The Trump presidency is bifurcated. It is coming apart, but not in the way most people think. There is a stark divide between the governing aspect of the Trump presidency and the tabloid aspect. Assuming tax reform passes in the Senate, these two worlds will have been proven capable of coexisting — at least so far.
On the governing side, some important things are happening. Tax reform could lead to serious long-term economic growth, and recent immigration initiatives are making a lasting impact on the border and having a chilling effect on migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. Judgeships are being filled at an unprecedented rate, and the market likes what it sees in the regulatory rollbacks that have had a powerful psychological impact on businesses. The Dow has reached record highs, and consumer confidence is at its highest point since November 2000.
But clearly, President Trump has no passion for policy development. Even on tax reform, his role has been mostly to provide cosmetic support. I can’t tell you whether his role has even been a net plus in keeping the Republican caucus together. Instead, it appears Trump loves living in the tabloid world. He thrives on outrage, insults and bewildering distractions. In fact, it appears he enjoys his war with CNN. Maybe he even thinks it helps him politically.
According to an important piece in The Washington Post on Wednesday, “Trump’s advisers and friends said he feels emboldened, even invincible, to communicate as he chooses — especially on cultural issues, believing that his stances work for him politically by galvanizing his base.” Well, I’ve worked in politics my entire adult life, and it is hard to see how an official with an approval rating in the 30s can think he is doing the right thing. But here we are.
While much of the news media has been preoccupied with sexual harassment scandals involving mostly Democrats in Congress, liberals in Hollywood and media personalities — not to mention Senate candidate Roy Moore — the president always gets a credible mention, thanks to his 2005 Billy Bush tape. And as though near-daily reminders of the president’s lewd comments from his past weren’t enough, The Post reports that this week, Trump has “disseminated on social media three inflammatory and unverified anti-Muslim videos, took glee in the firing of a news anchor for sexual harassment allegations despite facing more than a dozen of his own accusers and used a ceremony honoring Navajo war heroes to malign a senator with a derogatory nickname, “Pocahontas.”
The rapid nature of Trump’s bizarre tweets, insults and outrageous behavior has almost taken on a white-noise quality. It is constantly present, and most of the media can focus on little else. Fox News does too much to accommodate and deny the obvious. CNN is simply obsessed. I’ve discovered that just about the only person you can look to on television to find out what happened in the world today is Judy Woodruff of “PBS NewsHour.”
Incredibly, the sheer volume of Trump’s self-inflicted distractions hasn’t completely disrupted the governing process. There is no doubt in my mind that Trump’s modus operandi and inability to behave or communicate in a normal fashion will not change. While White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and a few others have to maintain that what Trump says is somehow the truth and isn’t crazy, GOP allies in Washington, political leaders out in the states and Hill Republicans mostly just stare into space, shrug and try to change the subject. Nobody makes the case that Trump’s ramblings are effective.
The question isn’t whether Trump will change. It is whether his behavior can continue to coexist with progress in policy development.
Ed Rogers is a contributor to the Postpartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses and several national campaigns.