What does Trump really want?
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What does Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpLincoln Project ad dubs Jared Kushner the 'Secretary of Failure' Pence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Twitter bans Trump campaign until it deletes tweet with COVID-19 misinformation MORE want? We've misjudged him from the beginning. Are we still misjudging him?

In the early stages of his campaign for the Republican nomination, speculation centered on his desire for respect among political and business elites or on a strategy for building the Trump brand. But as the campaign progressed and the New Yorker was dismissed by Republican leaders, his rhetoric took a decisively anti-establishment turn. Despite leading the polls since July, the billionaire continued to be regarded by the party as a gadfly who would eventually self-destruct.


Now that the gadfly is the GOP's presumptive nominee, many Republican elders are urging Trump to "pivot" to the general election by reining in his inflammatory rhetoric and studying up on the issues. His response: question whether the establishment's wunderkind, House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDemocratic super PAC quotes Reagan in anti-Trump ad set to air on Fox News: 'Are you better off?' Trump lashes out at Reagan Foundation after fundraising request The Memo: Trump's grip on GOP loosens as polls sink MORE (Wis.), should chair this summer's convention. Some pivot.

Republican leaders are struggling with recognizing the force that drove their primaries in 2016: hostility toward the establishment. They sold their 2008 and 2012 presidential favorites to the base on the basis of their electability, only to have them defeated by a a liberal community organizer/college professor. Then when voters handed Republicans control of Congress in 2014, GOP leaders not only failed to enact the conservative agenda they had promised; they proved themselves as inept at running Congress as Democrats had been. It was time to try something different. Trump was different.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  Ted Cruz bashes Oprah for 'lecture' on race: 'What utter, racist BS' Senate Democrats prepare seven-figure spending spree in Texas MORE (Texas) is an object lesson in what happens in 2016 to an outsider who pivots to accommodate the party. He began a fade to black after accepting establishment support in Wisconsin; then, three weeks later, was crushed by Trump in Indiana after voters viewed Cruz as conspiring with the party to stop the real estate mogul through undemocratic means. Even if Trump were open to the suggestion, why would he follow the same path and alienate the voters who have brought him the nomination?

So, you might think Trump is trapped, unable to hold his base while broadening his appeal in a more moderate electorate in the fall. But that assumes he considers his situation a predicament. What if his goal is not to win the presidency, but to take apart the Republican Party? If that's his goal, he's making good progress, and he has five more months to finish the job.

Trump's masterful management and exploitation of his image has demonstrated that he is more self-aware than he might seem. He probably didn't expect to win the nomination when he launched his campaign. Perhaps he knows he's not qualified to be president. Perhaps it's enough to be the object of adoration by millions, take the Trump brand to new heights, and take down the Republican and business elites who have looked down their noses at him for decades.

Diehl is a former chief of staff of the U.S. Treasury Department, director of the U.S. Mint and staff director of the Senate Finance Committee.