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Saturday night’s successful mission manifestly transformed the Sunday news cycle. It is already dominating Monday’s as well.
This was no “wag the dog” made-up effort, but a daring mission that any post-9/11 president might have carried out. But will Donald Trump look at the effect this operation had on the news flow and start to think about the fall of 2020? The history of Trump suggests he will.
The full impact Saturday will have on rallying congressional Republicans and the American people around the president is unknown, as is any way it might change the presidential race. It is way too soon for even the most headstrong pundit to speculate sensibly.
But it does point up something I heard repeatedly in my reporting for “How to Beat Trump” from Democratic strategists who know that the 45th president is well aware of how to leverage the advantages of incumbency.
Here’s a book excerpt on that:
For one thing, there is just something about Donald Trump that naturally attracts black swans into his orbit. For another, the Democrats have no doubt that Trump, who himself is so unpredictable, will use Twitter and the powers of the presidency to create some synthetic black swans, to the same effect as those that occur organically.
Warns Donna Brazile,“Trump is going to control the message. Trump is going to be Donald Trump.”
“2020 is going to be the year of the black swan,” says another strategist. “Look what happened in 2016. Access Hollywood, WikiLeaks, Putin, Comey, Anthony Weiner. Even Trump was thrown for a loop half the time, although he instinctively knew when to be quiet. And this time, he is going to know how to take better advantage and make it all as messy as possible, because then he is in his element.”
“The way you lose to Trump,” says Tad Devine, “is Trump turns this into what in Providence we would call a ‘frittata.’ It’s like scrambled eggs. You’re going to throw it all into the pot and kind of mix it all up. You don’t want to do that. The confusion is my biggest concern. Trump wants confusion. He’s sowing confusion. He’s always going to be there with the next thing, constantly. We want to have order. He wants noise. He’s looking to create noise. You’ve got to be extremely disciplined in terms of message delivery….”
The strategists do not doubt that Trump will call upon all the functions of his office to render an embellished image of his presidency. “On a very basic level, he will have the advantages of incumbency,” says Brian Fallon. “He will be able to look the part as he runs the campaign. He will be able to even more than in 2016 exercise control over the news of the day because he will have the power of the office. So more than just making provocative statements to try to define the debate, he’ll be able to carry out executive actions, orders to agencies to do things. He can announce there’s going to be some big immigration roundup and people won’t know if it is true or not, but they’ll have to treat it as such because he is the president saying that something is going to happen. He can likewise do things on the international stage that would force people to react. So it will be more than just bluster that will be provocative, which got him a long way in 2016. Now he will be able to back up provocative talk with provocative actions. It will have even more of an effect in terms of riling up his supporters, but also just trying to define the scope of the conversation.”
Other strategists think Trump might toss tradition and decorum out the window and juice the economy right after Labor Day, with a slick trick such as firing the chair of the Federal Reserve Board or striking a Hail Mary trade pact with China. Trump knows full well that he can pull some levers to prod the stock market and give him both a talking point and a strong close….
“Take the craziest scenarios we’ve planned for in the past,” says LaBolt, “and I think we need to multiply by ten with this election.”
Says Kathleen Sebelius, “It’s the kind of thing that, if they’re going to be commander-in-chief, they have to get ready for, because something totally unknown is going to come over the transom. Something that they didn’t plan for, that they didn’t scope out, that they don’t know about, whether it’s a huge natural disaster, an outbreak of a disease, some kind of foreign turmoil that suddenly throws the agenda off. And at that point, you have to react quickly. You have to trust your own judgment and move out with some degree of forcefulness and then go right back on message. They always say a disaster can make or break a governor or a president, because it’s how you react in the moment where you don’t get scripted, where you don’t have a great plan. I think the same is true with a candidate. They should expect the worst at every point along the way. They have to have a voice. You can’t poll test everything that happens. You can’t wait and wring your hands. You have got to forcefully have a reaction, gut check your reaction with a couple of people, move out, do it, and then get as many of your supporters and followers to do it as possible. And then keep on message, and keep on the campaign plan.”
These moments will test the courage, instincts, and fortitude of whomever the Democrats nominate. “Keep your chin up,” advises one strategist. “If you get past these hurdles, you’ll be better prepared for the challenges of the job.” And be especially vigilant as the presidential debates approach; the strategists expect black swans to trumpet loudest when the stakes are highest. Assuming there are presidential debates. Some of the strategists predict that Trump will become the first president since Nixon to refuse to debate his opponent.
How to execute at the end, to make the right choices, with black swans swooping here and there, will be the stuff of history.
Read more of the excerpt here.
“How to Beat Trump: America’s Top Political Strategists on What It Will Take” is being published tomorrow.
The final paragraph of David Sanger’s 30,000-foot look at the raid:
“The risk, of course, is that America looks like a force of exploitation, willing to enter hostile foreign lands for two reasons only: killing terrorists and extracting resources. The mission of the American Century — helping other nations to develop their economies and build democratic institutions — is missing from the strategy.”
My take: This is one of the first of many nuanced looks at the implications of the raid. In the coming days, there will be polls, too. Don’t expect a major, sustained Trump bump up from Saturday. And don’t expect nuanced discussions of policy to make much of an impact on the wider discussion. The raid will certainly be a short-term circuit breaker on most Republican criticism of Trump on his Syria policy specifically, and of Trump more generally. It will be an even shorter circuit breaker on the press’ all-impeachment, all-the-time coverage. Team Trump will try to keep the focus on Al-Baghdadi, but outside of Fox News and other such outlets, the news media will likely return to its regularly scheduled programming by sundown Tuesday (at the latest).
Last night, Donald Trump got booed at the World Series; today, he travels to Chicago (a city filled with people who will boo him if they get the chance), for a fundraiser and 11:25am ET remarks at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference and Exposition, at which you can expect him to talk more about the raid, with “details” that will send CNN and MSNBC chyron operators into overdrive.
My take: I’m accepting bets now – will those two cable networks take the commander-in-chief’s second set of remarks on the operation live?
Former national security council aide Charles Kupperman does not intend to show up today for his scheduled appearance before the House impeachment investigators.
Lot of other witness are scheduled for this week.
My take: The third co-equal branch is about to play its biggest role yet in the impeachment battle between the other two branches, as Kupperman waits to see how the courts rule on whether he is required to cooperate with the congressional probe. Obviously, the two big questions are, (1) whom will the judiciary side with, and (2) will judges (and justices…) rule quickly enough to keep the House Democrats on their schedule to hand impeachment articles to the Senate soonish. The answers: (1) I don’t know and (2) no.
Third-quarter GDP will be reported Wednesday, and the October jobs numbers come out Friday.
My take: It is still the case that the state of the economy in 2020 will say more about whether Donald Trump is president in 2021 than Adam Schiff will. And it still appears more likely than not that there will not be a recession in 2020.
The latest on the California fires and power outages here.
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