A Jew emails me: Trump faces formidable foes. His biggest enemies are the Democrats who do not accept the legitimacy of the election, which is comprised of many of the fringe groups, but plenty of mainstream ones, that make up the Democrat base. He also has a hostile press which would like nothing more than to bring Trump down. This would redeem the press which has in many ways been rendered irrelevant by Trump. But Trump also has his flank exposed because many Republicans, including never Trumpers, traditional interests in the Republican party, supporters of foreign intervention, members of the intelligence community are not only not supporting him but actively working to harm them.
It is a truism to say that Trump’s wounds were self inflicted, but the reality is that what is wounding him isn’t Trump’s gaffes. Nor is it the conflicting stories where Trump often appears to undercut his defenders after they take a stand on his behalf that are harming him. Instead Trump’s problems date back to when he first secured the Republican nomination. After having thoroughly insulted his rivals within the party and alienated many traditional Republican constituencies, while expanding his personal popularity into the white working class and middle class voters, he needed to locate mid and high level managers who would be loyal to him and run the administrative agencies and cabinet positions assuming he won. Perhaps, Trump thought that he wouldn’t win, or that if he won, the functionaries in those positions would shift their loyalty to him instead of running a guerrilla campaign. But in any event he misjudged things. I don’t think he even thought to identify career bureaucrats who he might tap to hold interim positions.
The question now is what can Trump do? The first thing to realize about Trump is that he strongly wants people to like him. In his business career, his show business career and when running for the Presidency, he has been able to find that approbation. When Trump speaks, or when one reads transcripts of interviews, it is clear that Trump can be very charming. Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist, calls him a master persuader. I am not sure that is true now, because his message when it goes out is severely filtered by the main stream media. Trump is a flatterer (and like most flatterers, is also susceptible to flattery) and is so far removed from the stereotype of the uptight wasp that he is, that he lards his sentences with over the top words of praise and love. Unfortunately, Trump, although convinced he can win over anyone on a one to one basis, is finding that reporters are friendly to him in interviews and appear to be won over, yet continue to write negative stories. This is incredibly frustrating to him because it is so foreign to his experience.
The keys to Trump’s success going forward are to implement changes that so far he has been unable to do. (1) He must find loyal and competent persons to fill unfilled government positions and replace either political appointees or career bureaucrats hostile to Trump.(2) He must engage in message discipline. This requires a coordinated effort, before speaking, among the press secretary and White House Press office, along with any surrogates Trump may have speak on his behalf, along with any appointed officials, and Trump.
Trump needs his press secretary to gain greater access to Trump’s meetings and policy sessions. Trump needs politically savvy aides with relationships with elected officials. As an example he needs someone who knows the legislators as well as Steve Miller knew Jeff Sessions. Trump is willing to use a charm offensive on legislators, but he needs greater intelligence on them. What made LBJ the master of the Senate (and later when he became President) was his astounding knowledge about what motivated the legislators to whom he applied the Johnson “treatment.” He would mix praise, appeal to patriotism, party or local political interests, he would cajole, threaten, charm, manipulate them because of his longstanding relationship with them. Trump may have this ability when he was dealing with local elected officials to get a project approved, but he needs more of it to get to the congressmen and senators. What Trump should have done, was have a trusted aide go to each of the committee chair and ranking minority member for each committee and subcommittee in the house and senate and ask them and their staffers to explain what the committee does, and how it can operate more efficiently, and get more of its legislation through with the understanding that Trump would help them and that he might call on them for assistance as well.
Trump wanted to be bipartisan but the Democrats have forced him into being one of the most partisan Presidents ever. The key to bipartisan support can only come if Trump understands their needs and wants and can supply some of them. You cannot assume you can find common ground. First you have to see if finding common ground is possible and good legislative relationships creates the foundation for that. Perhaps this outreach would be unsuccessful, but the aides would at least know where the problems lie and how the system works.