Politics & Policy

Dear Trump, Be a Team Leader, Not a Lone Ranger

(Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
The president should prepare his spokespeople and allies before blasting out Twitter bombshells.

Donald Trump’s accusation that the Obama administration conducted an investigation, including wiretapping, against his campaign has reignited the debate about his, ahem, unorthodox way of counterpunching against opponents.

Liberals are convinced that Trump is acting like a sinister Darth Vader character by using distraction to cover up a huge scandal involving Team Trump’s ties to Russia. Mainstream media types view Trump as an impulsive Inspector Clouseau–type character, improvising stories as he goes along. Jake Tapper of CNN tweeted a criticism of Trump’s behavior: “POTUS makes wild accusation w/zero evidence . . . WH tells Congress to find evidence/no further comment.”

Trump supporters have fallen back on speculating that the president is like Columbo, the seemingly disorganized TV detective who always traps his quarry at the last minute. Christopher Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax, wrote a column on Sunday, describing his recent conversation with Trump:

I spoke with the president twice yesterday about the wiretap story. I haven’t seen him this pissed off in a long time. When I mentioned Obama “denials” about the wiretaps, he shot back: “This will be investigated, it will all come out. I will be proven right.”

So which character does Trump most resemble? I’m not sure, but I do know that Trump isn’t acting like a team leader. By tweeting out his explosive charge early on Saturday morning, he left supporters and allies scratching their heads to figure out what he was talking about. As Politico reported:

According to GOP sources, the White House gave no advance notice to congressional Republicans that Trump would be raising the issue of wiretaps this weekend, leaving both sides scrambling to figure out what Trump was referring to and how to respond publicly.

When a Trump aide did surface on Sunday morning, she was so woefully unprepared that it was painful to watch. Trump baldly stated in his tweet that President Obama had had Trump’s “wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory.” When asked about this, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeatedly suggested on ABC’s This Week that Trump’s accusation was something that required investigation: “Let’s look into this. If this happened, if this is accurate, this is the biggest overreach and the biggest scandal.” When further challenged, Huckabee Sanders retreated, saying, “I will let the president speak for himself.” At that point, an exasperated Martha Raddatz retorted, “You’re his spokesperson!”

It fell to Michael Mukasey, the former attorney general under George W. Bush, to provide a coherent explanation for Trump’s contention. Mukasey started his appearance on This Week with an understatement, noting that he doesn’t tweet because Twitter isn’t the “ideal medium in which to get an idea across.” He went on to say that Trump was probably correct that there was surveillance on Trump Tower for intelligence purposes, but incorrect in accusing former president Barack Obama of directly ordering the wiretapping.

Regardless of who is right, wrong, or merely confused on the issue of Trump, Obama, and Russia, the president’s behavior is a recipe for exasperation and mistrust among his allies.

“I think he’s right in that there was surveillance and that it was conducted at the behest of the attorney general — at the Justice Department,” Mukasey said. Such surveillance would have been ordered based on arguments made by the Obama Justice Department to a special panel of federal judges that hear foreign-intelligence cases.

There, finally, was a simple, clear explanation of what Trump was probably talking about and what House Intelligence chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, says his panel will be looking into. In a press release Sunday, Nunes said that in addition to examining possible links between Trump officials and Russia, the House Intelligence Committee will “make inquiries into whether the government was conducting surveillance activities on any political party’s campaign officials or surrogates.”

None of this explains why President Trump decided to roil official Washington on a weekend with allegations that none of his allies had been given any background on. The White House’s silence for over a day certainly added to the chaos.

Regardless of who is right, wrong, or merely confused on the issue of Trump, Obama, and Russia, the president’s behavior is a recipe for exasperation and mistrust among his allies. “How in the world can we go out on a limb for a guy who won’t tell us in advance that it won’t be sawed off,” one GOP congressman who was an early backer of Trump told me. “If you head a team, you have to lead it.”

If Donald Trump is playing the role of a canny Columbo in checkmating his adversaries, it’s not obvious. With his impulsive tweeting, he more closely resembles a high-tech version of stumbling Inspector Clouseau.

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