One of the most curious aspects of the first few days of the Trump Administration is the little dust-up about the size of the crowd at the new President’s inauguration. Trump thinks the news media has intentionally underestimated the crowd to try to make him look less popular than he really is; the news media points to photos of the National Mall that indicate that the inaugural crowd was not as big as the crowd for the Women’s March the next day or the crowd for the Obama inauguration in 2009.
It’s a weird story, because no one really should care about the size of the crowd. It’s an insignificant fact that has no lasting impact on the new President or the country. No historian includes size of inaugural crowd as one of the factors used in ranking our Presidents from best to worst.
So why does Trump care about something that would otherwise be quickly and forever flushed down the memory hole? I think it’s because he’s someone who’s convinced of his popularity — he just won the election, after all — and he’s a bit thin-skinned about suggestions that he’s not as popular as he thinks he is. That’s why he’s struggling to let it go, and also keeps bringing up the claim that he would have won the overall popular vote if millions of purportedly illegal voters hadn’t cast their ballots. Trump denies that he’s thin-skinned, of course, but the reaction to the inaugural crowd reports make it difficult to agree with his self-assessment.
I think this is one of the areas where Trump’s lack of a political career has had a real effect. Most career politicians have gotten used to absorbing the slings and arrows of outrageous statements after a few years in the political arena. By the time they get to the point of running for president, they’ve developed an outer coating tougher than a rhinoceros hide that allows them to slough off criticism. But Trump hasn’t had that experience, and hasn’t developed that protective layer that allows him to ignore the slights and the barbs.
Trump presumably will develop a thick skin soon; it’s hard to imagine you could be President for long without it. The concern for me is whether political opponents or foreign leaders will see Trump’s apparent hypersensitivity as an opportunity to be exploited: can they goad our touchy President into taking a reckless step by playing to his pride and ego? That’s why I’m hoping Mr. Trump stops worrying about crowd size — at least publicly — and starts to show that he’s not troubled by the little things.