’t paying attention to him as much as they are to his policies, or policies they associate with the Republicans, no matter who their nominee is. If they paid attention to the man as much as to corporate tax cuts, they might have been familiar with Trump’s habitual incoherence. They didn’t, so they were surprised. 

Another explanation is they don’t see Trump’s habitual incoherence on account of it being omitted from, or minimized by, whatever news media they consume. In this, America’s top CEOs are in good company. 

The rightwing media apparatus, including Fox, prevents audiences from seeing Trump’s frailties while maximizing Joe Biden’s. The Washington press corps doesn’t follow suit, strictly speaking, but it does echo its choices. So it may not be that surprising that top CEOs, like millions of others who consume the press corps’ offerings, did not appear to know about Trump’s habitual incoherence until it was in front of them. 

Yet another explanation is the most general, but, I think, the most worthy of debate, which is that Trump so dominates the news that people, even very powerful people, like America’s top CEOs, aren’t really paying attention. They already know what they need to know. One more story about Trump, and the stories are usually about Trump, is not going to add to, or take away from, what they already know. 

Click here to leave a tip. 10? Thanks!

Think about it. 

Trump has been running the same campaign nonstop for nearly a decade. (He campaigned even while in the White House.) America’s appetite for outrageous Trump-related news could be close to exhaustion. Lots of people, even very powerful people, seem to have tuned out all news about politics. That includes all news about Trump.

They probably won’t pay attention until they have to, by which point, they are going to be surprised to discover something, like Trump’s habitual incoherence, that they wouldn’t have been surprised to discover had politics not been all Trump all the time for nearly a decade.

I said I sometimes wonder if all the attention Trump gets is going to backfire on him, but it could backfire on the country – if people who have not been paying attention, including very powerful people, begin paying attention too late to make a difference. If they don’t start soon, his habitual incoherence might not be his alone. It could be ours, too.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

Leave a Comment

Want to comment on this post?
Click here to upgrade to a premium membership.