After one of the nastiest and most negative campaigns in American history, many Democratic and Republican observers hoped the victor, Donald Trump, would act more presidential once he took office.

A little more than six weeks into Trump’s presidency, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, is still waiting for that pivot.

“I’ve always believed the Oval Office, being president, is such an enormous responsibility — the burdens of that and just the sense of duty,” Kind told the Leader-Telegram Editorial Board on Monday. “I just assume it’s a very sobering place, and once you’re there and you start getting the briefings and you start understanding what’s going on around the world, it’s kind of a cold slap of reality.”

But instead of realizing now is the time to lead and govern, Trump seems to be stuck in campaign mode and constantly picking political fights, Kind said.

“At some point he’s just got to fill that office and rise above the tweeting and the social media and having a compelling need to respond to everything,” Kind said.

Being the target of criticism is part of the job description for any president, and Trump needs to have thick enough skin to accept that without always responding with personal attacks on anyone who questions him, said Kind, who has represented Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District through four presidencies — two Democratic and two Republican — in his 20 years in Congress.

Barring that, the constant diversions threaten to overwhelm Trump’s presidency, Kind said.

“Every day that he spends talking about wiretapping that did not happen is a day away from the legislative agenda and working with Congress trying to get some things done,” Kind said, referring to Trump’s unsubstantiated claims via Twitter over the weekend alleging that former Democratic President Barack Obama had Trump’s telephones tapped during the election. 

Kind called on Trump to take three key steps — embrace an independent investigation of Russian involvement in the U.S. presidential election, release his tax returns and divest from his business interests “so we know there is no self-dealing in the Oval Office” — to avoid those issues dogging him throughout his presidency.

Brian Westrate of Fall Creek, chairman of the 3rd District Republican Party, blamed Democrats in part for doing everything they can to derail Trump’s presidency and said it shouldn’t be surprising that Trump fights back when under attack because that’s always been his style.

“If the Democrats want the president’s behavior to stop, maybe they should stop attacking him so vociferously,” Westrate said.

Still, though he has been pleased with Trump’s pursuit of his agenda — immigration reform, tax reform and the repeal and replacement of Obamacare — Westrate acknowledged that he wishes Trump would stop, or least tone down, his tweeting.

“But as long as there is an administration that is aggressively pursuing a conservative governance policy, I can live with a president who appears to have an addiction to tweeting,” Westrate said.

Along the same lines, Kind suggested Trump needs to learn to accept the tough questions and criticism that come from the media instead of constantly trying to undermine the so-called Fourth Estate. Kind noted that former Republican President George W. Bush recently made the same point, arguing that a strong, independent media is “indispensable to democracy.”  

“It’s a First Amendment right that we have in our country to have a free and independent press to act as the guardian and watchdog for the American people,” Kind said, calling it “dangerous” that Trump has been attacking any entity that could act as a check and balance on his executive power, including Congress, judges and the intelligence community.  

While Westrate agreed that media should play an important role in society, he maintained “that only works as long as people have reasonable belief that the media are reporting the news without bias, and nobody believes that anymore.”

Regarding policy initiatives, Kind expressed concern that the promised Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act could leave more people unable to afford health insurance and that the Trump administration’s plan for massive cuts to the budgets of the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency could lead, respectively, to war and a series of environmental crises.

By contrast, an economic growth agenda emphasizing investment in roads, bridges and broadband is an area with potential for bipartisan support, Kind said. 

Asked to address reports identifying him as a possible Democratic opponent for GOP Gov. Scott Walker in 2018, Kind didn’t rule out the possibility, saying that he hopes to make a decision soon.

Contact: 715-833-9209, eric.lindquist@ecpc.com, @ealscoop on Twitter