Imagine if Donald Trump had put his phone away on January 20, 2017.
We wouldn’t be talking about nonsense non-controversies, nor would there be absolute panic and dismay every single time he clicks “send.” Instead, Trump may be dictating the national message that looks much more positive than what you’re seeing in the news today:
- The lowest unemployment rate in the country in almost 18 years
- Legitimate predictions of 4% economic growth (which we haven’t seen since 2000)
- A tax cut that has led to employers handing out bonuses, pay raises and new benefits
- By the way, that tax cut is putting more money into the pockets of Americans
- The Dow Jones Industrial setting daily records with unprecedented optimism on Wall Street
Those economic headlines alone should have a President being celebrated as the second coming of Milton Friedman, but, yet, Trump continues to wallow in record low approval ratings. The Mueller investigation seems to be closing in on the Oval Office, questions still loom about keeping the government running after one shutdown already, and divisions among race, class, politics, neighbors, cats and dogs, Hatfields and McCoys, etc. that dog whether Trump can keep control of the agenda.
Instead, the President wouldn’t know message discipline if it cut his hair off. That’s why I was so encouraged when he brought retired General and then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in as Chief of Staff last summer. Kelly is known to have the discipline you would expect out of an Army officer, and Trump has shown to only respect the opinion of CEO’s, military leaders, and the occasional porn star (I kid.)
We saw some smart moves from Kelly over the first few weeks of his tenure, including dumping clownish Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci and limiting access to the Oval Office to those who have important business instead of those (Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller) who just wanted to exert control over the President.
Sadly, what we’ve seen is the President become even more isolated than he was before moving to Washington. You can almost follow the rundown of Fox & Friends in the morning and get a sense of what the President will be tweeting about each morning. Each evening he’s locked up in the White House residence, you can see when he’s been torqued off by what he sees on CNN.
There is surely a sense among Kelly and others in the White House that the President became President by being himself, a brash, charismatic, Twitter and Diet Coke fueled disruptor. And, very few people would debate whether DC needs a little disruption. But, the President has single-handedly killed his political and policy momentum with manufactured Twitter controversies and potentially put him in a bad spot with the Special Counsel.
General Kelly, let’s see that discipline you’re so well known for relate to messaging, keeping the President on the Teleprompter, and keeping him off of Twitter.
Patrick Pfingsten is an award-winning journalist, political consultant, and PR expert. You can find him on Twitter @pfingsten1 or email him at email@example.com.