Unlike most recent presidents, Donald Trump does not have a White House communications director. He doesn’t need one. As he was on NBC, Trump is his own executive producer.
The Oval Office, once the inner sanctum for only the high and the mighty of any administration, under this president has become the main set for his image-making. Into that special place, he invites most guests — from kings and Kardashians to trick-or-treaters and pleading parents.
Two details are constant in photographs of those encounters: Trump’s red tie (occasionally light blue) and the supporting cast of often excited guests standing around the seated president, center stage, presiding from behind the historic desk as chief executive.
Now, every president has an impressive ego. Modest men and women know better than to apply for the job. Every commander-in-chief prefers being the center of attention. Challenge that at your employment peril.
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During one of his more than 400 lucrative presidential fundraisers, Barack Obama went off-script revealingly to comment on the attention given one of the guests, a New York sports celebrity. Usually, the president said, I’m the center of attention. The wealthy audience chuckled. Obama did not.
Trump’s ego, as you may have noticed, is oversized, even for a president. This manifests itself in a number of ways, many of them controversial and often politically profitable.
In fact, the widespread, outspoken reactionary antipathy of Hollywood bigs, establishment elites and those who still can’t accept the 2016 results actually helps Trump.
In a peculiar dynamic, it confirms for his base and a fair number of fence-sitters that Trump is truly telling off, maybe even offending, VIPs who for so long have ignored the pleas and plaints of the faceless unwashed in flyover country. How ironic that out of the 21 presidential wannabes in that last election cycle only the billionaire New Yorker detected and tapped into that ferment.
This Trump behavior may be more haphazard and idiosyncratic than some grand sly, strategic scheme.
But it is a notable pattern that enables him to dominate most news cycles, even damaging ones such as separating illegal alien families. In the end, Trump switched directions completely and made it sound kind.
It starts with early morning tweets. They go out to some 53 million followers around the world, most importantly to several hundred reporters clustered in Washington, checking cellphones essentially for their day’s assignments as dispatched from the president’s living quarters.
Outrageous, exaggerated, petty, routine or self-important, these electronic missives from the most powerful man on Earth cannot be ignored. They set the day’s news agenda, as he well knows.
Even when D.C. media try to cover something else, quite possibly negative, it typically gets outshined by the Twitter antics of this one-man news generator.
Sometimes Trump’s messages seem counterproductive, distracting from the administration’s larger goal of demonstrating progress on jobs, regulatory reforms, tax cuts, etc. One tweet by the Republican president last week appeared to undercut beleaguered House Republican efforts on immigration reform, which Trump had endorsed.
This kind of unpredictable chaos confounds members of both parties: An inept GOP that with good reason doesn’t really regard Trump as a genuine Republican and ineffective Democrats who so far are unable to present coherent policy alternatives to the GOP beyond, “We hate Trump.”
Such empty opposition might be just enough for them to regain House control in November. Maybe the Senate too.
Another divided government wouldn’t get much done. But – wait for it – an avidly anti-Trump obstructionist Congress gives him a perfect foil for a reelection run-up to 2020.
In normal political practice, such confusion and mixed messaging are considered unwise long-term. But this president doesn’t practice politics normally. He feeds off chaos, which keeps off-balance the Washington establishments of both parties that he ran so hard against in 2015-16. And it tickles Trump supporters.
Whether Trump is really draining the Capitol swamp or merely pumping the fetid waters around to different places remains to be seen. But for now, his main goal is clearly keeping everyone focused on Donald Trump, whether or not he’s holding court from behind that historic Oval Office desk.