NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 11: President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a news cenference at Trump Tower on January 11, 2017 in New York City. This is Trump's...
Spencer Platt

Worst. President-Elect. Ever.

Updated
The timing must have been terribly inconvenient for Donald Trump and his team. With just two days remaining before he’s sworn in as the chief executive of the world’s biggest superpower, the president-elect of the United States had to write a check for $25 million to help settle fraud lawsuits stemming from his alleged “Trump University” scam.

Never before in U.S. history has a president-elect had to face accusations of being a con man, making yesterday that much more extraordinary: while President Obama was hosting a press conference, celebrating the values that make America great, his successor was setting aside millions of dollars to pay Americans he’s accused of ripping off.

Ironically, before Trump set aside the $25 million, Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, told reporters that the Trump transition will become “the gold standard going forward.” But like too many things associated with the Republican, it’s far more accurate to say there was a shiny veneer on the surface, covering up a transition that was surprisingly – and unnecessarily – terrible.

Every incoming administration runs into at least some troubles. It’s inevitable: no matter how well prepared an operation is, a transition team is going to be caught off guard by unexpected problems. It’s good practice for work in a White House, where events are inherently unpredictable.

But Trump’s transition, silly “gold standard” boasts notwithstanding, has consistently been breathtakingly awful.

* Scandals and controversies: Just since Election Day, there have been important revelations about Russia’s illegal espionage operation helping put Trump in the White House. These stories have broken alongside controversies surrounding the president-elect’s ethics problems, pay-to-play fundraising, and unresolved conflicts of interest.

* Polls: Trump, who received nearly 3 million fewer votes than his principal rival, was already on track to be the least popular incoming president since the dawn of modern polling. But in a striking twist, Trump has actually managed to lose public support as his inauguration has drawn closer, which is unheard of. The more Americans saw of their president-elect, they more his standing diminished.

* Cabinet: A few too many of Trump’s cabinet selections were exposed as wildly unqualified and unprepared for their posts, and many sought to gain Senate support by talking about how little they agree with the president-elect’s views. Several nominees have also been caught up in controversies of their own, which caught Trump’s team off-guard because they didn’t take pre-nomination vetting seriously.

* Staff: Not only was there a staff upheaval in Trump World in November, the Trump administration will begin tomorrow woefully shorthanded because the transition team hasn’t found nearly enough people to fill a variety of key posts throughout the executive branch.

* Feuds: Since winning the election he was expected to lose, Trump has launched feuds with, among others, the U.S. intelligence community, China, “Saturday Night Live,” Angela Merkel, John Lewis, John Kasich, Meryl Streep, and the cast of “Hamilton.” These are not the usual antics of someone preparing to become the leader of the free world.

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote the other day on Trump’s bizarre post-election attitudes:
The losers often have hard feelings after elections. But this much enmity from the winner is extraordinary. Trump, after his election-night promise to “bind the wounds of division” and be a “president for all Americans,” never attempted reconciliation. A day later, he falsely condemned “professional protesters, incited by the media,” and at year end he taunted opponents via Twitter: “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”
It didn’t have to be this way. Many assumed that once the campaign was officially over, Candidate Trump would understand the importance of transitioning into President Trump. The weight of history, the scale of his duties, and the burdens of his responsibilities would inevitably help mature and ground the man. For all of our benefit and his own, Trump would have no choice but to drop the clownish character he plays for the cameras and become the grown-up we need in the Oval Office.

But as it happens, Trump did have a choice, and as he prepares to lead the free world, he decided not to change a thing.

Between Election Day and today, Trump could’ve created a bipartisan cabinet. He could’ve resisted the urge to host a series of self-indulgent rallies in red states in celebration of himself. He could’ve launched some kind of listening tour. He could’ve brought himself up to speed on key areas of public policy and affairs of state. He could’ve committed himself to acting in a dignified and presidential manner.

He could’ve done a lot of things, other than what he actually did.

I can’t say what kind of president Donald J. Trump will be, but it’s tough to deny he was a cringe-worthy president-elect.