CNN, MSNBC, ABC, Washington Post, and The New York Times have become like vultures, feeding on the carcass of the White House’s failed communication strategy and branding efforts.
Since day one, the White House has been embroiled in scandal, both real and artificial. However, it’s not so much the scandals themselves that have damaged President Trump’s White House, but his Administration’s failed and disorganized response to them. President Trump certainly made a move in the right direction by appointing Anthony Scaramucci to help shake up the White House communications office, but unless Scaramucci makes some real changes to the White House, things won’t get any better.
It’s not like the White House’s staff haven’t been trying to control the narrative but their efforts are constantly scuttled by others including Trump himself. As I see it, the White House’s biggest problem is the question of who speaks for them? Is it the White House Press Secretary? Or is it the President’s senior staff? Or is the numerous leaks coming from high and mid-level staff that give glimpses into the often secretive world of Trump? Or is it President Trump himself in his tweets, rally speeches, and TV interviews? The White House has four different speakers and this itself isn’t inherently bad but what is bad is that often, all four speakers are each saying something different.
A good analogy for this (by now, you know how much I love analogies) is a movie theater. Every theater has multiple speakers and mediums for transmitting audio/visual signals to us and when they work in unison, everything is great. But imagine for a second that you are in a theater where each speaker in the room is playing audio from a different movie. Can you imagine the chaos and confusion that would exist in that theater? Similarly, the multiple narratives being broadcast from the White House are causing immense confusion for the American public and the media, often allowing networks like CNN to add their own twist and simply channel the narratives in their own direction by picking and choosing which narrative they like best.
While all four issues are problems, Scaramucci could conceivably deal with the other three but the biggest problem will be President Trump himself. Often times, Trump and his White House staff are moving in opposite directions meaning there’s only two solutions: either Trump conforms to the White House staff or the White House staff conforms to Trump. And because the White House staff serve at Trump’s pleasure, it’s clear who they must be conforming to.
But Trump himself needs to get on board with any White House communications plan and can’t keep letting his lack of restraint on Twitter derail his Administration’s narrative. For example, the Trump Administration has been trying to get out of the shadow of the Russia investigations for months to no avail. There are certain things that are out of Trump and his staffs’ hands like Robert Mueller, the FBI, and Congress’s investigation panels. But while Trump can’t obstruct them or stop the investigations, he can spin them in a way that puts him in a slightly better light or even just completely ignore them.
Half of the Trump-Russia stories cooked up by the media aren’t about what the Russians did but rather what Trump had done or said in response. For Trump personally, this may be a new and even frightening tactic, but often times, silence is actually a better response than answering the media’s constant accusations. By refusing to engage them, Trump deflates their stories and without his comments to keep their news cycles fresh, the media will soon start going down other rabbit holes or stirring up muck elsewhere. In fact, by constantly complaining on Twitter about how this Russia investigation is still in the headlines, he is actually helping keep it all on the front page.
I don’t believe Trump should give up Twitter or even cut down his tweeting habits. But I do believe he needs to redirect and calibrate them to serve a more specific agenda rather than serving as a venue for him to blow off steam. Twitter is a powerful weapon for Trump as almost every tweet stirs up the news cycle. Thus, instead of rapid tweeting at random, Trump should specifically focus his tweets on specific issues like healthcare, for example. Today, Trump did tweet about healthcare twice but those tweets were drowned out by a lot of other controversial topics including tweets about Hillary Clinton and Jeff Sessions. If Trump is trying to make healthcare reform the current goal of his administration, he needs to make it the target of all his tweets because changing between it and other topics only distracts people and allows the media, not Trump, to choose which tweets to focus on and to just mention in passing.
I don’t see this being an easy task and I don’t really picture Trump to be the sort of person who likes being told what to do. But it is not only important for his own image that he learn how to tweet responsibly, but it is also integral to the success of the White House in trying craft its own narrative to the American people. Failure to do so will result in the continued hijacking of the White House’s agenda by the Democrats and the media, no matter how many theme weeks and months the White House tries to declare.
Follow Publius Tacitus on Twitter at @PCTacitus