Trump is combatant in chief; he’s getting better
President Donald Trump will win re-election. Anyone who watched Wednesday’s presser after Trump’s big night Tuesday knows in his or her bones that it will happen, because the president is getting better and better at the job.
We in the media are rightly upset that the White House has suspended the press credentials of CNN’s Jim Acosta, but I suspect the public is with the president and generally admiring of his disdain for those of us with microphones and keyboards.
When I first interviewed Trump in 2015 before he declared for the presidency, and almost a year later before the New Hampshire primary, I referenced his July 21, 2005, testimony to the Senate on the then-pending remodel of the U.N. headquarters. It is an amazing performance, if you find it on YouTube. Trump was in his element, talking real estate development, New York City commercial space and contractors, labor unions and naivete among lessees. He was funny, precise and in command of an amazing array of facts.
I bring up the U.N. testimony because the exchanges with the media Wednesday, especially with Acosta (who has been a welcome guest on my radio show) were lopsidedly in favor of the president. The president has spent two years learning the job. He brought a communications skill set unmatched by any other commander in chief, except Ronald Reagan, and as much – if not more – television experience than the Gipper.
President Barack Obama could do “cool” as well as anyone. Nobody is better at “combative” than Trump, and we live in an age addicted to combativeness. Cable news has adopted sports-like coverage and monetized combativeness. So, too, video games and blockbuster comic-book movies. The culture is built on combativeness.
And the president is getting better and better at the policy and performance aspects of the presidency, getting better on the details even as he sharpens his jousting skills.
I have said since 2015 that Trump is the best interview in America. It’s still true. And he’s making it look effortless. “60 Minutes,” a full-on news conference, the press availabilities in the Oval Office, the walks to the helicopter – he always delivers incredibly watchable television.
What he needs is a supporting cast, beyond the superb national security voices he has in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton. (Defense Secretary Jim Mattis eschews the talk-show spotlight.) Vice President Mike Pence always connects with conservative audiences, and a few other Cabinet members shine. But Trump needs Sunday-show talent beyond Kellyanne Conway. I’ve written before that he needs Judge Michael Luttig at the Justice Department; part of Luttig’s value would be his commanding presence.
If Trump repopulated his front bench with a talented supporting cast who would amplify rather than muffle his message, he’ll be unstoppable in 2020.
As he leans into the job and gains a new foil in soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he’ll be selling his vision of “compromise” assisted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (the second-best interview in America).
So much could get done – a DACA-plus (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) deal that includes a strong, double-sided fence, increasing the Navy to 355 ships, providing jobs in some Democratic states and prescription drug pricing reform.
Linking his growing experience and his communications skills with, finally, a reliable Senate majority and maybe, just maybe, a speaker who’d like a few last markers for history could produce quite a ride.
Hugh Hewitt is a professor of law at Chapman University’s School of Law.