President Donald Trump’s Friday morning tweet running down Alec (“Alex”) Baldwin’s impersonation of him is a strategic gambit, meant to distract the media – and the broader public – from paying attention to the turmoil swirling in his White House.
His ambiguity on what he favors in terms of gun control provisions to be included in congressional legislation is all part of a master plan to avoid the pitfalls past presidents have fallen into on the issue.
His reversals on immigration reform keep his opponents – and his allies – on their toes, providing him the high negotiating ground.
Those three statements are part and parcel of a long-running sentiment that gained credence in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s stunning election victory: That he is playing three-dimensional chess, executing on a strategy so advanced that the average person (or political reporter) simply can’t understand it.
But if you look at the last year-plus of Donald Trump in the White House, it’s hard to conclude that he is, in fact, operating off of some sort of secret – and hugely complex –blueprint for governing and politics.
In fact, the only strategy is really not a strategy at all: Trump simply says things. And no matter what he says on one day, he feels completely unbound by it the next day.
This is a difficult thing for the political world – and I include reporters – to grasp. Why? Because every modern president before Trump has had, broadly speaking, a theory of the case of what they wanted to accomplish. Their presidencies played out on the canvas of that blueprint. The various things they said and did (and didn’t do) all created a sort of sensible narrative arc of their presidency. They could be judged by how well they adhered to the priorities and vision they laid out.
There is nothing like that in the Trump presidency. Rather than a set of dots (actions/statements/policies) between which you can draw a relatively smooth through-line, there are only dots for Trump. Like a Rorschach drawing, you can try to see patterns in those dots. But different people see different things. And some people see absolutely nothing at all.
The point is: There is no point. There is just Trump – saying things and then reacting to the reaction to what he says.
What he says often has some level of consistency – tougher, safer, bigger, better – but that is less purposeful than the result of a man who almost always says exactly what is on his mind, no matter how people will react to it.
To call Trump a flip-flopper then is unfair and misses the point in the same way trying to force his various thoughts, tweets and policy statements into a cohesive whole does.
Because Trump lacked any real policy beliefs – outside of a skepticism of trade agreements and a belief that the tax system should work for businesses – before winning the presidency, he simply flits between totally contradictory positions on the regular now.
On immigration: One day he backs comprehensive reform while two days later he is opposed to anything short of what immigration hard-liners demand. On guns: One day he seems to favor a comprehensive bill with a series of reforms, the next, after a dinner with the President, a top NRA executive tweets that Trump opposes any gun control.
To flip-flop, you need to have staked out a position and stood by it. The whole point of flip-flops as being damaging in politics is because they represent a walking away from a deeply held belief for political expediency. If you don’t have any deeply held political beliefs, walking away from them is way less meaningful.
Trying to make Trump fit into any sort of pre-established box of presidential behavior is misunderstanding him. There is no plan or strategy beyond what Trump says and does. And Trump is almost supernaturally mercurial, meaning that what he says and does on a Wednesday shouldn’t be expected to tell us anything about what he will say or do on a Friday.
To quote Milhouse van Houten: We’re through the looking glass here, people. We need to start realizing it.