Six months in, Trump wants more Trump

Ad­vis­ers urged to al­low free ex­pres­sion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVE BOYER

Af­ter six tur­bu­lent months of rat­tling the sta­tus quo at home and abroad, Pres­i­dent Trump wants to give the world an even big­ger dose of his unique brand of lead­er­ship.

Mr. Trump punc­tu­ated his first six months in of­fice with more staff changes in the West Wing, hir­ing Wall Street fi­nancier An­thony Scara­mucci as his com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor and ac­cept­ing the res­ig­na­tion of em­bat­tled press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer.

“We’re go­ing to fo­cus and re­fine the mes­sag­ing from the White House,” Mr. Scara­mucci said on “Fox News Sun­day.” “He’s one of the most ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tors that’s ever been born, and we’re go­ing to make sure that we get that mes­sage out di­rectly to the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

And in a head-snap­ping rev­e­la­tion, Mr. Scara­mucci said the un­ortho­dox tweeter in chief be­lieves his ad­vis­ers need to let Trump be Trump even more of­ten.

“We were talk­ing about let­ting him be him­self, let­ting him ex­press his full iden­tity,” Mr. Scara­mucci said af­ter emerg­ing from an Oval Of­fice meet­ing with the pres­i­dent. “I think it’s su­per im­por­tant for us to let him ex­press his per­son­al­ity.”

As if to un­der­score that point, Mr. Trump launched a se­ries of tweets over the week­end tar­get­ing “crooked Hil­lary,” in­tel­li­gence leaks, “fake news” and ob­struc­tion­ist Democrats. He crit­i­cized Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion and as­serted his “com­plete power to par­don.”

At the half­way mark of his first year in of­fice, Mr. Trump’s ag­gres­sive style and re­lent­less fo­cus on the econ­omy have pro­duced en­cour­ag­ing re­sults. His push to cut reg­u­la­tions, his con­stant court­ing of in­dus­try lead­ers, his hands-on ap­proach to trade and his plans to cut cor­po­rate taxes have re­as­sured em­ploy­ers, who have added nearly 900,000 jobs since Jan­uary. The Dow Jones in­dex has risen more than 18 per­cent since his elec­tion in Novem­ber.

“He’s done a lot of good things on the reg­u­la­tory side,” said Repub­li­can strate­gist John Fee­hery. “Con­sumer con­fi­dence is at an all-time high, wages are go­ing up for low-wage work­ers, that’s all pos­i­tive. The un­em­ploy­ment rate [of 4.4 per­cent in June] is pretty low. The econ­omy is not grow­ing as quickly as it should be, but you can see there’s room for it to grow.”

Slightly more Amer­i­cans ap­prove of Mr. Trump’s han­dling of the econ­omy, 43 per­cent, than dis­ap­prove, 41 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to an ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post poll re­leased Satur­day.

In the courts, Mr. Trump’s goal of forg­ing a more con­ser­va­tive ju­di­ciary is well un­der­way, start­ing with the suc­cess­ful nom­i­na­tion of Neil M. Gor­such to the Supreme Court.

On the na­tional se­cu­rity front, Mr. Trump’s tem­po­rary travel ban has been largely up­held by the high court. Il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion on the bor­der with Mex­ico has been re­duced by about two-thirds since Mr. Trump took of­fice.

The U.S.-backed war against the Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria has made steady gains. Mr. Trump is call­ing out NATO mem­bers pub­licly to pay more of their fair share for the de­fense al­liance.

“He’s trans­formed the bully pul­pit like no other pres­i­dent,” said Trump friend and News­max Me­dia CEO Christo­pher Ruddy. “He’s used ev­ery­thing from un­scripted press [ap­pear­ances] to thun­der­ous tweets to get every board­room in Amer­ica talk­ing about keep­ing jobs here, get­ting coun­tries like China to open up their busi­ness mar­kets, get­ting 22 coun­tries in NATO to start in­creas­ing their mil­i­tary spend­ing. Just by talk­ing about get­ting tough on the bor­der and im­mi­gra­tion, bor­der cross­ings have dropped over 60 per­cent. This is the amaz­ing record of the Trump pres­i­dency.”

