Several months ago, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly conceded that some of Donald Trump’s previous rhetoric about immigration had been “uninformed.” The president wasn’t pleased. The Washington Post reported at the time, “Trump associates said the president was furious with Kelly both for what he said and for the tone he used, which Trump thought made it appear he was a child who had to be managed.”
The trouble is, many people – inside the White House and out – appear convinced that the only way to get through to the Republican president is to treat him like a child who has to be managed. Dan Drezner has created a lengthy series on the subject.
We’re frequently confronted with new examples of the phenomenon. This week, for example, Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, arrived at the White House for trade talks with Trump. The Wall Street Journal reported on the methods Juncker used to succeed.
Backing up his points, Mr. Juncker flipped through more than a dozen colorful cue cards with simplified explainers, the senior EU official said. Each card had at most three figures about a specific topic, such as trade in cars or standards for medical devices.
“We knew this wasn’t an academic seminar,” the EU official said. “It had to be very simple.”
Or put another way, Donald Trump has developed an unfortunate reputation.
It is, however, well deserved. As regular readers may recall, shortly before his presidential inauguration last year, Trump acknowledged that he likes very short intelligence briefings. “I like bullets or I like as little as possible,” he explained in January 2017.
Officials got the message, which is why U.S. intelligence professionals have gone to great lengths to accommodate the president’s toddler-like attention span, preparing reports “with lots of graphics and maps.” National Security Council officials have even learned that Trump is likely to stop reading important materials unless he sees his name, so they include his name in “as many paragraphs” as possible.
Last summer, the Post had a piece on White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, noting that one of the general’s challenges is “holding the attention of the president.”
Specifically in reference to the war in Afghanistan, the article added, “even a single page of bullet points on the country seemed to tax the president’s attention span on the subject.”
A Trump confidant said at the time, “I call the president the two-minute man. The president has patience for a half-page.”
Is it any wonder European officials relied on “colorful cue cards”?