Jonathan S. Tobin makes a good case for the damage that President Trump’s lack of self-restraint is doing to his own prospects and those of the GOP, but I’m not sure I agree with Tobin’s conclusion.
While I don’t see Trump’s gaffe-tastic style as part of some deviously clever strategy, I do think he gains by making no effort to suppress his penchant for free association, and I do think he realizes this.
Tobin writes that during “the last few days . . . Trump stepped on his message and distracted the public from the progress made toward passage of a tax-reform bill, and anything else the administration cares about, with statements and tweets that made headlines . . . ” True — but what would have happened if he had kept quiet and let the nation focus on tax policy? The media would have banged on and on about how “the GOP tax plan will literally steal bread from the mouths of impoverished children and feed it to trillionaires’ Chihuahuas.” Instead, Trump puts up a couple of “tweets that can be interpreted as an embrace of a conflict with all Muslims rather than just Islamists,” and the media is all, “Did you HEAR what that guy just SAID???” Which message would you rather have going out to the masses?
Tobin continues: “Trump is providing an otherwise leaderless and intellectually bankrupt Democratic party with exactly what it lacked in 2016: the ability to mobilize its base of minorities and educated whites . . . ” Well, maybe, but if Trump suddenly starts behaving, will the Democrats stop sending emails asking donors to pony up a few more C-notes to combat the greatest threat to our cherished principles of democracy ever ever ever?
When the media tries to influence Trump supporters by parsing tweets and deconstructing presidential remarks, it’s like a guy in a bar who spots a pretty woman and thinks: “Gosh, I wish I could figure out how to approach her. Shall I quote Shakespeare? Nah, everyone does that. Remark on the similarity of that wallpaper to a Mondrian painting? Too obvious. Hey, what if I point out that the zip code we’re in right now is a Fibonacci series? Yeah, she looks like she could be a math fan . . . I’ll just creep a little closer . . . ” Meanwhile Trump is the guy who strides right up and makes a crude remark on her outfit, and she pretends to be horrified but he’s the one she’ll leave with. In politics as in dating, the biggest mistake is overthinking, and that’s something Donald Trump will never be accused of.
A few months ago, people explained Trump’s excesses by saying that he was “playing four-dimensional chess.” It would be more accurate to say that the media is playing four-dimensional chess while the current state of politics is more like tic-tac-toe.