Is Trump Making Genius Strategic Moves (Even If You Think He’s Despicable)? Or Is He Just Winging It?
Trump did win the Presidency. So he must know what he’s doing when he pressures a foreign country to ban two members of the U.S. Congress, right? Maybe we can just end there.
But let’s go a little further: let’s say for a minute you don’t really care about the impact of anything you do except for whether it scores you political points among your supporters and/or metes out punishment to your enemies.
In that context, let’s wrap up what was supposed to be a very quiet week (you do realize both the House and Senate are on vacation and the President is in New Jersey?!), by assessing Trump’s performance as a political strategist in the last 24-hours. And whether he’s succeeded brilliantly or failed miserably in that short period of time. Or maybe both?
First, he successfully pushes to get Democratic Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib banned from an upcoming visit to Israel. Because, he says, they “hate Israel and all Jewish people”. So according to him, letting them in would “show great weakness”. Israel does have laws allowing it to deny entry to anybody supporting boycotts of Israel, which both Representatives have. But Israel had previously OK’d the visit. So why not just stick with that decision? (Heck, it was Trump who wanted them out of the country in the first place!) Instead, he badgers a foreign country to move against two U.S. members of Congress. And they do!
Update: just this morning, Israel partially reversed itself, and will allow Rep. Tlaib to enter next week, to visit her grandmother who lives in the West Bank. It’s unclear how much of the rest of her original itinerary she intends to keep, if any. Rep. Omar is still a no go. No reaction yet from Trump on Twitter, perhaps because he’s been too busy bragging he got more people at his New Hampshire rally last night then Elton John did at the same venue.
Update #2 Rep. Tlaib turned down the Israeli government’s OK to go see her grandmother, which was the result of a special request she made asking to at least go see her grandmother. So everybody’s playing politics here to some extent (regardless of the worthiness of the issues in the foreground). That elicited this Tweet from Trump.
And this still may accomplish several things for the President: it pushes Omar, Tlaib and others back to the forefront of the Democratic Party, with Democrats (including whomever is likely to run against him next year), rushing in to defend the two and condemn Trump’s meddling and exertion of influence over the current government in Israel. And in the not-too-distant-future, it may also compel some Democrats in the House to push for some sanctions or similar against Israel in light of the ban, when they wouldn’t have been inclined to otherwise.
This creates exactly the picture Trump is aching to promote heading into the 2020 election: that Representatives Omar, Talib, et. al. “run” the Democratic Party.
He cops to it himself in a Tweet that couldn’t be more succinct:
So wow. Trump’s a brilliant political strategist, right?
Maybe not. We would argue that Trump could’ve gotten more political mileage out of it by not blocking the trip, and then live Tweeting the Democratic Representatives’ entire visit. But we also know when Trump is presented with the opportunity of meting out punishment to people who don’t agree with his views, he’s always going to take that path first.
And then he gets started with China, both on Hong Kong and trade.
At first we thought the President was doing well from a strategy perspective with China’s political leadership: refusing to say or do anything in support of pro-Democracy protestors in Hong Kong, and instead saying he knows China’s President Xi “very well”, and praising him for being a “good man in a ‘tough business’”. This is completely consistent with Trump’s doctrine that the U.S. shouldn’t be in the Democracy-promoting business anymore. But it also seems like an unexpected nod of amity toward China’s President Xi, at a time when Trump really needs to get trade talks with China back on track. So that seems like a good move. That is, if he’d left it at that.
And even then, would it have made any difference? Who knows? And we won’t ever know because then the President does something characteristically tactless, wiping out the possibility of any newfound good will in the split second or less it takes to Tweet.
He follows up by telling Xi what to do in Hong Kong, and laying out how he’d handle the situation. And there’s one universal truth that we think especially applies to the President of China (and we’ve just seen a heated example of it as trade negotiations have gone South): nobody likes being told what to do. And we’re pretty sure no world leader likes being told how to govern their own country, with the implication being that you know their country better than they do. And Trump does this with Xi not just once, but multiple times, and not initially in the context of a private phone call or message, but via Twitter.
And then he goes and boasts if Xi listens to him and sits down with Hong Kong protestors, he bets everything can be worked out “in 15-minutes”. Here’s that clip (click on the photo to watch):
Unless…Trump’s strategy is to humiliate Xi, because now if there is a peaceful solution in Hong Kong, Trump’s sure to take credit for it. Now that might be sneaky brilliant. But we’re pretty sure that’s not what’s at work here at all. More like Trump just can’t help himself. And will Tweeting something that’s sure to be perceived as an insult to the President if China really hurt Trump with his supporters in the short term? Probably not. But if he doesn’t get his trade war won — you know, the one that was going to be “so easy” to win — it really could be one of the biggest threats against him. (Meanwhile, China said it will retaliate against new tariffs Trump is launching at the beginning of next month, even though Trump dramatically scaled them back).
Because telling the leaders of other countries how to do stuff is something Trump sure seems to love to do: not just with China, but Japan, and South Korea, and Germany, and Great Britain, and India… All the while publicly protesting he does not want to get entangled in human rights issues and other internal affairs with the leaders of other sovereign nations: like North Korea, and Russia, and Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.
Except maybe Israel, where apparently Trump is now King.
One final note: at his campaign rally last night in New Hampshire, Trump didn’t even mention his previous suggestion that Congress get to work on stronger background checks to buy guns. (He’d Tweeted about that earlier this month after El Paso). Instead, he returned to one of his (and the N.R.A.’s favorite talking points), that the core issue is mental illness, not guns. And the solution is to open a bunch of “mental institutions” just like we had in the old days…Guess that’s also a political “winner” too…And by that we mean maybe it is…