Trump's Messaging and Communication Debacle
His frustrating lack of message control may prove to be his Achilles heel, because the Leftmedia loves the game.
Kellyanne Conway, senior counselor to Donald Trump, recently described her boss as “an unconventional president who is an excellent communicator.” While few would disagree with Conway’s assessment of Trump being “unconventional,” he’s a far cry from the Great Communicator.
While Trump’s talking over the media while working toward reforming government is certainly Reaganesque, his temperament and inability to clearly communicate and stay on message set him apart. Where President Ronald Reagan went out of his way to find common ground and unite the country, Trump is more apt to go out of his way to pick fights with his opponents — many of those fights needless or without any clear objective. Where Reagan overlooked an insult, Trump insults back twice as hard.
Trump is clearly and justifiably frustrated with the hostile mainstream media and loves to respond in kind. This “fighter” attitude brought supporters flocking to his banner. But it’s become a war for control of the narrative — a war that he cannot win with his undisciplined and often confusing approach toward message communication.
Trump’s proclivity for tweeting has too often landed him into messaging troubles. He justifies the practice as an effective means of circumnavigating Leftmedia spin, allowing him to get his message directly to the people. He’s right in a way, and, again, that campaign persona did propel him to popularity with the millions of Americans who tire of the seemingly spineless Republican. But a regular lack of clarity and some dubious claims or factually inaccurate tweets have provided more fodder for MSM criticism, rather than offer a clearly articulated statement on solid policy.
He’s campaigning, not governing, as we repeatedly said of Barack Obama.
As the negative media fallout over Trump’s explanation for firing FBI Director James Comey came due to the inconsistency of his account with that of his staff, he responded via his favorite media platform, tweeting, “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” He then added what has proven to be yet another MSM talking point: “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”
Or maybe he and his staff could get on the same page before setting the narrative and then changing it.
Predictably, the MSM had a field day claiming Trump is seeking to stifle the free press. Sending them on a wild goose chase may have been the intended aim of his tweet, but it’s a long way from clear communication.
Friday morning, after his previous evening interview with NBC in which he dealt with questions over Comey’s firing, Trump seemed to feel the need to warn/threaten Comey. Trump tweeted, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Why did Trump feel the need to ring that Pavlovian bell? The Leftmedia was already referring to his firing of Comey as “Nixonian” before he fed the beast.
The problem is that more often than not Trump’s tweeting habit relays mere emotional outbursts rather than cogent arguments. His tweets often amount to little more than heckling and trolling than they do any form of substantive communications. This is his strategy — so as to connect him to his voting base — but that doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Trump is loath to recognize that his tweeting is hampering his agenda.
The bigger question is this: Where is the leadership? Where is Trump leading on health care or tax reform? Besides a few brief mentions, there is little coming from Trump. He put out intriguing corporate and individual tax reform proposals … and then promptly stopped talking about them. As he watched health care reform crash and burn in the House, he just tweeted a few accusations against conservatives before turning his attention elsewhere. He celebrated its later passage with a Rose Garden ceremony, but what’s he doing to move it through the Senate?
He has the bully pulpit but has been slow to use it because his focus has been, well, unfocused.
Another point: In a strange way, Trump and the MSM are in a sort of symbiotic relationship, both feeding off each other. The MSM loves his chaos for the constant “scandal” news alerts with which it can sell advertising. And Trump seems to enjoy it for its reality-TV-like excitement, and for the pure joy of tormenting his opponents.
Long gone are the excited feelings and hopeful statements after Trump’s impressive speech given to the joint Congress at the outset of his term. Now, many conservatives and Republicans alike (particularly the staff he contradicts) are cringing at the thought of Trump’s next tweet or press interview. While many of his decisions have been welcome changes, his confounding tweeting and the general failure of White House communication are simply agonizing. Again, tweeting and campaigning are different than governing, and it’s time Trump put as much energy into the latter as he does the former.