When U.S. President Donald Trump spouts nuclear-annihilation threats on North Korea's "rocket man" at the United Nations, bear in mind that who you are listening to is "bluster man."
Bluster man loves the ratings, the big fat screaming headlines. And there's his raving populist base which demands the red-nostrilled threats and which he has to cater to.
But what the record shows is that bluster man rarely follows through. He's more bark than bite. He comes off sounding like a Category 5 hurricane but, if you put his words to actions, he's barely a tropical storm.
Last month on North Korea, the Trump threat was "fire and fury like the world has never seen." Kim Jong-un sent up more missiles. There was no fire and fury.
This President has called the Iran nuclear deal the worst in history several times. At the UN on Tuesday he called it "an embarrassment to the United States" that cannot be tolerated. But he has passed up on several opportunities to scrap it.
We recall in the election campaign Mr. Trump talked of NATO being obsolete. We haven't heard that again. He was entirely dismissive back then of the United Nations. Now, not nearly so much. Now he talks of what a great force for good it can be.
We recall just this month when the President vowed to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Harsh talk. Then he turned around and worked out a deal – with the Democrats, no less – to save the program. There was his threat to Capitol Hill about not financing government. It was bombast. He worked a deal, again with the Democrats.
One threat Mr. Trump did follow up on was his pledge to pull out of the Paris climate accord. But in the last few days, leaks from the administration suggest he might very well back out of his back out. He is looking to find a compromise to stay in the accord.
On trade, Mr. Trump came into office threatening to rip up most every trade agreement in sight. They were all, in his uneducated view, terrible deals. He proceeded to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership and his country will pay a price for that. But in other areas, the bark again has been worse than the bite. He hasn't gone ahead with a threatened import surcharge or border tax that would have included Canada. He hasn't delivered on threatened curbs on steel imports, or a threatened cancellation of free trade with South Korea. He hasn't moved ahead, as yet anyway, with his threat to withdraw from NAFTA.
Two things have happened since Mr. Trump came to power to help prevent his worst instincts from overtaking him. One was the appointment of a seasoned national-security team, one which is traditionalist, one which believes in collective security. If the likes of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Flynn were on that team, it would be a different story.
The other thing is that some order and discipline has been brought to the chaotic White House decision-making process. Mr. Trump's dumping of Reince Priebus as his chief of staff and his replacement of him with general John Kelly was a critically important stroke. There is now a functioning hierarchy and chain of command. The civil war in the executive branch has been terminated. Mr. Kelly convinced the President that he had to dismiss Steve Bannon and other far-righters. He did so. The radical nativists don't have the influence they once had. On the rhetoric, maybe; on real actions, no.
All this is not to say that Mr. Trump will not carry out some of his threats, such as ending the nuclear deal with Iran. It would be a foolhardy decision since Iran has been complying and since North Korea, looking on, wouldn't want to reach a nuclear deal it thinks Washington wouldn't heed.
In that case and others, just because Mr. Trump has cried wolf again and again doesn't mean he will back off all the time.