Have you seen the “Reelect Trump” commercials appearing daily on your TV? No, not those produced by the president’s campaign. They’re the marathon press conferences he’s been having in the White House briefing room, standing aside members of the administration’s coronavirus task force.
There has never been anything like them. A lot of Americans may be put off by the gruff, in-your-face, even braggadocious manner of leadership exercised by President Donald Trump. They may not believe everything they hear this president say. But seeing a 73-year-old tycoon with a reputation for self-promotion, who could be doing any kind of work or leisure he likes, yet instead pressing his nose to the grindstone in public service, day after day – actually hour after hour, apparently – amidst much ridicule, can assuage any and all reservations, probably even for many who voted against him.
“He is being the kind of leader that people need — at least in tone, today and yesterday — that people need and want and yearn for in times of crisis and uncertainty,” said Dana Bash of CNN, not one of this president’s favorite news sources. She said Trump “used the bully pulpit in the way presidents are supposed to.”
In 2010, by which time President Barack Obama had received the Nobel Peace Prize, apparently simply for saying during his 2008 campaign, “America seeks a world with no nuclear weapons,” Jonathan Alter, then with Newsweek, wrote a sycophantic book about Obama entitled “The Promise.” In it, he told of a genius chief executive who wowed everyone around him: “Nobody could think of a time when he hadn’t absorbed the briefing material before a meeting.”
He handled politics “like a Rubik’s Cube,” Alter quoted 2008 Obama campaign treasurer and current Barack Obama Foundation chairman Marty Nesbitt. “Before everyone else, he’s already calculated the relative probability of several different outcomes, so when one of them happens – even though it may be a surprise to others – he’s never really surprised.”
Yet Alter also admitted that important leaders “complained that they didn’t hear from him or, worse, had their calls returned by junior aides,” that Obama (unlike his successor) “avoided cable news chatter (‘WWF wrestling,’ he called it) because he didn’t think he could learn much from even the friendly shows.”
According to Alter, “his metier was the meeting … people who knew Obama were struck by his ability to ask probing questions, listen politely to competing views, summarize those views better than those who expressed them, and render a logical and dispassionate decision … Obama had somewhere acquired what the military calls ‘the habit of command.’”
In fact, the Obama the public came to know was a president whose eloquence usually depended on the presence of a teleprompter. (Something one admirer claimed was “because he’s too smart for his own damn good.”)
Trump the anti-Obama, by contrast, obviously burns up the phone lines and wears out TV screens watching the cable coverage disdained as worthless by his predecessor. Alter marveled that Obama “frequently called aides around 10 p.m. to frame the day’s events in terms of what came next.” But is that as mentally engaged as Trump’s “41 tweets an hour between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m.”?
As Much Sweat On His Brow As Joe Sixpack
Monday’s press conference, to take one example, began shortly after 6 p.m. and ended after the stroke of 8 p.m. After his prepared remarks – from which, as usual, the president frequently strayed, adding extemporaneous comments – Trump answered a pointed question about whether he would listen to his medical advisers on when to restore economic activities by pointing out that “parts of our country are very lightly affected.”
“Very small numbers,” he continued. “And, you know, you look at a state — great governor — Pete Ricketts, Nebraska. You look at the kind of numbers they have out there. They have one of the great — one of the great hospitals there, too, relative to what we’re talking about. But you look at Nebraska, you look at Idaho, you look at Iowa, you look at many — I could name many countries that are handling it very, very well and that are not affected to the same extent, or, frankly, not even nearly to the extent of New York …
“I’m dealing with Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo, and we’re dealing very well together. We’ll be sending that ship up, by the way. As you know, we have a ship going to Los Angeles. We’ll also be — the ship is coming out of a very large repair. It’s all ready to go and very soon will be. And over the next three or four weeks, that’ll be coming up to New York. It will go to New York Harbor and it’ll be fully supplied. So they’re working on that right now.”
Now granted, there is a shortfall in elegance here that one would expect from a man from Queens. And Nebraska, Idaho and Iowa aren’t “countries.” But would Obama, or other presidents of recent memory, have shown the public this much relevant knowledge of smaller states? Of the states’ pre-pandemic health care situation? Of the repair status of a military hospital ship pegged for a different state? Would Obama have felt as comfortable being on the phone every day with the tough-talking Cuomo? (Would he have ended up having aides tend to the calls instead?)
It may not much impress our sophisticated pundits, having watched JFK’s inaugural address far too many times for their own good, and binged on Gore Vidal’s political novels, but Joe and Jane Sixpack (who don’t know who Gore Vidal was, and don’t care), recognize someone with as much sweat on his brow as they have on theirs.
They also recognize a politician who can’t handle what Trump has been saddled with. The 77-year-old prospective Democratic nominee Joe Biden, speaking in a live stream from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, on Monday, fumbled all over his words. After calling for more medical personnel to deal with “this crush of cases,” Biden added, “And, uh, in addition to that, in addition to that, we have to make sure that, we are …” Then he motioned to staff to roll the teleprompter before exasperatedly saying, “Well, let me go to the second thing …”
Not only does this suggest possible senility, where is the Biden campaign’s judgment in conducting a live stream when it could easily have been taped, so they could edit and polish a perfect take of their candidate’s statement? What does it say about Biden that he has allowed himself to be surrounded by a staff this incompetent?
One thing it says is that a Biden presidency will be run by whoever ends up in his vicinity within the West Wing, in all likelihood a collective apparatus far to the left of the Democrat administration that came to power more than 11 years ago now. Witness Biden’s 180 on the Hyde Amendment last summer, discarding under pressure from the left a career-spanning position on abortion he had considered to be dictated by conscience.
Democrats and the media apparently don’t yet realize it, but it is so bad that – barring a brokered nomination that raises New York’s Cuomo to the podium in the summer – the party may even find itself conceding that you cannot win against an incumbent president during a global crisis that he is handling effectively. And according to Gallup, 60% approve of Trump’s handling of this emergency. Recall that Thomas Dewey garnered a mere 12 states and 99 electoral votes against Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 as the Second World War neared its final months. Today’s war is against COVID-19.
American voters will reward hard work and resolved dedication, even when they disagree with the one who toils on their behalf. It might be better for Democrats to avoid electoral humiliation.
— Written by Thomas McArdle