Slow Down, Mr. President
Donald Trump is moving as quickly as he can. The whirling dervish occupying the Oval Office knows the body politic is not designed to absorb so many actions taken so fast with so little thought. Not Capitol Hill, not the press, not the new president’s critics or friends. And not, it would seem, President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico, who cancelled a much ballyhooed one-on-one with Trump that was supposed to be the opportunity to work out a payment plan for the wall along the border. That’s what happens when you can’t wait until you have a secretary of state. If there’s one message coming out of the Republican retreat in Philadelphia where Trump spoke Thursday afternoon, it’s slow down, you’re moving too fast.
Not a chance. Trump is a man of action and it’s working for him, in a way. Call a meeting with CEOs, visit key cabinet agencies, hold signing ceremonies, watch yourself being discussed on cable TV late into the night, legislate by fiat, and tweet your heart out. By no means stop to read a briefing book or study what’s gone before. Make moves based on instinct and impulse.
Consider the latest undertaking -- the announcement of a full-fledged government investigation into voter fraud. On a beautiful day at his estate/golf club Mar-a-Lago the week after Christmas, then president-elect Trump previewed the story that convinced him he would have won the popular vote had it not been for illegal voting. According to Trump, an unnamed golfer he knew who’d gone to vote in Florida wasn’t allowed to do so because his name didn’t appear on the rolls at his precinct. The duffer stood his ground and was eventually given a provisional ballot that he filled out. (He voted for Trump, of course). Behind him in line were two Guatemalans who, in the telling, didn’t look as respectable as our golfer but who sailed right through the process. “What an outrage,” Trump said. “Of course, you know who they voted for,” he said, before providing the answer. What’s more, in the end, the provisional ballot was rejected.
This is all the evidence Trump needs to leap to the conclusion that two to three million ballots were cast fraudulently (for Hillary Clinton, natch), which is why he lost the popular vote. Trump falls asleep obsessed by this loss and wakes up a scant four hours later to the torment of another day living with it. Even though his press secretary said mass-scale voter fraud was a belief held by the president but not likely to be acted on, Trump acted. On his third working day in office, he ordered an investigation -- never mind that his assertions have been utterly dismissed, and not just by Democrats.
From the alleged Guatemalans to a costly government investigation is a big leap, but so is his plan to grab the oil in Iraq (and perhaps in other countries where the U.S. puts boots on the ground), resume waterboarding, build a multi-billion dollar wall on the Mexican border, kill trade agreements, deport immigrants charged with misdemeanors, freeze regulations, roll back Obamacare, and construct two pipelines. Some of these has been undertaken by executive orders that may, or may not, be legal.
That, along with many statements that strain the truth, to put it politely, has cooler heads swimming. House Speaker Paul Ryan gamely said before Trump was scheduled to speak in Philadelphia Thursday, “We’re on the same page as the administration.” But hardly. On Obamacare, immigration, taxes and trade, the budget hawk and deficit denier Speaker Ryan is going by the manifesto he authored and always carries with him, “A Better Way.” Trump’s jumped to the last chapter of a novel of his own design.
And there will be no tapping the brakes. No one is more challenged by the lies, as the New York Times calls them, than the Fourth Estate. The shaky statements come so fast and furious, one is pushed aside by another. You don’t sell papers, or garner hits, leading with a third-day story.
The media shouldn’t let the last outrage go. But news by definition is what is happening now. Who remembers the 12 women who accused Trump of sexual assault, or all the vendors stiffed by him? It’s so yesterday. Trump has put up a photo of his inauguration in the White House taken at an angle that avoids the vast empty spaces. By his standards, he’s won. The dishonest media, Metro statistics and our own eyes have lost.
To say this is a strategy is to ascribe a master plan to an ever-flitting hummingbird. Trump’s actions are more a reaction to external stimuli and his roiling inner metabolism, both at odds with his colleagues on the Hill and some in his own cabinet. There is no grand design for governing; success is judged by the crowd count or the volume of the applause. In Philadelphia, the only signal Trump is going to make nice with his fellow Republicans was to exempt those in the room from his wholesale condemnation of all that happened before he arrived. If there’s one message to take away, it’s that his party’s will get in sync with him, not the other way around -- or else.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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