Trump’s president-to-president strategy is a winning one

Trump’s president-to-president strategy is a winning one

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE is taking heat for not roughing up Russian President Vladimir Putin at their meeting in Helsinki. The meeting wasn’t a rousing success but American presidents always find  early meetings with Russian leaders fall short of expectations.

Trump actually had the nerve to want to talk to Putin one-to-one against the best judgement of editorial writers from New York City to Washington, D.C. who thought he wouldn’t be able to stand up to the unrepentant Chekist — unlike Barack “Red Line” Obama.

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And why shouldn’t the president talk one-on-one with Putin or North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un? Putin  won’t go away until 2024 — maybe; Kim is 35 years old and may rule for decades more.

 

Trump’s splenetic critics fail to understand that the best way to get him to do something is to editorialize and frantically tweet he shouldn’t be doing it, which is why he subsequently invited Putin to the White House.

Trump’s election  caused a lot of anxiety in  Washington, D.C., and one of the biggest sources of that anxiety is his proclivity to directly engage foreign leaders without the involvement of his staff, cabinet members, diplomats, or intelligence officials. These senior officials, despite their august titles, are managers of the “staff process,” an iterative method that scours all corners of the organization for information then generates several recommended courses of action. Basically, it’s a way to “keep the boss out of trouble.”

Trump, however, views many of them as glossy inhabitants of The Swamp and, even if he might make some better decisions with their input, there’s the trust issue which was irritated by the rampant leaks early in his term. The lesson to Trump: if no one knows what you’re doing next it can’t leak.

The Trump Organization owns a lot of stuff, but it was run as a family office with one decision maker — Donald J. Trump — who managed his image and communications.

It’s not like there wasn’t advance notice. Trump was a regular guest on The Howard Stern Show and created a persona, the PR man “John Miller,” to talk anonymously to the media and, in one case, to brag about his romantic exploits. The lesson to Washington, D.C.: Trump uses the best available communications platform — once talk radio, today Twitter – and he does it himself. Trump’s one-to-one style and ease with social media has official Washington, D.C. running to catch up.

Trump’s immediate successors were more comfortable in a White House  with managed communications. George W. Bush was a dynastic politician who was attended to by a retinue of faithful family retainers. Austin, Texas or Washington, D.C., it made no difference, the Bush family machine was practiced at protecting the First Members. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTime for sunshine on Trump-Russia investigation Getting politics out of the pit To cure Congress, elect more former military members MORE is reflective and doesn’t like to be rushed to a decision, knows he will always be supported by the mainstream media, and gives his best speeches with a Teleprompter. Both former presidents, one because of experience, the other temperament, could be counted on to stay inside the system.

Trump feels he should be talking directly to other bosses — whether Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin or Kim Kardashian. And they want to talk directly to him.

That’s what he did when he was running the Trump Organization, but it runs against the swamp ethic that decrees a meeting with an American official is a reward for compliant behavior, instead of a way to conduct state-to-state business with a “competitor,” Trump’s accurate description of the Russian Federation.

But the president decides how to fashion his communications with foreign leaders. Bush spoke to Afghan President Karzai weekly, and also regularly to Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki; Obama didn’t feel the need to maintain those relationships but found a soul mate in fellow globalist Angela Merkel.

After withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Trump  announced he would meet Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani with “no preconditions.” Iran’s spokesman said it wouldn’t happen and the State Department scrambled to respond, but many long-suffering Iranians asked “Why not?”

Can Trump do anything better? Yes, he needs to drive the narrative after these one-on-one meetings. After Helsinki Russia got their version out first while senior U.S. officials, who would normally, echo and amplify the president didn’t “fully understand” what transpired.

Some of the staff and senior officials may genuinely feel the Trump is erring by talking privately to Putin or Kim, or not making a meeting a reward, but a lot of what we’re seeing is anxiety borne of no longer being able to influence the process of shaping the president’s options. And it’s an iron law of government that an official hasn’t been born who doesn’t feel he know better than his boss.

James D. Durso (@James_Durso) is the managing director at consultancy firm Corsair LLC. He was a professional staff member at the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and served as a U.S. Navy officer for 20 years specializing in logistics and security assistance. His overseas military postings were in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and he served in Iraq as a civilian transport advisor with the Coalition Provisional Authority. He served afloat as supply officer of the submarine USS SKATE (SSN 578).