Yet Mr. Trump’s job ap­proval rat­ing is a his­tor­i­cally low 39.9 per­cent in the Real Clear Pol­i­tics av­er­age of polls, his re­la­tion­ship with con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans is strained and with Democrats is nonex­is­tent, his Rus­sia le­gal prob­lems are ex­pand­ing, and his top leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties of health care re­form and tax cuts are go­ing nowhere fast.

“Even af­ter six months, he and his team have to­tally failed to un­der­stand how Capi­tol Hill works,” said Demo­cratic strate­gist Jim Man­ley, who worked 21 years in Congress for law­mak­ers such as Sens. Harry Reid of Ne­vada and Ted Kennedy of Mas­sachusetts. “When it comes to leg­is­la­tion, it’s the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. I’ve never seen any­thing like it.”

Mr. Man­ley pointed to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s stymied ef­fort to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare in the Sen­ate.

“Whether it’s set­ting dead­lines that are no longer reach­able, whether it’s blind­sid­ing the Hill, the pres­i­dent’s flip-flop­ping on the health care pol­icy three dif­fer­ent times in about 24 hours, it’s sowed ut­ter and com­plete chaos on Capi­tol Hill,” he said. “That’s de­spite the fact that [Repub­li­cans] con­trol all three branches of gov­ern­ment.”

In an­other re­buff of the pres­i­dent, con­gres­sional lead­ers an­nounced Satur­day that they had reached a fi­nal agree­ment on leg­is­la­tion that would cod­ify penal­ties im­posed on Rus­sia by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and would re­quire Mr. Trump to seek ap­proval from Congress if he wants to lift the sanc­tions.

Mr. Fee­hery said Mr. Trump and his ad­vis­ers com­mit­ted a ma­jor tac­ti­cal blun­der with Congress in their first six months by tak­ing aim at Oba­macare be­fore se­cur­ing eas­ier leg­isla­tive vic­to­ries.

“I think his big­gest mis­take was tak­ing up health care first,” he said. “They should have fo­cused on taxes and in­fra­struc­ture. He’s not fo­cused like a laser beam on his leg­isla­tive agenda.”

Mr. Scara­mucci said po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents con­sis­tently un­der­es­ti­mate Mr. Trump.

“I pre­dict that the pres­i­dent will get a win in health care … just be­cause I’ve seen him in op­er­a­tion over the last 20-plus years,” he said. “The pres­i­dent has re­ally good karma, OK? He’s gen­uinely a won­der­ful hu­man be­ing, and I think as mem­bers of Congress get to know him bet­ter and get com­fort­able with him, they’re go­ing to let him lead them to the right things for the Amer­i­can peo­ple. So I think we’re go­ing to get the health care done. I also think we’re go­ing to get tax re­form done.”

Af­ter six months, it will come as no sur­prise that Mr. Trump blames news me­dia for fail­ing to spread the word of his achieve­ments.

“We have ac­com­plished so much, and we are be­ing given credit for so lit­tle,” the pres­i­dent said. “The good news is the peo­ple get it, even if the me­dia doesn’t.”

Mr. Trump’s war with “fake news” me­dia has in­ten­si­fied since his in­au­gu­ra­tion. Mr. Ruddy pointed to a study by Har­vard Univer­sity’s Shoren­stein Cen­ter on Mr. Trump’s first 100 days in of­fice, which showed press cov­er­age by ma­jor me­dia out­lets was 80 per­cent neg­a­tive. The num­bers for pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents dur­ing their first 100 days: Barack Obama, 41 per­cent neg­a­tive; Ge­orge W. Bush, 57 per­cent neg­a­tive; and Bill Clin­ton, 60 per­cent neg­a­tive.

“I think the pres­i­dent and his whole White House team have been frus­trated by the con­stant bar­rage of me­dia at­tacks,” Mr. Ruddy said. “The story of the first six months is the war against the pres­i­dent by the ma­jor me­dia. I don’t think we’ve seen any­thing like it.”

In an NBC News/Wall Street Jour­nal poll last week, 60 per­cent of re­spon­dents agreed with this as­ser­tion: “The news me­dia and other elites are ex­ag­ger­at­ing the prob­lems with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion be­cause they are un­com­fort­able and threat­ened with the kind of change that Trump rep­re­sents.”

