The Corner

Culture

Trump’s Staff vs. His Twitter Habit

Tara Palmeri has a story in Politico about how Trump’s campaign aides tried to keep him from tweeting things they considered self-destructive. The story is based on a mix of named and anonymous sources. All of it is consistent with things we already knew about the president.

The story is being taken to confirm that Trump is a thin-skinned narcissist with a small attention span–and parts of it do indeed reinforce that impression. “One Trump associate said it’s important to show Trump deference and offer him praise and respect, as that will lead him to more often listen. And If Trump becomes obsessed with a grudge, aides need to try and change the subject, friends say. . .”

Yet the bulk of the story does not strike me as being nearly as damning as it is being made out to be. Take this passage:

The key to keeping Trump’s Twitter habit under control, according to six former campaign officials, is to ensure that his personal media consumption includes a steady stream of praise. And when no such praise was to be found, staff would turn to friendly outlets to drum some up — and make sure it made its way to Trump’s desk.

“If candidate Trump was upset about unfair coverage, it was productive to show him that he was getting fair coverage from outlets that were persuadable,” said former communications director Sam Nunberg.

Or this one:

[Campaign officials] would also go to media amplifiers like Fox News hosts and conservative columnists to encourage them to tweet out the story so that they could print out and show a two-page list of tweets that show that they were steering the message. While Trump still couldn’t contain his Twitter-rage with [former Miss Universe Alicia] Machado, and ended up tweeting about a mystery sex-tape of the Hillary Clinton surrogate, aides say they dialed back even more posts.

“He saw there was activity so he didn’t feel like he had to respond,” the former campaign official said. “He sends out these tweets when he feels like people aren’t responding enough for him.”

So: The candidate felt that someone should defend him, and if he didn’t see anyone else doing it to his satisfaction he’d do it himself. His aides talked to media figures to get favorable stories in circulation, and then showed him that those stories were in fact circulating. There were a lot of things that were abnormal and appalling about Trump’s feud with Machado. The facts that he wanted certain points made in the media and that his aides were doing what they could to make sure it happened were not among them.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.