Elements of Donald Trump’s presidential style are already emerging and they must be discouraging to his critics.
It’s easy to miss things that do not happen. But perhaps you too have noticed a decline in the number of trivial Trump tweets starting spats and news cycles many mornings.
Last week -- are you sitting down? -- Trump canceled a couple of media availabilities. A month ago, he turned down ESPN’s invitation to provide his own NCAA tournament brackets, a free public relations ride on basketball fever annually seized by President Barack Obama.
When reporters yell questions at Trump now, he usually goes deaf, turning away to converse with others. It’s remarkable, especially considering Trump, in the public eye for decades, hasn’t exactly been known to turn down opportunities to use or fight with the media.
During the presidential campaign, Trump was quite successful in creating media distractions to change the topic or detract from opponents’ successes and, self-destructively, some of his own. Not anymore.
The better behavior has allowed, or perhaps forced, media to focus on the crucial launch of the House of Representatives’ Obamacare replacement policies, which Trump has endorsed. And on the president’s ongoing stream of executive orders starting the fulfillment of numerous campaign promises. And on his impressive debut address to Congress. How did the boastful Trump respond to all that overnight praise? He simply tweeted, “THANK YOU.”
Trump remains underwater in terms of job approval, but Gallup just found a clear majority think he will restore prosperity.
Is it possible the demands and needs of being president are steering the new politician into more disciplined behavior? At least for now.
Those demands include selling his keystone policy initiative to the country. And by country, I mean the 535 elected members of Congress who will determine the fate of the sinking USS Obamacare.
All along, Trump has been busy meeting with congressional leaders. He had, of all people, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina over for lunch. Mr. and Mrs. Marco Rubio and Mr. and Mrs. Ted Cruz have come for separate social dinners. Social is what Washington calls mealtime lobbying, and it’s what no one could have expected last year during the primary campaign when Trump mocked those men.
The other evening, the Trump White House had key committee members in for drinks and social bowling. And you can be sure the president will keep working that Oval Office phone.
Trump prefers that personal touch, as he did in his real estate dealing days. He’s the opposite of aloof. He and Vice President Mike Pence have been holding a series of listening sessions with leaders in education, small business, big business, community banks and so forth.
Somehow, recent encouraging economic news and the administration’s legislative agenda have continued to come up, starting with Obamacare’s repeal and replacement, then tax reform. And most sessions end with the president of the US inviting attendees into the Oval Office for a once-rare, much-coveted photo in that fabled place.
Such focused attention by a president tends to increase support and mute disagreement, while fueling positive word-of-mouth about him and his plans, almost like an investment in a long-term deal.
In coming days, Trump will venture out into the country for what might be called Obamacare-repeal rallies. They will surely attract national news media and the much more valuable local coverage. Don’t be surprised if some local TV anchors get “exclusive” interviews with the commander in chief.
The idea, of course, is to put hometown pressure on any members of Congress of either party who might be reluctant to support repeal-and-replace with 2018 midterms on the horizon.
You may recall Obama held scores of town halls to gin up support for his namesake health legislation. That’s when he made those infamous promises about keeping your doctor and insurance and lowering premiums.
Obama wasn’t big on listening sessions; he preferred talking ones. He didn’t meet with the Republican Party’s Senate leadership, for instance, until his 542nd day in office. The irony is Obama’s party had such firm control of Congress back in 2009 and 2010 that it could ram through the immense bill without a single Republican vote.
In reaction, the ensuing 2010 midterm elections marked the start of Democrats’ dramatic decline under Obama, costing them both houses of Congress and devastating damage at state levels. Republicans now control 33 governor’s offices and both legislative houses in 25 of those states.
Even as a political rookie, Trump is aiming to avoid such carnage over the volatile health care issue.
By Andrew Malcolm
Andrew Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm. -- Ed