Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich likes to say that there are two Donald Trumps. "I've said this publicly, there's a big Trump and a little Trump," Gingrich said on ABC's "This Week" before last year's election. "The big Trump is a historic figure. The big Trump beat 16 other people for the nomination."
Almost a year after Trump also beat his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton to become president of the United States, some of his most ardent supporters worry that there are indeed two Trumps: the one they fell in love with during the 2016 campaign and the one sitting in the Oval Office.
No one illustrates that more clearly than Ann Coulter, a syndicated conservative columnist and author. While most established conservative journalists supported other candidates during the Republican primaries, and many remained "Never Trump" even in the general election, Coulter eagerly climbed aboard the Trump Train.
Coulter called Trump an "emperor god." She described his August 2016 immigration address in Phoenix as "the most magnificent speech ever given." After the release of Trump's campaign immigration policy paper, the antiabortion commentator tweeted that she didn't care if he "wants to perform abortions in the White House" if he stuck to its recommendations as president. She appeared at campaign rallies. She even wrote a book titled In Trump We Trust.
That was then. Now, Coulter complains about Trump regularly. "At this point, who DOESN'T want Trump impeached?" she asked on Twitter, the president's favorite social media platform. In her columns, she has been just as scathing.
"During the campaign, Donald J. Trump made lots of promises — he'd be the greatest jobs president God ever created, he'd cut taxes, he'd balance the budget, he'd give all Americans fantastic health care, he'd renegotiate NAFTA, he'd scotch the Iran deal and so on," Coulter wrote. "But there was one central promise without which he wouldn't have been elected: He said he'd build a wall."
The lack of progress on the border wall, combined with Trump's openness to a legislative solution for young illegal immigrants affected by former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, was to Coulter a betrayal that could not be countenanced.
"We were counting on him to fight for us on the border — not with rallies, not with hats, not with tweets, but by building a wall," she wrote in a column titled "They Don't Call It ‘The Great Tweet of China.'" In a subsequent column, Coulter was almost despairing: "As long as both parties stoutly refuse to build the wall, we know they are not serious about every stopping illegal immigration."
The title of that piece: "We made Donald %#&@ Trump PRESIDENT— What Else Can We Do?" Coulter argued "last year, an utterly implausible presidential candidate crushed all his opponents — including the media — and won the White House by promising to deport illegals and build a wall."
Coulter is an extreme example, obviously. While Economist/YouGov polling from March to September shows a downward trend in the president's approval rating among Trump voters, "strongly approve" still hovers around 60 percent. Even when Trump was unable to help appointed Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., win a Republican primary runoff, the crowds at his Alabama rally for the senator remained enthusiastic.
But Coulter isn't exactly alone in thinking that Trump has not delivered on his populist and nationalist mandate. The faction of the administration committed to those policies is somewhat beleaguered. Steve Bannon is out as top White House strategist. Sebastian Gorka is no longer working as a national security aide. Attorney General Jeff Sessions remains, but has been publicly humiliated by the president several times.
John Kelly, a fairly conventional Washington figure by Trump standards, is White House chief of staff, imposing a level of discipline on the West Wing, if not the president himself, seldom seen under his predecessor Reince Priebus.
"The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over," Bannon told the Weekly Standard after his ouster from the White House. "We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over. It'll be something else."
What will it be, then? The populists worry about the people they alternately call the "West Wing Democrats" or the "New York Democrats": son-in-law Jared Kushner, beloved daughter Ivanka Trump (both senior advisers to the president), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.
Another group that keeps nationalists up at night is the "globalists." That category can be more fluid, since it is an epithet they tend to apply to most political opponents, but it is frequently used to describe Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and sometimes Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Most of these officials stand accused of muting Trump's populist instincts and nudging him toward the bipartisan consensus on foreign policy and other issues.
Finally, the populists are perplexed by the influence of the Republican establishment. Trump went along with them on healthcare reform, even though the Senate failed to pass a bill even partially repealing and replacing Obamacare. Now he is following them on tax reform, they fear. When Trump endorsed Strange in Alabama, he took the side of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., while Bannon backed the victorious insurgent Roy Moore.
"This isn't really what we signed up for," a pro-Trump political operative told the Washington Examiner. "It's disappointing."
Many Trump supporters are put off by this hand-wringing, however. Bill Mitchell, who rose to prominence during the campaign as one of Trump's most steadfast Internet cheerleaders, is still emphatically on board. "Despite all the craziness and hate from the Left, we just keeping marching on, an unstoppable force for good!" he wrote in an October tweet that garnered more than 1,500 favorites.
These Trump voters, a core group of the nearly 40 percent of the American people who have been with the president through thick and thin, are getting what they voted for: a commander in chief who understands them and who they trust to deliver. Many rank-and-file Republicans don't think Trump has changed.
"My opinion is that one of the defining characteristics of Donald Trump was his unpredictability and that very much still exists today," said Christian Ferry, a Republican strategist. "He does not behave as most people assume politicians will and that was endearing to his base supporters during the campaign and remains so today."
Trump is still tweeting, still holding raucous rallies, still coming up with derisive nicknames like "Rocket Man." In this telling, he is channeling his television experience more than his record as a businessman.
