Understanding what the president of the United States is thinking should not be this difficult.
The White House typically has a director of communications to strategize and coordinate media presentations, select speaking engagements and messages. It has a team of speechwriters to package the message each day and week into coherent public remarks that inch the president’s agenda and profile toward desired legislation and the next election.
It has had press secretaries of mixed talents empowered to hold daily media briefings on national TV to describe and illuminate the chief executive’s thinking on a wide array of subjects. They can be as varied as the curiosity of probing and provocative White House reporters addicted to routine, clamoring for attention and answers to fill their work production quotas
White Houses have had that structure and routine. But not anymore.
The daily news briefings have been gone since March, prompting regular media complaints. By intention, that means virtually all official White House news comes from the president himself when he decides to say something, which is often. He could argue reasonably that the White House press corps has more direct access to this president than his predecessors. He also has more control.
As you may have noticed, Donald Trump is not only commander-in-chief. He is also his own communications director and in effect his own press secretary. He routinely expands upon and ad libs prepared speeches.
The 62,984,828 Americans who voted for Donald Trump 155 weeks ago got pretty much what they wanted — or deserved, depending on your politics. They got an unorthodox chief executive who utters or tweets whatever comes to his mind at the moment, even if those thoughts sound outrageous, false or completely change a few days or even minutes later.
Trump’s base adores his predictable unpredictability, his apparent candor and counterpunches, even when they’re unnecessary or counterproductive to what would seem to be his long-range objectives like, say, winning reelection.
His supporters love Trump talking back, even outraging the Washington media and e
The adopted Republican also confuses and annoys those who would seem his most likely allies, GOP members of Congress. Most have learned to bite their tongues. A few don‘t for their own positioning reasons. But this president does not seem to care, which is his strange brand.
Pundits point out that a majority of Americans, according to polls, have never approved of Trump, even before his inauguration. And Trump backers point out that a majority of Americans didn’t approve of Trump on Election Day in 2016 either. But he still won because his votes came — barely — in just the right numbers in just the right places for an Electoral College victory.
No Democrat is likely ever again to take for granted Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. In fact, their party convention is set for Wisconsin, not by accident.
The 2020 results will depend on two things — the potential attractiveness of the Democratic ticket as an alternative to the known incumbent and Trump’s accumulated messaging in the meantime, much of it aimed at defining his opponent. Can he staunch the growing turmoil fatigue among those prepared to look past it in favor of focusing on his tax cuts, job creation, energy policies and military rebuilding?
At the moment, this president looks and sounds angry over the impeachment business, which is OK. But also flustered, which isn’t OK for a president. Trump’s recent messaging is, to put it kindly, chaotic, causing innumerable foreseeable troubles.
Take Syria, for example. For the second year in a row, a phone conversation with Turkey’s developing dictator Recep Erdogan prompted Trump to abruptly announce a complete U.S. military withdrawal because it was time to bring those troops home.
That led Turkey to launch an immediate assault against Kurdish troops who had vanquished the ISIS caliphate for Trump. Which led to a broad outcry over abandoning those allies. Which led Trump to threaten sanctions and warn, “If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey.”
Which led to a ceasefire. Which brought news that U.S. special operators exiting Syria were not actually coming home but moving into Iraq, which upset Baghdad. Which pleased Iran. Which prompted Kurds to do a deal with Syria’s dictator, who invited Russians to broaden their influence by moving into a suddenly vacant U.S. base and patrolling the border with Turkey.
Which prompted Trump to return American troops to Syria, including this time battle tanks, to defend oil fields against someone. On Saturday, after two weeks of monitoring, a mixed cadre of U.S. service commandos and allies tracked down the founder and commander of ISIS, who ended up dead one way or another.
At the same time, apparently no one in the Oval Office with any authority foresaw a striking policy contradiction about American troops becoming entangled in open-ended foreign commitments. Trump happily announced he was dispatching 2,000 more soldiers to Saudi Arabia to deter Iran from further adventures there for the foreseeable future.