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Trump’s Personality Raises Red Flags

College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University professor Aubrey Immelman, who predicted Donald Trump would win over Hillary Clinton based on their personality profiles, shown Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. Immelman has predicted presidential winners correctly for the past 20 years. (Photo: Jason Wachter / St. Cloud Times)

By Aubrey Immelman
St. Cloud Times
November 26, 2016

Donald Trump may be the most unideological president of our time. A Democrat from 2001 to 2009 and a Republican before that and after, he has been a major donor to both political parties. What that means as a practical matter is that it’s a crapshoot to handicap the general tenor and specific policy proposals of the looming Trump presidency along predictable party-political lines.

There’s an old saw that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. True, Trump sometimes does as he says – for example, he has already set the wheels in motion to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership as he said he would on the campaign trail.

On the other hand, Trump seems just as likely, if not more so, to reverse course and go back on his word.

Case in point: his decision this week not to push for further probes of Hillary Clinton’s private email server or the Clinton Foundation – a major breach of his campaign promise that, if he won the election, he would seek a special prosecutor to pursue the matter.

Back to square one in “What Will Trump Do?” prognostication.

Turning to temperament

To anticipate presidential leadership style, a promising course of action is to approach the problem from the vantage point of temperament – the typical character and intensity of a person’s emotional expression.

Temperament has a strong inborn component, emerging very early in life and remaining relatively stable throughout the life course and consistent across a broad range of situations. As such, the construct offers a stable platform from which to predict presidential outcomes.

In practical terms, temperament shares much in common with the notion of “emotional intelligence” – the ability to recognize and understand one’s own emotions and those of others, and to manage one’s own emotions and influence those of others. In short, this capacity for emotional awareness, empathy, and skillful interpersonal relationships is a critical ingredient of leadership effectiveness.

In practical terms, temperament shares much in common with the notion of “emotional intelligence” – the ability to recognize and understand one’s own emotions and those of others, and to manage one’s own emotions and influence those of others. In short, this capacity for emotional awareness, empathy, and skillful interpersonal relationships is a critical ingredient of leadership effectiveness.

Trump’s temperament emerged as a major issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. A Fox News poll conducted after the first presidential debate in September found that just 37 percent of respondents felt Trump possessed the temperament to serve effectively as president, compared with 67 percent for Clinton.

And a New York Times/CBS News poll, also  conducted in September, revealed that most voters considered Trump “a risky choice” for president because he lacked “the right temperament and values.”

Trump personality organization

A psychological study of Trump conducted at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics from June 2015 to August 2016 using an “at-a-distance” research methodology revealed that Trump’s predominant personality patterns are outgoing/impulsive and ambitious/exploitative (a measure of narcissism), infused with secondary features of the dominant/controlling pattern combined with low conscientiousness.

Following is a rundown of stable temperamental features of the key personality patterns driving Trump’s political behavior, based on the model of distinguished psychologist Theodore Millon:

  • Outgoing (histrionic) pattern: Poor impulse control. Outgoing individuals are emotionally expressive; they are animated, uninhibited, and emotionally responsive. Their moods are subject to rapid fluctuation, with occasional displays of short‑lived and superficial moods. Regarding political leadership, the attendant risk is a predisposition to impulsive acts; they may be over-excitable, exhibit a pervasive tendency to be easily enthused and as easily bored or angered, make thoughtless, imprudent judgments, and embark on rash or reckless courses of action.
  • Ambitious (narcissistic) pattern: Knee-jerk response to criticism. Narcissistic individuals are socially poised; at their best they are self-confident, optimistic, and cool and levelheaded under pressure and in the face of adversity. Though appearing carefree, nonchalant, and suave, their Achilles’ heel is responding reflexively and petulantly to personal criticism.
  • Dominant (aggressive) pattern: A volatile temper. Dominant individuals present themselves as strong leaders but tend to lack empathy and are prone to irritability; they have a volatile temper they may at times find difficult to control, flaring readily into petty or contentious argument.

College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University professor Aubrey Immelman describes his personality profile of Donald Trump Wednesday, Nov. 16, at CSB. (Photo: Jason Wachter / St. Cloud Times)

Presidential red flags

Regarding the relationship between temperament and presidential leadership, the two personality traits of greatest concern in the case of Trump are these: first, the perilous combination of sparse political experience and a level of impulsiveness sufficiently unrestrained to have nearly torpedoed his presidential campaign on more than one occasion; and second, responding reflexively to personal slights with a combative temper.

As for Trump’s fitness to lead, the silver lining is that he has shown a willingness to surround himself with levelheaded, competent advisers capable of smoothing the rougher edges of his prickly personality – foremost among them campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and White House Chief of Staff designate Reince Priebus.

Imminently, the next big test for Trump will be whether he can resist the impulse to appoint top campaign surrogate and loyalist Rudy Giuliani – hamstrung by many of the same character flaws as Trump – to the key cabinet post of secretary of state, fourth in the presidential line of succession.

Trump would be well advised to give the nod to his harshest critic in the Republican establishment, Mitt Romney. The very temperamental blandness that made Romney a weak presidential candidate makes him an exceptional choice for the top cabinet post in the Trump administration.

That would be a true test of presidential character.

This is the opinion of Aubrey Immelman, associate professor of psychology at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, where he directs a faculty-student collaborative research program in political psychology, the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics. Immelman specializes in the psychological assessment of presidential candidates and world leaders.


Related reports on this site


Is Donald Trump a Malignant Narcissist? (Feb. 22, 2017)

Donald Trump’s Temperament: Trump’s Fitness to be President (Oct. 5, 2016)

The Personality Profile of 2016 Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump (Aug. 9, 2015)


More » The Political Personality of 2016 Republican Presidential Nominee Donald J. Trump. Working paper, Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, St. John’s University/College of St. Benedict, October 2016. Abstract and link for full-text (31 pages; PDF) download at Digital Commons:

For additional information, please consult the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics Media Tipsheet at

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4 Responses to “A Question of Temperament: Donald Trump’s Fitness to Lead”
  1. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Donald Trump’s Leadership Style Says:

    […] A Question of Temperament: Donald Trump’s Fitness to Lead (Dec. 4, 2016) […]

  2. Aubrey Immelman Says:

    “Political Death by 1,000 Tweets” (Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2017) »

    As reported in The Hill (June 8, 2017), “Karl Rove, a former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, slammed President Trump on Wednesday, saying that the real estate mogul ‘lacks the focus or self-discipline to do the basic work required of a president.’ ‘His chronic impulsiveness is apparently unstoppable and clearly self-defeating’ …” »

  3. Aubrey Immelman Says:

    “Democrats File 88-Point Resolution Outlining Why Trump Is Unfit for Office” (Nicole Lafond, TPM, July 20, 2017) — Citing issues ranging from inaccurate reports about crowd sizes at inauguration to the gender pay gap at the White House to the way the President has handled the investigation into Russian interference in the election, Democratic lawmakers have filed a “no-confidence” resolution against President Donald Trump that lists 88 reasons why he’s unfit to serve as President. … »

    Full text of resolution:


    Civic Impulse. (2017, July 21). H.Res. 456 — 115th Congress: Objecting to the conduct of the President of the United States. Retrieved from

  4. Aubrey Immelman Says:

    “ ‘Goldwater Rule’ still in place barring many psychiatrists from commenting on Trump” (Amy Held, NPR, July 25, 2017) »

    The rule re-emerged in headlines … in the form of an article on the health news website Stat News »

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