by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The tone of Donald Trump’s presidency has been set one week before he takes office: raucous, brawling, improvised, unpredictable, frenzied, entertaining, and more than a little weird. It’s hard to keep track of all that is happening in Washington and New York: Russian hacks, salacious gossip, fake news, government ethics, the fate of Obamacare, cabinet and White House appointments, personal feuds, and confirmation hearings for Jeff Sessions, John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, Elaine Chao, Mike Pompeo, Jim Mattis, and Ben Carson. Each day brings crazy revelations, rebuttals by the president elect and his team, congressional maneuvering, proclamations from Trump Tower, and media sniping. And Trump wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I don’t carry a briefcase,” the president elect wrote 30 years ago in The Art of the Deal. “I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.” This improvisational style hasn’t changed. The Trump campaign was an aggressive, freewheeling, bare-bones operation that maximized its candidate’s political instincts and dramatic talent. There was no canned “message of the day,” no rigorous coordination between candidate and surrogates, no deference to focus groups or outside consultants or Beltway convention or powerful donors. It was Trump who decided the message—you’ve heard it before—and established the style: media saturation, relentless activity, and fierce response to attack. “When people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me,” he wrote long ago, “my general attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard.”
That’s not often the case with politicians, whose tendency is to defer, pivot, accommodate, and ignore. No recent occupant of the Oval Office, and no other candidate for president in 2016, would have behaved like Trump did at his press conference this week. That’s the point. The Trump constituency is devoted to their man not despite his dismissive attitude toward established practice in the nation’s capital but because of it. The Trump vote is a rejection of Washington, of its practices, policies, and people. So divorced had the rich and smug capital city become from the realities of everyday life elsewhere in the country that only someone from outside the political system could change it. It’s not a defeat but a victory for Trump when the New York Times, Politico, CNN, and other “nonpartisan” and “objective” institutions fly off the handle at his latest move.