James Hohmann writes in the PowerPost:
“THE BIG IDEA: 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 at 9:20 p.m. last night:
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 this morning:
— 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 toward bankruptcy under the weight of bad loans and poor bookkeeping. (Marc Fisher explored this dynamic in February.)
— 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’ on Monday: 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 reports.
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,” Noah writes. “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 climate 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.
Trump hands off a pen after signing a “decision memo” and a letter to members of Congress outlining broad principles of his plan to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
— To be sure, Trump’s talent for showmanship has gotten 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 during a conference call last night. “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 behavior. 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 percent earlier in the spring to about 20 percent now.
— More and more GOP lawmakers are also getting sick and tired of either defending the president or dodging questions about his latest provocative statement. “Trump’s refusal to disengage from the daily storm of news — coming ahead of former FBI director James B. Comey’s highly anticipated public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday — is both unsurprising and unsettling to many Republicans (on the Hill), who are already skittish about the questions they may confront in the aftermath of the hearing,” Robert Costa reports on the front page of today’s Post. “In particular, they foresee Democratic accusations that Trump’s exchanges with Comey about the FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign were an effort to obstruct justice. Some Republicans fear that Trump’s reactions will only worsen the potential damage.”
- “It’s a distraction, and he needs to focus,” said former Trump campaign adviser Barry Bennett. “Every day and moment he spends on anything other than a rising economy is a waste that disrupts everything.”
- “Unfortunately, the president has, I think, created problems for himself by his Twitter habit,” John Cornyn, the second highest-ranking Senate Republican, said with characteristic understatement during a Sunday interview on the Dallas TV station WFAA.
- “We live in a world today where unfortunately a lot of communication is taking place with 140 characters. Probably it’s best to refrain from communicating with 140 characters on topics that are so important,” Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said one day after golfing with the president.
— Efforts to create a “war room” stocked with former campaign officials and top-flight lawyers have stalled.“Three people briefed on the matter said the process has been bogged down by a lack of decision-making in the West Wing over how to proceed, as well as reluctance from some of those the White House hoped to recruit about serving a president who keeps getting in his own way,” the AP’s Julie Pace reports. “The White House has made a conscious decision to avoid answering questions about the Russia probes, referring inquiries to Marc Kasowitz, the president’s outside counsel. Kasowitz has so far had no comment on the investigations, leaving those questions unanswered.”
“Anybody with press chops looks at this and they’re fearful there’s not a path to succeed,” said Sara Fagen, former White House political director for George W. Bush.
— Top lawyers with at least four major law firms rebuffed White House overtures to represent Trump in the Russia investigations, in part over concerns that the president would be unwilling to listen to their advice, Michael Isikoff reports for Yahoo News this morning. “Before Kasowitz was retained, however, some of the biggest law firms and their best known attorneys turned down overtures when they were sounded out by White House officials to see if they would be willing to represent the president.”
Jerry Moran leaves a closed-door GOP caucus luncheon at the Capitol. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
— Trump wants to blame Democrats for blocking his agenda, but the truth is that he cannot even get 50 Republican senators onboard for his biggest priorities. Consider these two other quotes from yesterday:
Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, a former NRSC chairman and one of the most reliable votes in the Republican conference, put out a stinging statement about Trump’s push to privatize the country’s air traffic control system: “Proposals to privatize air traffic control threaten the reliable transportation options provided by small airports and the general aviation community for millions of Americans. All but our largest airports nationwide stand to be hurt by this proposal. Privatization eliminates the chance for Congress and the American people to provide oversight, creates uncertainty in the marketplace and is likely to raise costs for consumers.”
On health care: “I just don’t think we can put it together among ourselves,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told a gaggle of reporters, joining a growing chorus of Republicans who publicly and privately say that Obamacare repeal is unlikely to happen. (Last week, Richard Burr (R-N.C.) made a similar comment and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he doubted a bill could pass before the August recess.)
— “The most effective opponent of the Trump Presidency is Donald J. Trump,” the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board opines this morning. “If Mr. Trump’s action is legal on the merits, he seems to be angry that his lawyers are trying to vindicate the rule of law. Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be justified if he resigned. … If this pattern continues, Mr. Trump may find himself running an Administration with no one but his family and the Breitbart staff. People of talent and integrity won’t work for a boss who undermines them in public without thinking about the consequences. And whatever happened to the buck stops here?”
— “The man is out of control,” Eugene Robinson writes in his column today. “I know his unorthodox use of social media is thought by some, including the president himself, to be brilliant. But I don’t see political genius in the invective coming from Trump these days. I see an angry man lashing out at enemies real and imagined — a man dangerously overwhelmed.”
— “The president has gone rogue,” adds Dana Milbank.“Though Trump’s ineffectiveness comes as a relief, his isolation is no cause for celebration. Whenever his back is to the wall, he becomes even more aggressive. The further he falls, and the more alienated he grows, the greater the danger that he will do something desperate — and there is much that a desperate commander in chief can do.”
Dana flags that an unnamed Trump confidant told CNN’s Gloria Borger last week that the president is a lost man:“He now lives within himself, which is a dangerous place for Donald Trump to be. I see him emotionally withdrawing. He’s gained weight. He doesn’t have anybody whom he trusts.”
Pretty grim outlook for the President, for the country, and for the world. Elections have consequences. And, in this case they are as bad as it gets.