When it comes to making sense of President Donald Trump’s public statements, especially his tweets, the first rule is to not think too hard. Trump is not operating out of a secret genius playbook. There is no game theory reasoning in effect here.
So when Trump, silent for so long on Roy Moore, piped up late Thursday to attack Minnesota Sen. Al Franken over revelations of sexual misconduct, the simplest explanation was this: He wanted attention.
Good, bad, whatever; the tweets guaranteed that we would be talking – and here, writing – about the President. After nearly 10 months in office, most every day of it in the headlines, there was a possibility that, on Friday, Trump might wake up to find his name a secondary concern. And that, it seems, was too much to bear. (No, it didn’t hurt that Franken is a Democrat.)
That the tweets would inevitably rekindle chatter about his own history – the Access Hollywood tape, in which he speaks at length about sexually assaulting women, and the unresolved allegations made against him during the campaign, to name a few – was an afterthought.
Not that Trump hadn’t thought about this before. It’s been more than a week since Moore’s accusers first spoke out and turned the Alabama Senate race on its ear. The now-familiar charges against the Republican nominee: molesting a 14-year-old; “dating” teenagers; and the sexual assault of a 16-year-old in his car.
Republican leadership in Washington, after some consideration, all but dropped Moore, cutting off funding to his campaign. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called on him to quit the race.
But over at the White House, there has been something close to silence. Words, yes, but a clear position? Nope. (Apart from a statement last week from the press shop saying that Trump “believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside,” a sentiment reiterated by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on Thursday, there’s been nothing. Trump has not tweeted a word about it.)
Why the unusual quiet? A Republican close to the White House told CNN this week that Trump was concerned that getting involved in the Moore situation would provoke another look at his own past.
It’s as good an explanation as any. But the game plan, as it were, unraveled a little after 10 p.m. ET on Thursday, when Trump sent out the Franken tweets.
“The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?” Trump wrote, adding later: “And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women. Lesley Stahl tape?”
So much for keeping his head down and hoping for the controversy to pass him by. Trump simply couldn’t help himself. As predicted, the tweets set off a cascade of reminders. But they also guaranteed the President his place in the news. And as the growing ranks of armchair Trumpologists should know by now, that is the point.