Staffers for most politicians, looking to change a poor media narrative about their leader, find a great venue where the politician can smile for the cameras, kiss a baby, and generally make nice. This can work: the bad news calms down for a bit and policy staffers get a chance to think, make policy and create a new narrative, circumventing the original, bad narrative.
Not President Trump. It’s just not in his self-centered nature. He cannot draw the spotlight away from himself, yet he doesn’t want to look bad. That is why the chaos in his administration will not stop. And, he doesn’t want it to.
When the news turns bad, this president turns to chaos. Chaos is his coping mechanism. We all have ways that we defend ourselves in mentally difficult situations; his is chaos. He throws people off-kilter when he is feeling that way himself. He admitted as much yesterday in the news media:
Tomorrow, they will say, “Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.” I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But — but I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time doing it.
But tomorrow, the headlines are going to be, “Donald Trump rants and raves.” I’m not ranting and raving.
Despite the fact that he “knows” what the headlines will be and that the headlines will be negative, he held the press conference anyway. He wants it. He wants the “chaos” headline. (And, in fact, many news outlets went with: “wtf,” “unhinged,” “crazy,” “madcap,” “chaotic,” “sprawling.”)
Where most presidents would look to shine the bright, helpful light on others (a high school that’s doing well despite the odds or a factory that is remaining open), this president does not want to point the light away because he needs the spotlight. It would be such a clear and easy choice–change the venue, point the light at others who deserve the positive attention that a president can bring–that he must be knowingly making another choice, one toward chaos.
He could have held the Thursday press conference (ostensibly to announce the nomination of Labor Secretary, R. Alexander Acosta) anywhere–say at a union hall where members voted for Trump. He could have shared the stage with those union leaders. The press would have loved it. The press would have talked about Acosta, the shift of union voters from Democrat to Republican, the “no” vote on unionization in South Carolina, Trump’s pledges to bring jobs back to the U.S. All good news for the president.
But that’s not what he wants. He wants the spotlight on himself, and if the news is bad, he wants the spotlight to shift and jump at all the chaos.
So the question becomes, how does the press cover it?
The answer has to be to focus not on the chaos but on the answers. Also, understand that this is a man who will never change this strategy. It is a coping mechanism; it is not a choice any more than your chewing your fingernails when you’re nervous is for you. The tweeting is just an extension of this. The deep recesses of his brain compel him to do this.
This post was edited for clarity on Feb. 19, 5:30a.m.