US President Donald Trump. Photo / AP
Some have called him crazy. He thinks he’s crazy like a fox.
Let’s dispense once and for all with the fiction that Donald Trump doesn’t have a strategy. It may be a deeply-flawed strategy for reasons the neophyte president is not yet savvy enough to appreciate, but make no mistake: There is a strategy.
The conventional wisdom around Washington is that Trump is being impulsive as he disregards the counsel of his lawyers, who are correctly warning him that the travel ban may not survive a Supreme Court review if he continues to talk about it the way he does.
Yet the president has now explicitly called for a “TRAVEL BAN” five separate times on Twitter over the past four days. Undercutting the spin that he was just reacting to a morning cable segment he saw on TV before coming downstairs to work, his social media team posted a video on Facebook (an account he doesn’t personally control) that featured the tweets set to dramatic music.
He posted this: “That’s right, we need a TRAVEL BAN for certain DANGEROUS countries, not some politically correct term that won’t help us protect our people!”
If Trump truly cared about the underlying ban and wanted it to be in place for the country’s security, as he claims, he would not be speaking so freely. The billionaire businessman has been mired in litigation off and on for decades and has demonstrated an ability – when his own money was at stake – to be self-disciplined.
The only explanation, then, is that he cares less about winning the case than reassuring his base. The number of posts reflects the degree to which Trump thinks the travel ban is a political winner.
He is trying to signal for his 24 million Facebook fans and 31.7 million Twitter followers that he’s fighting for them, regardless of what the judges, the media and the Democrats say. As Trump put it:
“The FAKE MSM is working so hard trying to get me not to use Social Media. They hate that I can get the honest and unfiltered message out.”
“Sorry folks, but if I would have relied on the Fake News
of CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, washpost or nytimes, I would have had ZERO chance winning WH”
Bigger picture, the President is trying to maintain his populist street cred and show his true believers that he’s not going wobbly on them after five months in Washington, despite back-tracking on more of his campaign promises than he’s kept.
Trump has always been a flashy show horse. Why would anyone think a septuagenarian is suddenly going to buckle down to become a work horse?
As a developer, biographers and former associates say, he consistently cared more about the gold-plated façade than the foundation. This is why Trump could obsess about how the lobbies of his properties looked, even as his business ventures careened towards bankruptcy under the weight of bad loans and poor accounting.
With his agenda imperiled, Trump increasingly seems determined to create an aura of effectiveness in the hopes that core supporters already inclined to support him won’t be able to tell the difference between optics and substance.
Remember, this is the same candidate who once boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his voters would stick with him.
Consider this: “Trump employed all the trappings traditionally reserved for signing major bills into law as he kicked off ‘infrastructure week’ [yesterday]: the stately East Room full of dignitaries, a four-piece military band to serenade, celebratory handshakes and souvenir presidential pens for lawmakers, promises of “a great new era” and a “revolution” in technology. Yet the documents Trump signed amid all the pomp were not new laws or even an Executive Order. They were routine letters to Congress, relaying support for a minimally detailed plan in Trump’s budget to transfer control of the nation’s air traffic control system to a private nonprofit group,” the Los Angeles Times‘s Noah Bierman reported.
But low-information voters may not be able to tell the difference when they see the b-roll of the ceremony on TV or an image in the paper.
It follows a pattern of Trump over-promising and under-delivering: “He touted the unveiling of his tax overhaul in April but released only a one-page set of bulleted talking points,” Bierman wrote.
“Just last week, he tweeted that his tax bill is proceeding ‘ahead of schedule,’ though he has submitted no bill to Congress . . . Trump held a Rose Garden ceremony in May to celebrate House passage of a bill to repeal Obamacare . . . even as Republicans in the Senate served notice that the House bill was unacceptable. His promised ‘beautiful wall’ on the southern border is not yet on a drawing board. Likewise, many of the executive orders Trump has signed failed to live up to the President’s rhetoric.”
Bloomberg’s Toluse Olorunnipa noticed an amusing pattern and just posted a smart trend story about it: “From overhauling the tax code to releasing an infrastructure package to making decisions on Nafta and the Paris Agreement, Trump has a common refrain: A big announcement is coming in just ‘two weeks.’ It rarely does. . . . Trump’s habit of self-imposing – then missing – two-week deadlines for major announcements has become a staple of his Administration . . . The president has used two-week timelines to sidestep questions from reporters or brag to CEOs at the White House. But his pronouncements have also flummoxed investors, Congress and occasionally even members of his staff.”
Is this strategy gimmicky and cynical? Absolutely. Does it work? For millions of people, yes.
To be sure, Trump’s talent for showmanship has got him this far. He developed a valuable brand as a reality TV star and has leveraged his celebrity to get through rough patches before. He brought that skillset to the presidential race and assumes it will continue to work in Washington.
Indeed, White House officials defend Trump by arguing that he’s simply governing as he campaigned. “The President won an election by being somebody who is not a conformist candidate,” Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, told reporters.
“He won by being somebody who the American people were anxious to change the culture in D.C. They understand that they were asking for disruption to the way D.C. operates. And I think that they’re anxious, the American people are anxious to see progress in this town. So he may not have conventional style in doing that, but many of his efforts are extremely helpful to, I think, getting our legislation accomplished.”
Short’s explanation offers a deeply revealing window into Trump’s theory of the case: All of the let-‘er-rip tweets in the wake of the attack on London Bridge have been focused on ginning up the GOP base.
The President believes that, so long as grassroots activists back him, his adopted party’s lawmakers will have no choice but to follow.
The fact that so many politicians have caved and capitulated over the past two years has taught him that he can get away with his unusual behaviour.
What the Republican governing class has never understood is that Trump doesn’t really respect people who kowtow to him; he sees it as a sign of their weakness.
Seeing such timidity has only emboldened this President to pursue this bottom-up, outside-in approach. There is no evidence he will change until elected Republicans buck him en masse.
Here’s the rub: There are some fresh signs that Trump’s act is wearing thin.
While Trump’s floor of support has thus far stayed surprisingly high, the percentage of Americans who “strongly” approve of the President has continued to slip – from 30 per cent earlier in the northern spring to about 20 per cent now.