At the root of this divide may be Trump versus Trumpism. Some people supported Trump because they believed he was part of a broader movement reasserting national sovereignty across the Western world. They saw in him a vehicle for their ideas about immigration and trade, a figure with the fame and personality type to bypass the media and therefore the clout to lead their populist revolt against the establishment.
Others backed Trump because they trusted the man. They saw him as a blue-collar billionaire, a pragmatist, and master negotiator. The attempted deal-cutting that so disgusts the writers at Breitbart News, who took to calling Trump "Amnesty Don" after the Democrats prematurely claimed they were close to an agreement on DACA, is to them an asset, not a liability.
Many of them also liked Trump's forceful personality, fighting spirit, and the very combativeness that so frequently elicits strong negative reactions across the political spectrum. "I really do not care that Donald Trump is vulgar, combative, and uncivil, and I would encourage you not to care as well," John C. Kluge wrote in the New York Post. "I would love to have our political discourse be what it was 30 years ago and something better than what it is today. But the fact is, the Democratic Party is never going to return to that, and there isn't anything anyone can do about it."
It is Trump's ideological supporters who are most disappointed. He has bombed Syria. He increased troop levels in Afghanistan, despite acknowledging in his speech announcing the decision that his "original instinct was to pull out." He did not precipitate a government shutdown over border wall funding, as he previously threatened, and is not making it part of a deal on DACA.
"The fact is I knew after the Afghan speech that the anti-MAGA [Make America Great Again] forces were in ascendance," Gorka complained to Fox News Radio. He described Trump as "isolated," partly due to Kelly.
Trump even seemed a bit more open to discussing gun control than the talking points behind circulated by the White House after a mass shooting in Las Vegas. "We'll be talking about gun laws as time goes on," he told reporters at the White House. He did not bring up gun policy during his Vegas speech.
Bannon warned that moving left on gun control "will be the end of everything" and "actually worse" than amnesty for illegal immigrants in terms of the political damage it would do with Trump's base. The National Rifle Association is one of the few traditionally GOP-aligned organizations to which Trump owes anything.
Trump supporters have always seen him as a pragmatist, or even just a Twitter battering ram against the Democrats. Some even hope Trump will evolve in a more centrist direction as he seeks to get things done in the face of a stalled Republican legislative agenda.
"It set a shot across the bows of Republican leadership that he's willing to do whatever it takes to get something done," said Christine Todd Whitman, a former GOP governor of New Jersey and EPA administrator under President George W. Bush, after Trump cut his government funding and hurricane relief deal with the Democrats. "He's going to go where the deal should be made."
"What could the Bannonites be complaining about?" asked Jim Dornan, a Republican strategist. "They tried to fit him into their tiny little ideological box, and they were dead wrong. He agreed with them on a handful of issues, and he's an alt-right nut? That's a pipe dream for them and the Democrats who hate Trump."
While Trump has long complained about unfair trade deals and foreign governments taking advantage of the U.S., most of his public policy positions have changed over the years. To seek the Republican presidential nomination, he flipped on guns, abortion, a wealth tax, even government-run single-payer healthcare. He remained opposed to free-market entitlement reform even during the GOP primaries and signaled repeatedly that he wanted more government spending on healthcare than any of the congressional Obamacare overhauls he endorsed provided.
In light of all this, many observers argue that people such as Sessions or Coulter who saw Trump as a manifestation of a coherent political platform were simply misguided.
"Trump's positions are decided on the fly and there is no rhyme or reason to them except what he thinks is best for him personally," said a GOP strategist. "He will continue to disappoint Republicans of all stripes, much to the happiness of Democrats."
This goes too far even for some of the Trump supporters who broke with the president in the Alabama Senate race. They argued that in that particular race, the best way to get the Trump agenda passed was to support a different candidate than the president did, but that does not mean there are problems with his leadership.
"The three main items that the president won on were illegal immigration, building the wall and securing our borders; creating jobs; and unfair trade deals," said Eric Beach, co-chairman of the Great America PAC, a pro-Trump super PAC that has raised more than $40 million. "Clearly we wanted to see the things get done."
To Beach, the problem isn't a president who isn't ideological enough or negotiates too much, but a Washington that is afraid of the Trump agenda and is oblivious to the reasons he was elected, including the Republicans.
"Trump hires the RNC chair to be his chief of staff, brought healthcare to the table, has worked with leadership," he said. "They're the ones who have been unable to execute.
Beach argues that the solution is to let Trump be Trump while working where possible to elect Republicans who will support rather than obstruct his agenda. "It's a parlor game inside D.C., both parties," he continued. "Even the donors are sick and tired of electing leaders who go to DC and let DC turn 'em."
"They're going to have to adapt, or they're going to be irrelevant," Beach concluded. "Why are we going to keep giving you guys money if you are going to go out and attack the Trump candidate?"
It goes back to Gingrich's analogy about the two Trumps. "The big Trump is creating issues that make the establishment very uncomfortable," he said last year. "The little Trump … is stupid."
Even Trump supporters are now debating which specimen is roaming the White House.