Why Trump’s ‘Wiretapping’ Tweets Were a Mistake

by Jonah Goldberg

In my latest column, I write that Trump’s tweets are hurting his presidency, the latest and greatest example being his “wiretapping” tweets. Predictably, this has elicted any number of responses. Here are the four most common:

“Trump won by tweeting and being an unconventional candidate, why should he stop now?”

“You still don’t get it. Trump is controlling the news cycle like a chessmaster.”

“Oh, come on! Why are you giving Obama the benefit of the doubt? You really don’t think Obama could have done this?”

“Obama did wiretap Trump. See the New York Times from January 20!”

Now, I think all of these arguments are bad. Yes, social media helped Trump win the presidency. But campaigning for president and being president are very different things. (To support my claim, I suggest you read, well, pretty much any book ever written about a U.S. president or American politics).

As for controlling the news cycle, no he’s not. He’s feeding a very negative storyline, making the Russia story bigger, not smaller — which is apparently the opposite of what he wants. He has an agenda — a mostly good agenda — that he wants to talk about. The White House loved the positive response to his address to Congress and they wanted to keep it going. But as I note in my column, his tweets blunted that momentum.

And then there the last two complaints, which boil down to either Trump may be right and Trump is right. I will concede that Trump might be right in some downgraded sort of way and I think that possibility should be investigated. But let’s be clear. Trump said one thing and the “proof” to back him up will almost surely be something less sensational. He said he “found out” that Obama wiretapped his phones. If there is a there there to this story, it will be something more along the lines of “The FISA court issued a warrant for the limited purpose of X or Y.” It would still be a big story (or could be). But it won’t be the “Watergate” claim that Obama personally ordered a political foe be bugged. It’s a bit like some of the other wild claims Trump has made. He claimed to see thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11. No proof was forthcoming. Then there’s some much more modest anecdote that surfaces, and his supporters claim total vindication.

But if Trump is right — or even thinks he’s right — why is the White House running away from this story as quickly as possible? Why does it refuse to defend the charge made by Trump on the merits or provide evidence? Why hasn’t he asked the head of the FBI about it? Why did Trump ask his aides for evidence to back up something he already claimed to know had happened? Why does Trump believe the “fake” media only when it serves his purposes? Or as Ramesh puts it, “What if Trump took his wiretap story seriously?

Trump asserted as fact something he clearly didn’t know to be true. I don’t think he lied. I think he just had a knee-jerk response to something he read and vented on Twitter about it (before he got to the important stuff, like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bad ratings).

But here’s the important point. Even if Trump is absolutely positively 100 percent right about this; even if Barack Obama sent an elite squad of high tech ninjas into Trump tower to bug everything they could: His tweets would still be a very bad way to go. If this allegation were true, it would rock the country, according to virtually every conservative supporter of the president. True enough. So, all the more reason to call in your attorney general and the congressional leadership and figure out the most mature and reasonable way to proceed.

That’s not what he did. He did the very opposite of that.

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