Trump, the first few days

1/23/2017

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President Donald J. Trump is very good at sowing division, which may be a great strategy for a candidate trying to nail down 270 electoral votes, but it is a recipe for disaster for governing.

I waited a few days before writing a post on Trump’s inauguration because I wanted to see as much of him as I could as President — the pre-ceremony rituals, the acceptance speech, the lunch with Members of Congress, the ball appearances and the first full day in office. I wanted to see if he would behave any differently than he did on the campaign.

He did not.

His acceptance speech — described as “dark” by most of the media and pundits — was far from up-lifting or uniting. It spoke of the “carnage” of America and “America first,” as if his predecessors made decisions without putting their country’s best interests first. He did this in front of four of his predecessors and the most of the U.S. House and Senate. They did what you do at such a significant event in our nation’s transfer of power, and showed him polite respect.

It was an ill-timed in your face insult to those who came before him, especially President Obama. Thought I’m certain his base ate it up. It was the wrong tone at the wrong time.

In the traditional lunch with Congress he was more chummy and more what we’re told is the behind-closed-doors Trump — collegial, back-slapping, laying the groundwork to make a deal. The same was true in his signings of his first executive orders and appointments of his confirmed Cabinet members.

At the parade, he did not step out of his limo in front of his new DC hotel for the free publicity, which showed restraint and would have a been a crude and bold statement of still marketing his holdings. Kudos for not marketing your hotel when you’re marching in your own inaugural parade.

At the balls, he returned to his combative persona and talked of the “crooked media,” his “enemies” and his “movement.” This as he was being celebrated as the President of (all) the United States, not just the ones he won.

His first full day saw him instigate not a debate over the size of his hands but over the size of the crowd that showed up for his inauguration. And he chose for his background to make this statement the wall dedicated to the 127 men and women of the CIA who gave their lives for this country. I’ve seen that wall and you can’t look at it without feeling deep emotion about but those brave fallen patriots. Again the wrong tone at the wrong time.

I’m guessing we can expect more debates over size as his presidency progresses. We saw his press secretary come out for his first White House briefing and berate the press — his constituency — for the crowd-size debate and walk off without taking a single question.

In short over his first weekend as President I saw maybe a glimpse of the “presidential” Trump but it was fleeting.

At this very early stage, Mr. Trump is setting up two things from my perspective:

  1. He will do everything he can to delegitimize the media. If he can spread his spin that the press, all the press, just lies, the people will have nothing to believe but what comes out of his mouth. And so far, we’ve seen more lies than facts from the new president. This may or may not be his intent, but it is how Nazi Germany came to be and other dictatorships and banana republics in the world’s history
  2. He is setting himself up for failure. He won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote. He starts his four-year term with the worst approval numbers in history. In other words, the honeymoon never started. He needs to build his broaden base not cater only to it.

And he and his press secretary continue to criticize the media for their coverage. Because of the apparent strategy the White House is using against them, the media will begin to broaden its reporting, paying more attention to the federal departments and agencies because they believe they won’t be able to cover the administration from the White House. This means the media will have even more sources in those places than they do know.

You do not want the bureaucracy and media in even closer relationships as President, because you will not win that battle and it is a battle that needn’t be fought. Donald Trump won the election. He does not need to continue fighting that battle. He won. He was sworn in. He is the president. He needs to forget about those in the country who are having trouble accepting that fact. He’s the one who needs to accept it.

Trump may talk of a second term in the opening hours of his first, but cannot be reelected without widening his base. If he continues as he’s started, he will begin losing supporters on The Hill. The millions of marchers may not have influenced President Trump but, trust me, members of Congress paid attention. Mid-term elections are less than two years off. While gerrymandering in the House may protect it from switching parties, the same is not true in the Senate. And those folks think of themselves first, not the President. They will do what they need to do to maintain their offices, and the President will come in second to that goal.

If Mr. Trump thinks he is starting with less than majority support in the country, let him see what governing with one house of Congress Democratic.

He can’t do it. What he needs to do is forget about size and Saturday Night Live and focus on delivering to his supporters what he has promised: an improved replacement for Obamacare, jobs for the jobless, “so much winning that you’ll want me to stop winning” and the eradication of the threat of terrorism.

That’s a pretty full plate …. of an non-debatable size.

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Former deputy White House press secretary (Reagan and Bush 41) and former head of communications at Republican Natl Committee. My blog: bjaycooper.com.

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