Trump’s Year 3 aims for dra­matic se­quels to ri­val orig­i­nals

Bor­der wall, sum­mit with Kim top agenda


WASH­ING­TON — As Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pre­pares to meet North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for a sec­ond time, he’s out to repli­cate the sus­pense­ful buildup, make-or­break stakes and far-flung ren­dezvous of their first en­counter. The re­al­ity star Amer­i­can pres­i­dent will soon learn if the se­quel, on this mat­ter and many oth­ers, can com­pete with the orig­i­nal.

In his third year in of­fice, Trump is start­ing to air some reruns.

Trump is headed into fresh ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korea, is still push­ing for his long-promised U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der wall and is con­sid­er­ing a new round of tax cuts. The fo­cus on his great­est hits in part re­flects Trump’s de­sire to ful­fill cam­paign prom­ises and en­er­gize vot­ers for his 2020 re­elec­tion cam­paign. But it’s not with­out risks.

“The dan­ger is the pub­lic starts rec­og­niz­ing this is Ground­hog Day,” said pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian Dou­glas Brink­ley. “You keep think­ing there is a win and there is no win. It’s not clear Trump is scor­ing durable his­tory points.”

With his re­al­ity TV back­ground and in­stinc­tive sense of how to con­trol a news cy­cle, Trump has long mi­cro­man­aged the stag­ing of his im­age, ea­ger to project power and drama.

Those in­stincts were on full dis­play dur­ing the re­cent scrap over his sec­ond State of the Union ad­dress. Trump re­jected his aides’ sug­ges­tions that he de­liver the ad­dress from an al­ter­nate site after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., with­drew her in­vi­ta­tion for him speak at the Capi­tol dur­ing the gov­ern­ment shut­down. Trump opted to wait for the real deal.

“There is no venue that can com­pete with the his­tory, tra­di­tion and im­por­tance of the House Cham­ber,” he tweeted.

In his deal­ings with North Korea, both past and fu­ture, Trump has been in­tent on gin­ning up ex­cite­ment.

After months of trading es­ca­lat­ing nu­clear threats with the North, Trump mem­o­rably popped his head into the White House brief­ing room last March to hint at big news to come. Not long af­ter­ward, of­fi­cials an­nounced that a Trump-Kim meet­ing was in the off­ing.

From there, Trump teased dates and lo­ca­tions, threat­ened to can­cel it — and did so at one point — be­fore sign­ing off on the plan for the his­toric meet­ing in Sin­ga­pore last June.

Trump was de­lighted that the first sum­mit re­ceived roundthe-clock ca­ble TV cov­er­age for days, some­thing he had hoped to re­peat last sum­mer when he met with Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, ac­cord­ing to two Repub­li­cans close to the White House. But Trump saw the Putin cov­er­age take a neg­a­tive turn after he re­fused to side with U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies over the Rus­sian pres­i­dent in a post-sum­mit news con­fer­ence.

This time, Trump has again tried to draw out the sus­pense, teas­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of an­other meet­ing with Kim for months and wax­ing po­etic about his re­la­tion­ship with the au­thor­i­tar­ian leader. But Trump has glossed over the fact that the first meet­ing pro­duced lit­tle in the way of tan­gi­ble re­sults to­ward de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, in­stead stress­ing that North Korea’s threats have fallen off and sug­gest­ing there is an op­por­tu­nity for fur­ther progress.

Aides coun­seled the pres­i­dent that a sec­ond sum­mit would prob­a­bly not carry the same drama as the first, and needed more con­crete re­sults, but Trump urged them to push for­ward be­fore de­cid­ing to an­nounce it dur­ing this past week’s State of the Union ad­dress. He in­sisted to ad­vis­ers that the Viet­nam sum­mit would still be must-see TV, and told one con­fi­dant that the idea of “good vs. evil” would be ir­re­sistible.

Brink­ley noted there is prece­dent for re­quir­ing more than one sum­mit to make a deal, cit­ing the re­peated arms con­trol meet­ings be­tween the United States and the Soviet Union dur­ing the Cold War. But he ar­gued that those were a bet­ter in­vest­ment, given that “Rus­sia is a great power” while “North Korea is a rogue actor.”

As for other White House se­quels, Trump would be happy to pro­duce Tax Cut 2.0. He over­saw a mas­sive tax cut at the end of 2017 and teased the pos­si­bil­ity of an­other in the runup to the 2018 midterm elec­tions. Eco­nomic ad­viser Larry Kud­low pushed back on the sug­ges­tion that it was sim­ply a pre-election ploy as he spoke to re­porters at the White House this past week.

“We’re kick­ing it around,” said Kud­low. “We’re look­ing at a cou­ple of very in­ter­est­ing things that may wind up sur­pris­ing folks.”

You can also count on Trump to con­tinue the tough im­mi­gra­tion rhetoric that de­fined his cam­paign and be­came a cen­tral part of his midterm election push. He forced the gov­ern­ment into a 35-day par­tial shut­down over his de­mand to fund a wall along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der and views his im­mi­gra­tion ef­forts as key to his re-election cam­paign.

Brink­ley said of Trump’s re­peat per­for­mances: “He’s a child of the 1970s with box­ing matches. It’s like the re­match with Muham­mad Ali and Joe Fra­zier.”


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump gives the thumbs-up on the South Lawn of the White House Fri­day as he re­turns from his phys­i­cal exam at Wal­ter Reed Na­tional Mil­i­tary Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

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