Perhaps Donald Trump swore an oath to himself… that he was not going to follow the example of George W. Bush and allow himself to be a media punching bag. We will see whether his punch-back twice-as-hard strategy works. For now Trump appears to be out-of-touch with the facts. A week into his administration, he does not seem to have developed messaging discipline… yet.
Or else, it may be that Trump is gaslighting the media, baiting them with obvious falsehoods and provoking them to show themselves as emotionally overwrought. They are beginning to sound like a braindead celebrity yelling: The Nazis are coming! The Nazis are coming!
Glenn Reynolds offers this thesis in USA Today:
… Trump likes it this way, because when the press is constantly attacking him over trivialities, it strengthens his position and weakens the press. Trump’s “outrageous” statements and tweets aren’t the product of impulsiveness, but part of a carefully maintained strategy that the press is too impulsive to resist.
So he’s prodding reporters to do things that will make them less trusted, and they’re constantly taking the bait.
They’re taking the bait because they think he’s dumb, and impulsive, and lacking self-control — but he’s the one causing them to act in ways that are dumb and impulsive, and demonstrate lack of self-control.
What should the press and the Trump opposition do? Reynolds offers sound advice:
The killer counter-move for the press isn’t to double down on anti-Trump messaging. The counter-move is to bolster its own trustworthiness by acting (and being) more neutral and sober, and by being more trustworthy. If the news media actually focused on reporting facts accurately and straightforwardly, on leaving opinion to the pundits, and on giving Trump a clearly fair shake, then Trump’s tactics wouldn’t work, and any actual dirt they found on him would do actual damage. He’s betting on the press being insufficiently mature and self-controlled to manage that. So far, his bet is paying off.
As for press bias, yesterday the senior State Department staff resigned en masse. The press declared that they were repudiating Donald Trump. It also explained that these staff members were effectively running the place, controlling the massive bureaucracy. They were leaving the incoming secretary without anyone with management skill. This is a bit bizarre considering that Rex Tillerson has considerably more management experience than all of them combined.
Others do not see this as a rebuke to the Trump administration. They believe that the officials were going to be fired anyway. Some have suggested that they were fired, but put out another story to save face. Besides, these officials did not have a very good record of accomplishment.
Roger Simon examines their track record:
The State Department is undoubtedly chock full of those with dirty hands from the Clinton email scandal and its attendant coverup. They're lucky not to be indicted, assuming they won't be. And then there's the Benghazi episode. The degree to which State and Mrs. Clinton colluded with the White House on that one is not yet fully known, despite the hours of testimony. Kennedy was involved in that too, as was Victoria Nuland, who was also let go.
And speaking of dirty hands, the State Department is way past mere fingernail problems, but up to its elbows and neck in the shameful (and still opaque) Iran nuclear deal that bypassed Congress, not to mention the American people, to shovel boatloads of cash to the mullahs who are now busy spending them on such humanitarian enterprises as providing advanced munitions for Hezbollah, the Houthis, Hamas, various homicidal Syrian thugs, and who knows what other crazed Islamist terrorists who are about to drone a shopping mall near you.
Then again, they were diverse, and that must count for something.
While the press is fighting its war against Trump, the new president is making some interesting moves of his own. One does better to tamp down one’s emotions and to examine the game that is being played. Better the game than the drama.
Peggy Noonan writes this morning that Trump is working to produce an important political realignment. Pay closer attention to the White House meetings, Noonan says. Through them, Trump is identifying himself as a jobs president, as a president who cares primarily about American jobs. It might, as some have suggested, be a lot of PR. Surely, it looks more like mercantilism than free trade. And, many of the jobs that were announced were going to stay here anyway.
No matter. Trump is defining his presidency in terms of economic opportunity, at the expense of identity politics and political correctness. He has done so in a series of important White House meetings.
Noonan reports on a meeting with CEOs:
More important than the [executive] orders were the White House meetings. One was a breakfast with a dozen major CEOs. They looked happy as frolicking puppies in the photo-op, and afterward talked about jobs. Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin said she was “encouraged by the president’s commitment to reduce barriers to job creation.” In a statement after the meeting, the glassmaker Corning, whose CEO attended, announced plans to expand its U.S. manufacturing base significantly over the next few years. Because I live in New York and work at the Journal, I see and talk to American CEOs. I’ve never heard them bang on about a need to boost American jobs and manufacturing, ever. They usually talk about targeted microloans in India, and robots.
This meeting was less significant than the meeting that Trump took with labor union leaders. Noonan explains:
More important still—the most important moment of the first week—was the meeting with union leaders. Mr. Trump gave them almost an hour and a half. “The president treated us with respect, not only our organization but our members,” said Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, by telephone. Liuna had not endorsed Trump in the campaign, but Mr. O’Sullivan saw the meeting’s timing as an expression of respect: “He’s inaugurated on Friday and we’re invited in Monday to have a substantial conversation.” The entire Trump top staff was there, including the vice president: “His whole team—we were very impressed.” They talked infrastructure, trade and energy. “The whole meeting was about middle class jobs, how do we create more?” Mr. O’Sullivan believes the Keystone pipeline will eventually generate more than 40,000 jobs. Mr. O’Sullivan said he hopes fixing “our crumbling transportation infrastructure” will be “the largest jobs program in the country.”
Mark Lilla warned Democrats about continuing to play the identity politics card. They do not seem to have heeded his message. Now, Trump wants to bring back men's jobs and the environmental lobby is attacking the Keystone and Dakota pipeline executive orders.
Note what Trump is doing. First, as Noonan notes, he is picking the Democrats’ pocket by inviting one of its most important constituencies into his big tent. He is showing them respect and courtesy, something that they were not shown in the previous Democratic administration. Second, Trump was creating tens of thousands of guy-jobs, jobs in construction and manufacturing and industry. If the Democratic Party wants to be the Woman’s Party, as it identified itself during the last campaign and over the weekend, it might find out that it cannot hold the woman’s vote. As Hillary Clinton discovered, many women do not vote the feminist party line. No one seems to pay it much attention, but a lot of women strongly disliked Hillary.
Noonan also explains that the press would do better to stop attacking Trump and to try to understand what he is doing, and how much he appeals to the average voter:
It’s a mistake for observers in Washington and New York to fixate on Mr. Trump’s daily faux pas at the expense of the political meaning of what he’s doing. He’s changing the face of the GOP. It is a mistake, too, to see Mr. Trump’s tweet on how Chicago had better solve its problem with violent crime or he’ll “send in the Feds,” as merely stupid—just a tweet that raises the question “What does ‘send in the Feds’ mean?” If you’re a parent in a tough Chicago neighborhood, you’d be heartened to think the feds might help. You’d be happy the president noticed. You’d say, “Go, Trump!”