FIGHTING THE LAST WAR: TRUMP NEEDS TO CHANGE HIS MESSAGE NOT HIS MEDIUM

Twitter LogoThere is an old axiom that “Generals always fight the last war.”  Such was the case  in World War I with the failure to anticipate the impact of machine guns or, in World War II, the image of Polish cavalry charging German Panzer tanks with lances. Politicians can often fall victim to the same strategic blindness. This week, President Trump again declared that he would not stop tweeting and specifically noted that tweeting was key to his winning the election. In other words, the last war. Yet, the issue is not really Twitter but tactics.

In his latest Tweet storm, Trump insisted that his use of social media “is not Presidential—it’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL. Make America Great Again!” He also told his followers that “the FAKE & FRAUDLENT NEWS MEDIA is working hard to convince Republicans and others I should not use social media—but remember, I won … the 2016 election with interviews, speeches and social media. I had to beat #FakeNews, and did. We will continue to WIN!” He later followed the tweet with a disturbing altered video clip of his physically attacking a CNN figure.

The fact is that Trump may have changed modern politics but not necessarily the modern presidency. There is a difference and that lesson can be found in the presidency of none other than Bill Clinton.

There is a tendency in the media to paint the current political position of the Administration as an unprecedented “disaster” and “trainwreck.” However, Trump’s polling now stands around 40 percent. In fairness to Trump, he has been more popular than Bill Clinton at this point in his presidency. (Clinton hovered around 39 percent). Moreover, Trump is not the first president who won on the margin and then tried to govern from the margin. Clinton famously adopted the “triangulation” strategy of his advisor Dick Morris — a strategy that positioned himself outside of the two parties (including his own) and openly attacked the establishment while president. The result was great for Clinton but devastating for his party, which lost control of Congress in 1994. Triangulating secured Clinton his second term but, to do so, he had to virtually garrote his own party members.

In this sense, Trump is partially right and partially wrong. There is no reason that he should stop tweeting. The problem is not the means, it is the message. The fact is that his allies are encouraging him to stop tweeting because they do not believe that he can exercise restraint on instant social media. Trump won the last election through unrelenting and personal attacks. Trump has been successful in forcing his opponents to become the very stereotypes that he paints in his attacks. What is most surprising about Trump baiting opponents is that they continue to take the bait. It has even worked with journalists and judges – and political opponents by the gross. He calls media “fake” and biased. The response from some news organizations is to be unrelenting parts of the “resistance.”

While the negative branding of opponents it may be working, it is not succeeding. The reason is that he is now President. It is very hard to run the government that you head as an outsider warring with every institution and even your own lawyers and agencies. It is like trying to drive a car from the outside. It can be done, but not very well.

Just ask Bill Clinton. Clinton shows that playing the margin will not ultimately succeed as a president. It can get you re-elected but at the cost of losing many of your congressional allies and one or both of the houses of Congress. You can be left with a hostile Congress with subpoena authority and inexhaustible rage.

Twitter fits Trump. Where FDR could reach millions with a weekly Fireside Chat on the radio, Trump has a Twitter following in the tens of millions and his tweets reach ten times that number through media pings. While Barack Obama has succeeded in maintaining a much larger audience of over 87 million, Twitter’s short burst, 140 character structure was ideal for Trump’s populist message. It gives him direct and immediate access to his supporters in pressuring the establishment and countering political opponents.

It is still not clear if Trump won because of this strategy or despite this strategy. Bernie Sanders may be correct that Trump did not win the election as much as the Democrats lost it. They lost it by selecting the ultimate establishment candidate with huge negative polling on truthfulness and dragging three decades of scandals.

Let’s assume for a second that the branding and tweet attacks were at least successful on the margin (and in a close race, you only need the margin). It is clearly not succeeding now. Some 71 percent of people say that Trump’s tweets are hurting him, his Administration, and his party. A majority of Republicans hold this view. Republican leaders have lined up to denounce Trump’s tweets targeting people like MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski and have said publicly that the tweets are proving costly to the GOP legislative agenda.

The problem is that the constant barrage of personal attacks has left both Trump’s staff and allies constantly in a deep bunker. It is impossible to gain ground in a bunker, let alone move an ambitious legislative agenda. What may have been successful on the campaign (and continues to resonate with 40 percent of the public) is not enough to actually lead and govern.

To make matters worst, the content of these tweets is undermining the Administration on the world stage and in the courts. There have been glaring conflicts between presidential tweets and Administration policies. In litigation, Trump’s tweets were used by various courts to rule against his Administration and Trump even directly contradicted his own Justice Department in representations being made to the Courts in the immigration litigation.

Calling for the President to stop tweeting is like demanding calling on Truman stop using pen and paper after his threatening a critic of his daughter as a singer. It is not the medium but the message, but allies clearly do not believe that Trump can control the message . . . so they want to close the medium. That is perhaps the most alarming aspect of this controversy.

In the end, shutting down the President’s Twitter account will achieve little. He is the President of the United States and he only has to walk to a nearby window to be heard around the world. The only thing that will end this cycle is for Trump to realize that being on the margin is no longer a strategic advantage. If he repeats Clinton’s mistake and plays the margin, he might secure a second term but cripple his presidency. Or he can fight the war that he is in.

189 thoughts on “FIGHTING THE LAST WAR: TRUMP NEEDS TO CHANGE HIS MESSAGE NOT HIS MEDIUM

    • If you ascribe to this B.S. then consider the fact that President Obama must have seriously violated the Constitution.

  1. “It is clearly not succeeding now. Some 71 percent of people say that Trump’s tweets are hurting him, his Administration, and his party.”

