Donald J. Trump and Robert E. Lee

The other day the president made some news by praising Civil War general Robert E. Lee, and it struck me that Trump and Lee had a certain amount in common. Not in their personalities, but in their situations.

Lee could’ve fought on the Union side in the Civil War. Or he could’ve saved a couple hundred thousand lives by surrendering his army at some point, once he realized they were going to lose. But, conditional on fighting on, he had to innovate. He had to gamble, over and over again, because that was his only chance.

Similarly for Trump. There was no reason he had to run for president. And, once he had the Republican nomination, he still could’ve stepped down. But, conditional on him running for president with all these liabilities (he’s unpopular, he leads an unpopular party, and he has a lot of legal issues), he’s had to use unconventional tactics, and to continue to use unconventional tactics. Like Lee, there’s no point at which he could rest on his successes.