Offered 'a retake,' Trump still can't describe a second-term agenda

It's the most obvious question of any campaign: what will you do if you win? Offered multiple opportunities, Trump still can't answer it.
Image: President Trump departs for a trip to Arizona at the White House in Washington
U.S. President Donald Trump walks to the Marine One helicopter with the Washington Monument in the background, while heading out on a day trip to Arizona and a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, departing from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 23, 2020.Tom Brenner / Reuters

Last week, Fox News' Sean Hannity asked Donald Trump a question that seemed like an easy one: "What are your top priority items for a second term?" Given the fact that the president is heavily focused on his campaign, and Election Day 2020 is just four months away, it seemed like the sort of question for which the Republican would have a prepared answer.

Except, he didn't. Trump rambled for 161 words, insisted that the word "experience" is "a very important word," marveled at the fact that he hadn't spent the night in D.C. before getting elected, and called former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton "an idiot." What the president did not do, however, was give any indication what he'd do with another four years in power.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) soon after scolded Hannity, arguing that the Fox News host has a responsibility to help Trump win, and asking questions such as "What are your top priority items for a second term?" aren't helpful.

That was last week. This week, Trump spoke with Sinclair Media's Eric Bolling, a former Fox News host, who returned to the same subject, effectively inviting the president to do a second take. "Sean Hannity asked you about your second term and the left was upset with it," Bolling said. "They said, 'He wasn't sure what his second term's all about. Let's do it. Let's do a retake on that. What is Donald Trump's second term? What's the main focus for that?"

The president replied:

"Well, I didn't hear anybody who was upset with it, but I will tell you, it's very simple: we're going to make America great again. We are doing things that nobody could have done."

Trump proceeded to ramble through a 380-word answer -- nearly double his failed response to Hannity last week -- that made clear that the Republican simply doesn't know how to answer the most obvious question of any campaign: what will you do if you win?

Trump tried to focus on what he perceives as his accomplishments -- he took credit for "rebuilding the military," which he did not do, before boasting about a veterans program that Barack Obama created in 2014 -- but struggled mightily to point to any meaningful plans for the next four years.

At certain points in his response, the president seemed to believe that pointing to a second-term goal would be acknowledging a first-term failure. As part of his meandering answer, for example, Trump said, "We've got to bring back our manufacturing, and I brought it back very big." In other words, one of his priorities for a second term is something he feels he's already accomplished.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, part of this is predictable. Trump delivered a campaign re-launch speech in Tulsa recently, and he neglected to say what he intended to do if rewarded with a second term.

What's more, the president's campaign website does not feature an issues page listing any plans or blueprints for the future. Even the Republican Party's 2020 platform is just the 2016 platform recycled.

But after the fiasco with Hannity, I more or less assumed someone close to Trump would help him fake it more effectively. That clearly hasn't happened.

As we discussed the other day, at this point in the campaign, we'd ideally see a battle of ideas, with the major-party candidates critiquing each other's agendas, highlighting their flaws, and promising a better way. Except in 2020, that's effectively impossible: Trump hasn't presented any ideas to critique.

It's not an accident; it's the result of a choice. Governing parties present platforms to voters, in part so the electorate knows what they consider important, and in part so that winning candidates can claim a mandate in the event of a victory.

Post-policy parties, however, don't bother.