Crilly: Maintaining the image of getting down to business fast is coming at the expense of the other part of the deal -- that he can deliver
When you have no political experience and when you've built your entire platform on a messianic appeal, this could very easily end in disaster
Editor’s Note: Rob Crilly is a British journalist living in New York. He was The Telegraph’s Afghanistan and Pakistan correspondent and was previously the East Africa correspondent for The Times of London. The opinions in this article are those of the author.
Donald Trump’s management style is clear to anyone who has watched his TV show “The Apprentice.”
Line up a bunch of contenders in front of you; set their hair on fire; let them squabble; run around and create mayhem.
Once things have reached the point at which the viewer is watching from between their fingers – and only then – step in as the arbiter in chief, the man with the answers, the all-powerful figure who brings the whole pitiful thing to a conclusion.
This is how Trump ran his businesses, his TV show and his campaign. But this week he has begun to find out what happens when the myth comes to Washington, with its competing power centers, lawyers and vested interests.
Trump’s determination to win Big League is blinding him to what a victory in government looks like. Quick fire stunts that alienate allies and dent your chances will probably limit opportunities down the road.
And he has offered dithering Democrats a dangling thread for his unraveling even before all of his Cabinet nominees have made it through their Senate confirmation.
Executive orders were always going to appeal to this sort of management philosophy. So it is no surprise that even with the sort of majorities in the House and the Senate that give him the political whip hand, Trump has made rapid and ferocious use of their unilateral powers.
But by any reading, his executive order suspending the US refugee program and arrivals from seven mainly Muslim countries has been a disaster.
His White House has had to drop green card holders from the ban and more than one judge has ordered parts of the program be dropped. Grandmothers and Iraqis who served alongside American soldiers have been detained. Not good for PR.
Worse, it has exposed rifts in the administration, with key players saying they were not properly consulted, and divisions among Republicans, who say such barriers are un-American or that they detect a religious test in the decision to give Christians preferential treatment.
Democrats, who appeared listless without the leadership of an Obama or a Clinton, now fancy the fight. Not only are activists energized, but their elected representatives have begun obstructing the business of Cabinet confirmations on Capitol Hill.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Throughout a topsy-turvy campaign, Trump managed to offer a consistent messianic message amid the noise. If America was going to hell, then there was only one man who could mend things.
“I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” he said at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
It’s going to be beautiful, he bragged. It will be so easy, he boasted.
So while a bungled order and leaky insiders describing amateur hour at the White House might be entirely understandable for any president in his first week, Trump is not just any president. For him, the exploding of the myth is far more dangerous.
No wonder he brought forward the unveiling of his Supreme Court pick by two days. Trump looked glad of a showbiz diversion – a chance to put himself back on a red carpet in prime time. And, as he named Neil Gorsuch to the bench, he restated his central manifesto.
“I am a man of my word. I will do as I say,” he said. “Something that the American people have been asking for from Washington for a very, very long time”
His problem is that restating his own chosen narrative is not the same as winning back public perception.
His need to be seen as a man of his word has meant a helter-skelter rush to push through the policies he promised: rolling back Obamacare on Day One, slashing regulation, suspending refugee entry, building the wall.
The Mexican President has canceled a visit to the White House and there have been reports of a heated exchange in a telephone call with the Australian Prime Minister.
Maintaining the image of getting down to business fast is coming at the expense of the other part of the deal – that he can deliver.
The story taking hold is chaos over order, weakness over strength, division over unity.
That would be a problem for any politician. But when you have no political experience and when you have built your entire platform on a messianic appeal – a savior myth built around the politician as strongman – then it could very easily end in disaster.