Trump's Plays are Crazy: Is Mueller the Tipping Point?

May 18, 2017

Friends figure I’m busy these days. Referring to Donald Trump’s malpractice of Influence Strategy and the taxonomy of 24 plays that organize them, they assume my head is spinning.

This is true, but not of the plays the president runs. He’s pretty basic in the strategy department. What’s mind boggling is that the counter-plays to his many red herrings and crazy ivans are so ineffective. Perhaps the appointment of Robert Mueller to unlock the Russia-Trump mystery will mark a tipping point, but for now Mr. Trump enjoys a rebuttal-free zone. Consider these examples:

BIG DARE  When Trump admitted that he’d fired FBI director James Comey to kill The Bureau’s Russia probe you’d have expected arrest warrants or subpoenas to hit the Resolute Desk. It was by most standards a confession to obstruct justice and a new brick laid in a path to impeachment.

Whether it was planned or improvised, Trump’s influence play was a bait, dressed as a matter-of-fact fiat. Yeah, I did it…what about it? he deadpanned to NBC’s Lester Holt. The counters immediate – comparisons to Richard Nixon and Watergate. “So, did I get him?! Is this all over?” Saturday Night Live’s Michael Che, playing Holt, said, tapping his ear piece. “No? Nothing matters?” (see below).

Nope. Nothing matters. Just as a campaigning Trump once bragged that he could commit a Fifth Avenue shooting without consequence, he seemed untouchable for his alleged felony. Indeed, his numbers slumped, but nobody jumped.

BIG DATE  As with every Trump gaffe, one might figure that The Donald had learned his lesson. But hours later, the president was posing happily with Russia’s top diplomats, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. The play was the bear hug — the conscious embrace of another player. But not just any player, the one that successfully tampered with the 2016 elections. It was, truly, a WTF moment.

Still, it didn’t matter. Trump ran his play without blinking. The press attacked, predictably. His credibility-free surrogates provided unprepared defenses. A few more Democrats called for his impeachment. And Republicans — those of the party of family values and right-living — were mum.

BIG BRAG  Whether dropping a MOAB or steaming a carrier, the president likes to show off his toys and testicles. Sure enough, credible accounts were leaked that while hosting the Russians the president disclosed state secrets to his wide-eyed spies, er, guests. His play was a peacock, which he later insisted via twitter and a cloying recast that his show-and-tell was legal and strategic (see below).

Slide1Mainstream media renewed their attacks; so did a horrified intelligence community. Comparisons to Watergate were again offered and more calls to control l’enfant terrible were put on-the-record. But the base that ignores Donald Trump’s bad behavior remained solid.

With the revelations of Comey’s paper trail and the naming of Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russia, this week could spell the difference, but to date hyperbole has no consequence. The plays of the new administration are more prominent and more abused than ever in this post-truth, fact-free era. Peacocks are typically plucked by call outs and labels. Baits are usually well-countered by challenges. And bear hugs are normally loosened by fact-based mirrors.

For my money, the failure and failings of The Fourth Estate are central to this illogic. What we know as the free press has been marginalized by a long and determined attack on its ostensible political leanings, and that subscribers have taken to their preferred corners has only strengthened the illusion of biased newsrooms. Thus, a national treasure of trust has been transformed into a national symbol of distrust. This is arguably Donald Trump’s crowning political achievement — the neutering of his most dangerous foe.

Until journalism regains its credibility, it cannot be a vehicle for repair or a worthy watchdog to Mr. Trump. In fact, right now, the resistance it presents to president’s base is a likely cause for the incomprehensible resistance to reason. What can only work as a remedy to Trump’s rhetorical free pass is the discipline by the president’s detractors to stick to the facts, suppress their moralizing, and let the Trump train rattle ahead. As I wrote on Nov. 30, 2015, the key to beating Trump — then as now — is to encourage him. Given his keen ability to inflict his own wounds, journalists and pundits are better served to shut up and report than to shout out and reprimand. That’s especially the case as Mr. Mueller enters the scene.

Post by Alan Kelly

Image credits: Saturday Night Live and @realdonaldtrump