De­spite bleak poll num­bers, White House of­fi­cials say Mr. Trump hasn’t lost sup­port among his base, par­tic­u­larly in blue-col­lar com­mu­ni­ties in swing states and in tra­di­tional Repub­li­can ter­ri­tory. Polls bear that out, and there is anec­do­tal ev­i­dence to sup­port that view.

Michael Blichasz, pres­i­dent of the Pol­ish Amer­i­can Cul­tural Cen­ter in Philadel­phia, sounds out vis­i­tors sur­rep­ti­tiously about Mr. Trump and said he finds sup­port for the pres­i­dent is still strong in that eth­nic com­mu­nity. Pol­ish-Amer­i­can vot­ers in Penn­syl­va­nia and other in­dus­trial bat­tle­ground states played an im­por­tant role in Mr. Trump’s vic­tory in Novem­ber.

“Many of the peo­ple who came to our mu­seum in the last six months or so — peo­ple of many na­tion­al­i­ties — say they are hope­ful that there will be ma­jor changes in the coun­try, and they see that there’s a tremen­dous fo­cus on bring­ing prob­lems to the fore­front,” Mr. Blichasz said. “Maybe [Mr. Trump] is a lit­tle rough around the edges at times, but he is the per­son that I think can bring [bureau­crats] out of the shad­ows. There’s been too many peo­ple run­ning the coun­try in the shad­ows who put the coun­try al­most $20 tril­lion in debt.”

He added, “If the press would fo­cus more time on how we can stand to­gether to change our coun­try for the best, I be­lieve things would be even bet­ter in the fu­ture. I am hope­ful that this man will have ev­ery­body re­fo­cus on how we’re go­ing to do more busi­ness in Amer­ica.’’

White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, who was pro­moted to the post upon Mr. Spicer’s res­ig­na­tion, said Trump sup­port­ers have been en­er­gized by his ac­com­plish­ments in the first six months.

“Stock mar­ket’s at a high, jobs are grow­ing, reg­u­la­tions are com­ing off, the coun­try’s be­com­ing more se­cure, the bor­der’s be­com­ing more se­cure, im­mi­gra­tion is down,” she said. “I think we have a lot of things to cel­e­brate.”

But in­ves­ti­ga­tions into sus­pected col­lu­sion be­tween Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials and Moscow be­fore the elec­tion last year ap­pear to be pick­ing up steam. Mr. Mueller has ex­panded the probe into Trump fam­ily fi­nances, and sev­eral key fig­ures are set to an­swer ques­tions from con­gres­sional com­mit­tees this week. Mr. Trump made changes to his le­gal team last week as he con­tin­ued to la­bel the whole af­fair a “witch hunt.”

Mr. Fee­hery said the best tac­tic for the pres­i­dent, how­ever un­likely for the so­cial me­dia war­rior, would be to stop talk­ing and tweet­ing about Rus­sia.

“He drives the story,” Mr. Fee­hery said. “He’s got to let it go. If there are rev­e­la­tions, he only makes it worse by re­spond­ing to them.”

He said the po­lit­i­cal dan­ger is rem­i­nis­cent of the White­wa­ter scan­dal in the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion — years of in­ves­ti­ga­tion cul­mi­nat­ing in a per­sonal scan­dal that par­a­lyzed the pres­i­dency.

“It was a con­stant part of the Clin­tons’ White House, and it led to a real para­noia within the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion and re­ally un­der­mined his abil­ity to get some things done,” Mr. Fee­hery said. “The con­cern for Trump is if he loses con­trol of the leg­isla­tive agenda and Democrats take over the House next year. [House Demo­cratic leader Nancy] Pelosi is not sim­patico with any­thing he wants to do. She’s re­ally par­ti­san.”

He said Mr. Trump must “fig­ure out a way to make sure he does the best he can to keep the House in Repub­li­can hands.”

“But that means get­ting some leg­isla­tive ac­com­plish­ments,” Mr. Feehrey said. “They’ve got to get the tax cuts as soon as pos­si­ble.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

At the half­way mark of his first year in of­fice, Pres­i­dent Trump’s ag­gres­sive style and re­lent­less fo­cus on the econ­omy have pro­duced en­cour­ag­ing re­sults, but a Repub­li­can Party strate­gist says he and his team have made some ma­jor blun­ders.

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