Flynn scandal proves Trump is not immune to laws of gravity

Flynn resigns amid controversy over Russia contacts.
Flynn resigns amid controversy over Russia contacts.

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Flynn resigns amid controversy over Russia contacts. 02:57

Story highlights

  • McTernan: President Trump's defeat of Hillary Clinton did not rewrite the laws of politics
  • Misleading the media, it turns out, is as bad in the era of the tweeting President as it was in that of the President as Orator-in-Chief

John McTernan is a former speechwriter for ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair and ex-communications director to former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)"All political careers end in failure" was the famous saying of British politician Enoch Powell.

It is a very memorable phrase because it highlights one of the fundamental laws of politics -- that there is such a thing as political gravity.
However high you fly, you will eventually fall to earth. Tony Blair was one of the most popular British prime ministers in history, but his reputation has yet to recover from the aftermath of the Iraq War.
President Obama ended his two terms in office with high approval ratings but is now seeing his legacy dismantled after his party failed to win a third consecutive term in office.
The watchword of leadership should always be "Beware!" -- you always have less time than you think. Less time to achieve radical change. Less time to assemble coalitions of support. Less time until the shine comes off you.
If Mr. Trump thought he was immune to the laws of political gravity, the President is quickly learning he was mistaken.
Blithe disregard for the normal rhythms and routines of the presidency have been the defining feature of Mr. Trump's first few weeks in office.
There's the tweeting -- giving an instantaneous insight into the President's moods and intentions. There's the appointment process, which led to the Joint Chiefs being optional members of the National Security Council.
Biggest of all appeared to be the lack of vetting and background checking into senior appointments. Here, perhaps, the President was bringing into real life his reality-documentary approach to hiring and firing staff. The primary test appeared to be, "Is he one of us?"
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The robustness of decision-making in government is inevitably stress-tested in public. That is what has dramatically happened with Michael Flynn's resignation as President Trump's national security adviser. He had to go because he inadvertently briefed the then-Vice President-elect and others with incomplete information regarding his phone calls with the Russian ambassador, who had then given apparently inaccurate answers to the media about Flynn's contact with Russian officials.
There will be much discussion about who said what to whom, who knew what. But what should not be overlooked is the central fact -- that the offense for which Flynn has resigned is that most old-fashioned error of "misleading the media." For all that the Trump administration does differently and seeks to break the mold, it was saying the wrong thing to a journalist which has led to this first serious punch being landed on the Trump presidency.
Old timers will always say that there is a reason for process and procedure. A political leader should only ever appoint someone whose background has been rigorously checked. An unvetted appointment is an accident waiting to happen.
President Trump's defeat of Hillary Clinton did not rewrite the laws of politics; it simply revealed that if you have the wrong message and the wrong model of the electorate, then you will not mobilize enough voters in the right places to win.
Mr. Trump triumphed because his team knew that and Clinton's didn't. You have to win according to the rules of the contest -- gaining a majority of the Electoral College rather than the one of the popular vote.
In similar fashion, dogged, old-fashioned questions from a journalist can draw blood. Misleading the media, it turns out, is as bad in the era of the tweeting President as it was in that of the President as Orator-in-Chief. Authority depends not only on mandate but also on protocol and performance.