    The poll respondents do NOT clearly indicate Trump’s tweeting isn’t successful. They indicate only how the respondents answer poll questions. Prof. Turley, you need a better way to analyze the effect of Trump’s tweets.

      • No one important new who those two were until Trump made them famous. That worked for us since they could have brought in somebody with more than three brain cells or worse started a trend and got rid of Maddow. Better that group keeps broadcasting and playing stupid it makes more votes for us and after all stupid IS as Stupid Does so why not capitalize on it?

          • That was worthy of a tweet but no where near worthy of being introduced in this discussion where tweeties are only something you use to drag people around and then cast them into the rush hour traffic. DT Did mean DDT. One of the top initials of the genocidal left as Rachel Carson proved when she and her followers removed one item but failed to replace it with another causing mass starvation and famine.

            That’s how slap people around or lead them into areas they had best avoid except. stupid is as stupid does. Nice they fall for it every time.

    • “So really, when you get right down to it, MSM’s toxic politicizing of news is in fact the ultimate form of voter fraud.”

  2. Hello Orange Guy– Hello Orange Donald.
    Here I am in Camp Granada.
    You remember Earnest Flemming.
    He made toemain poison after dinner.

    Hello mudder, hello fadda here I am in Camp Granada.

    — Brooklyn Bob

    • Superintendent of Schools for Josephine County, Oregon in the fifties and perhaps sixties. Had a staff of one Secretary and one driver to deliver school books around the county. One or two janitor per school.

      Sorry…that was Elmer Fleming. Never hear of this other nonentity.

      • Search Results

        Ernest Fleming Machinery & Equipment
        fleming.com.au/
        Email: sales@fleming.com.au …. For over 70 years, Ernest Fleming has been a leading Australian stockist of new & used machinery for the food, chemical, …

        There… you happy? There were some others but brely mentioned. PS you spelled the name wrong.

  3. Several enthusiastic Trump supporters here have suggested that it’s only intellectually and historically challenged “leftists” who have signaled alarm concerning the President’s consciousness and behavior, and I’d like to know if they’re as dismissive of conservative George Will’s unsparing analysis of what Mr. Trump brings (and doesn’t bring) to the table, entitled “Trump Has a Dangerous Disability”:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-has-a-dangerous-disability/2017/05/03/56ca6118-2f6b-11e7-9534-00e4656c22aa_story.html?utm_term=.2b16ad0b2ba5

        • Yep. He is one of those upper middle class White dandies I was talking about earlier. If people like him had had some testosterone, I don’t think the Left could have gotten as far as they did in this country.

          Squeeky Fromm
          Girl Reporter

        • Haha. George Will knows more about what the Republican Party used to stand for; he, and William F. Buckley provided the intellectual heft to support the true conservative principles that the Republican Party safeguarded through the turbulent latter half of the 20th Century. The current party toting the Republican badge neither knows, nor cares about accomplishments of those who protected conservatism in the past. These interlopers are merely radicals on the flip side of the coin.

    • If you are a republican and criticize Trump, you are out with the cultists . Nicole Wallace and Rick Wilson come to mind.

      • SWWM, Charlie Sykes, Ana Navarro, Matthew Dowd, David Frum, and more, are getting jobs w/ the MSM as Trump bashers. It’s an industry. There are Trump cultists. But I think the majority of people are like myself. Don’t really like the guy but are still basking in the glow that Lady Macbeth is not in the WH. I don’t think you understand that. There are always degrees, my dear.

            • I might be able to trash my TV but sports and movies are too important to me. I use our Apple TV more than cable.

              • I get the same thing from internet feed but I only get hyper about sports once every four years during World Cup playoffs or the rest of the time watching various teams compete. and some odds and ends other activities. Local activities such as volley ball i attend in person. I don’t watch or support Olympics they hacen’t re-earned ny respect since Utah. The rest I have to participate in to be interested and participating is directly connected to not having television.

                The internet has changed a major portion of my life style and how I connect with the world. Broadened horizons where I used to have to travel in person but also provided a huge amount of reference material never available even in a well run local library. The speed of research is phenomenal and I read comments here that are easily solved with five seconds of Google or other research engines but also allows me to be selective so most volumes on the boat (space issue) are on external hard drives. and a great deal of education keeping abreast in some areas and exploring new areas in others is available without attending colleges or universities and paying those mega huge but to my view unearned fees.

                Zappa U. remains the single best way of educating ones self and the time is available because I don’t have a television.

  4. We need a new political party in America for centrist Democrats and centrist Republicans. I want the jobs back in America. I want a Wall to keep out the terrorists. I do not want to subsidize housing for the lazy. I want socialized medical care for all Americans and I want to end medical monopoly capitalism. I want no more wars around the world and I do not care if the world is safe for democracy. I do not like the military industrial complex and wish to disband it.

    • ok I gave you the down and dirty on how to accomplish that but it’s already started as i pointed out. and a not bad 40% of the last general election voting bloc too!

    • The abject evil of socialized medicine is playing out in the UK w/ Charlie Gard. Here’s a Trump tweet getting virtually no coverage. Both Trump and the Pope want to help this baby, Charlie Gard. Trump offered him medical care in the US. The govt. and courts, which decide who lives and dies in socialized medicine countries, have said medical care must stop for this baby, Charlie Gard.

      Socialized medicine will NEVER work in the US. We value freedom and personal choice.

      • Now you are paraphrasing Plato who finished up his great work on other worlds mysticsm, a classless society without franchise and a ruling class dictatorship with ‘it won’t work my fellow Greeks value their independence and freedom too much.

        Unfortunately the followers of the plato line skip that last part just as they ignore John Maynard Keynes warning “This system will work as long as you can pay the interest.” Which means economic expansion. Thus two explanations for the failure of socialism

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