Issues & Insights

Trump’s Homemade Media Strategy Is Genius and Dumb

By Andrew Malcolm

When it comes to White House media strategy, President Trump is an absolute genius. And his own worst enemy.

There’s an excellent reason why his communications directors — all five of them — have come and gone so quickly. And there isn’t one now. Trump not only thinks he knows more than they do. He knows he knows more than they do.

And guess who’s the boss in a president’s shop.

Headstrong might be the word. Undisciplined could be another. Trump often goes with his gut when he decides to say something, often on the spur of the moment. Not always wise for someone whose words are weighed so closely around the world.

His base loves their guy talking trash to the D.C. establishment, whichever side the targets are on. Trump loves his base loving that. And it’s worked well — as far as the base is concerned — and given Trump control of most news cycles through a mere Tweet.

Polls indicate the adopted Republican is maintaining support among nine out of ten Republicans. Which is really good.

Unfortunately for the GOP, Republicans are a chronic political minority in America. So, that’s 90 percent of maybe 45 or 46 percent. Which is — wait for it — insufficient to repeat the fragile assembly of sufficient Electoral Votes to extend his White House lease next year.

No one who witnessed Trump’s unlikely destruction of 16 GOP competitors over time in 2016 would be willing to write off his chances of capturing a second term in 2020.

It feels great to tell people off at the time. But there’s a definite downside to shooting from the lip so consistently. It prevents an expansion of the base. For example, the economy under Donald Trump’s tax cuts and extermination of growth-crippling regulations is rolling right along sweetly, 3.2 percent on an annualized basis at last report.

Millions of Americans who wallowed in unemployment during Barack Obama’s stagnant reign of error are now employed, producing family incomes, paying taxes, making Social Security contributions, buying consumer goods. Unemployment hasn’t been this low in a half-century and it’s historically low among the chronic employment problem areas of Hispanics and blacks.

This is a golden story for any politician to tell, especially one approaching a national election with a distinct majority of Americans having disapproved of Trump’s job performance every single one of his 838 days in office.

There’s no doubt who’s executive producer of this Oval Office Show, just as Trump was in charge for so many highly-rated years with NBC’s “The Apprentice.” He’s canceled the daily briefings, which became a reliable make-work, make-news crutch for many reporters who, honestly, now have more almost daily access to a president than ever. He likes the attention and control.

His staff of surviving communications professionals has been conscientious. They’ll set up an event to highlight the nation’s impressive economic growth with a super photo backdrop and workers who’ll aver they’ve never been so happy.

Trump will begin a written rally speech detailing the actually amazing economic progress under his administration. Then, feeding off the cheers and chants, he’ll go with his gut, veer off message and attack someone or the enemies of the people with the cameras in the back of the hall.

If he stuck to the economy for 45 minutes instead of going on and on with grievances and boasts for 75 minutes, the DC media would have no choice but to cover the economy.

Spoiler Alert: They are not friends of Republicans. So, they’re going to cover the attacks, the mistruths and turmoil, which, if we’re honest here, is indeed what’s new in the speech.

Their excuse would be hey, we’ve heard all this economic stuff before. When a president goes after someone, it’s news. And that’s true. So, why waste those counterproductive attacks on a crowd that adores you already?

If he really wants re-election instead of going out with guns blazing after a lone term of tumult, he needs to recalibrate.

The crowd, everyone in it, should be mere applauding props for Trump to deliver a powerful, civil message of prosperity and unity to the silent millions watching at home. These include the persuadable independents who appreciate much of what Trump’s done. They will decide the next president next year.

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Andrew Malcolm

@AHMalcolm Veteran national & foreign correspondent, nonfiction author, blogger, National Politics Columnist for McClatchy at


  • In other words, “Trump’s not behaving they way politicians are supposed to.” Newsflash, that’s why he was elected. Do you really think he cares if he looses? He goes back to his skyscraper to his model wife and his money. He doesn’t NEED to win. America needs him to win, however.

    • I’ll second what Mark is saying. Romney and McCain played by the rules of what a politician is supposed to do and the media consistently outmaneuvered them and rhetorically tarred and feathered them. George W., who was a decent President, let the media run circles around him and permanently tarnish his reputation. George H. played by the conventional rules and lost his bid for a second term as much by the media lust for Bill Clinton as by his own fecklessness on taxes.

      The lesson learned from 3 decades of defeats is clear: If you play by the rules established by the opposition (the media) than you lose. You can’t let them define the game. Making a new set of rules is the only way to win. Indeed, it is how Trump did win the election.

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