A Tale of Two Trumps

There are so many posts I could write about Mollie Hemingway’s latest at The Federalist, “Trump Renders Media Blind To All But Chaos.” This is the one I did write.

She essentially argues that last week, the media was so obsessed with the narrative of “Trump White House in Disarray” that they missed what the administration accomplished on policy.  RTWT.  I basically agree with this thesis, even if both sides of it are a bit overstated for dramatic effect, imho.

Mostly, I want to agree with the headline (although I don’t know for sure who wrote it).  Pres. Trump does — to one degree or another — have that effect on media, which focuses more on his leadership and character than his agenda.

In particular, while reading Hemingway’s argument, one of my main thoughts was “Why isn’t Trump this clever?”  Trump will mention that the economy or the stock market are doing well, but his overall message discipline is poor.  Ramesh Ponnuru made a similar point last Friday, asking why Trump didn’t use his bully Twitter account to rebut the media on policy matters.

Unfortunately, these questions are fairly easy to answer.  First, Trump likes to make everything about him.  The media obliges him because it makes for good ratings.  The broadcast media also obliges him because audiovisual media gravitates toward stories where they have pictures and sound.  Accordingly, coverage of the imperial presidency tends to devolve to “what the president did and said today” out of laziness and habit.  This has been true for decades.

(You can argue that the media also obliges him out of bias.  There’s likely some truth to it.  But the media did cover some of Trump’s major policy moves, almost always negatively and often inaccurately.  And that would happen to any GOP POTUS.  The media’s personal focus on Trump is different because Trump is different.)

Second, as I’ve noted many times (as has virtually everyone), Trump has only the most tenuous grasp on policy and policy-related matters.  I don’t know whether this is voluntary or involuntary.  But last week, Trump revealed in an interview with Sean Hannity that he doesn’t have much grasp on how the national debt works (and in that peculiar Trumpian verbiage that careens from non sequitur to gibberish within a single paragraph).

His incoherence turns up in interview after interview.  It’s not particularly surprising given that his debate answers during the 2016 campaign also tended to be word salad.  This is the man the GOP nominated and who won the general election.

That this incoherence was well-known makes the media chatter about the 25th amendment now seem far-fetched.  But it also explains why people would believe that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron.”  And Trump’s Twitter rants are why people would believe the White House is — as Sen. Bob Corker called it — “an adult day care center.”  The fact that when Trump does articulate a position, it often seems to be at odds with his cabinet explains why people might believe his cabinet is containing what would otherwise would be an entirely chaotic presidency.

Dickens could have summed up the two narratives Hemingway describes: It was the best of Trump, it was the worst of Trump.  The media could do a much better job of providing a more balanced portrait of this administration.  They probably will not until Trump does.  He’s made some effort at the outset of the push for tax reform, but his history calls his ability to sustain any such effort into doubt.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.