The World War II hero Trump has been emulating all along

American General George S. Patton talks to Allied war correspondents in Normandy, France, in 1944.
Hulton-Deutsch Collection | CORBIS | Getty Images
American General George S. Patton talks to Allied war correspondents in Normandy, France, in 1944.

He was unpredictable. He was aggressively combative. He wasn't really that much of a likeable guy. But he was also a winner. No, I'm not talking about Donald Trump during the 2016 election process, I'm talking about the late General George S. Patton. But the reason the description is so reminiscent of the President-elect is that Trump is trying to emulate him. And the more you know about how Patton talked and acted, the better prepared you'll be for Trump's impending presidency.

Trump's admiration for Patton isn't a secret. Even before he formally announced his candidacy for president, Trump started mentioning Patton's name regularly in speeches and interviews. By the time his campaign ended, Trump was mentioning Patton and fellow American war hero General Douglas MacArthur at every rally. Most of the time, he referred to Patton as the kind of leader America needs to defeat ISIS.

But Trump has clearly been copying Patton's methods and teachings in a more all-encompassing way than that. Here's an example from Patton's own words that appears to be one of Trump's guiding principles.

"As long as you attack them, they cannot find the time to attack you." — General George S. Patton

Trump's aggressive, often politically incorrect verbal attacks on his opponents became more than just a passing feature of his campaign. Even since his win, he's only slightly softened his tone. Trump seems to continue to appreciate the purpose of a Patton-like first and constant strike attack strategy: It keeps your opponents on the defensive and everyone else talking about you and what you said.

This was a big reason Trump gained so much attention despite running in a crowded field in the GOP primaries and against America's most famous female politician in the general election. He made everyone else look like the supporting cast.

Look for that combative, strike-first strategy to continue during the rest of the transition period straight through Trump's term in the White House. It certainly has continued through his post-election attacks on CNN, Vanity Fair, former President Bill Clinton, etc. In other words, folks who expect Trump to noticeably tone it down once he takes office don't know Trump and they don't know Patton.

"Like Patton, Trump does not respect a lot of the rules his predecessors have upheld for so long. Those who have knee-jerk positive or negative reactions to this are ignoring the fact that no one can predict what results will come from Trump's disrespect for those conventions."

Here's another chestnut from the general that Trump seems to live by:

"There is but one international law; the best Army!"— General George S. Patton

Of course the easiest place for Trump to emulate Patton is in his capacity as the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. armed forces. Trump is well on his way to doing that. First, he chose the living general most experts believe most resembles Patton — General James Mattis — to be his Secretary of Defense.

In fact, Trump himself continues to introduce Mattis as "the closest thing we have to General George Patton." But it goes beyond that. Trump has repeatedly complained about what he sees as a weakening of the U.S. military under President Obama. He's calling for steep increases in troop levels and the number of naval ships in the American fleet. That's Pattonesque in many ways.

So too is Trump's continued calls for more secrecy and caginess in American foreign and military policy. Trump often mentions MacArthur and Patton when he says he doesn't want to reveal specific plans for military operations, thus giving the enemy a chance to prepare. During a campaign stop in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina late last year, Trump said, "I don't want my generals being interviewed."

Patton's bluntness and coarseness went beyond words. The general famously almost ended his military career prematurely by slapping a PTSD-suffering soldier at a Army hospital facility in August, 1943. Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall did not fire Patton as a commander, but he was still sidelined from combat command for almost a year.

As much as that incident hurt Patton's reputation among some people, his aggressive and frightening nature was confirmed in the eyes of America's enemies. This was especially true of the Germans, who feared Patton above all the other Allied generals. Patton was a weapon his superiors saw as a necessary blunt instrument to win the war. That was why Patton was returned to command in Europe and helped speed the pace of the stalled Allied march to Germany in 1944 and 1945.

Much like Patton, many voters see Trump as a similar blunt instrument to smash America's foreign and domestic woes. As president, it's not likely Trump will be slapping any soldiers, but his aggressive style is meant to do more than put his political opponents and media critics off guard.

Like Patton, the added goal is to frighten enemies like ISIS, al Qaeda, and terror-supporting regimes like Iran and North Korea. This might mean a bigger American naval presence in disputed waters, or more anti-ISIS bombing raids in Syria and Iraq. Trump promises not to telegraph those kinds of moves, but no one should be surprised if they happen.

Domestically, look for some kind of very visible and aggressive moves against attacks on the homeland. A big part of this will indeed be verbal as Trump has continued to immediately blame every attack on "Islamist terror" using those exact words usually much earlier than when the perpetrators are actually confirmed. Trump began that trend when he immediately blamed the San Bernardino attack last year on Islamic terror.

Like Patton, Trump is likely to act first and ask a lot of the pertinent questions later in response to any future domestic terror attacks.

"Give me an Army of West Point graduates and I'll win a battle... Give me a handful of Texas Aggies and I'll win a war." — General General George S. Patton

This Patton quote, which underscored the general's belief that the Army brass weren't always the best people to get a dirty job done, seems to have played a role in at least some of Trump's cabinet choices. There's actually a real Texas Aggie in that group in former Texas Governor and Energy Secretary-Designate Rick Perry, who graduated from Texas A&M in 1972.

But "Aggies" are another way of saying the long-held norms about whom we consider to be acceptable cabinet choices don't sit well with the Trump team. That's how you get an oil company CEO picked for Secretary of State, a neurosurgeon chosen to lead HUD, and a pro wrestling industry leader to run the Small Business Administration. They fit Trump's and Patton's image of "doers" being better than the supposedly more polished and qualified.

All of this of course begs the question: Do we really want a president who seems to want to emulate one of America's all time most aggressive and volatile generals? The easy answer is that if Trump ends up as successful in his "battles" and other tests as Patton did, not many people will complain in the end.

Trump has always been betting on that exact outcome. He did just that during his many controversial moves during the election, believing that a victory in November would eventually make the criticisms and doubt irrelevant.

It'll be different once Trump is president. The stakes are higher and negatives are much more serious than just losing an election. But Trump and his supporters have always had a pretty good retort for those who say he's talking or acting too recklessly.

That is, they can and have pointed to the increased number of terror attacks in America and across the world, the growing military and political might of nations like Iran, China, and Russia, and the continuing failures in our public schools and problems with our infrastructure. And while doing so, they can and have asked: "How has the more reserved and accepted way of doing things been working out for us, not just under President Obama but for the last 30-40 years?"

Like Patton, Trump does not respect a lot of the rules his predecessors have upheld for so long. Those who have knee-jerk positive or negative reactions to this are ignoring the fact that no one can predict what results will come from Trump's disrespect for those conventions. All they can do is react to Trump much like his superiors and enemies did throughout his career and consistently expect the next president of the United States to act aggressively and unexpectedly for the next four years.

Commentary by Jake Novak, senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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