Over the last several weeks, Donald Trump has recorded a series of video messages, each of which he promotes via social media, featuring the president speaking extemporaneously on topics of the day. They’re nearly always odd, largely because they require Trump to speak with some eloquence for a couple of minutes in a solo monologue – and as he’s probably realizing, that’s tougher than it looks.
Yesterday afternoon, for example, the president recorded an 82-second video on Hurricane Florence, in which he thanked first-responders and other emergency officials. If he’d left it at that, the message would’ve been largely unremarkable.
But Trump being Trump, he felt the need to keep the stream-of-consciousness message going.
“This is a tough hurricane, one of the wettest we’ve ever seen from the standpoint of water.”
As opposed to some other standpoint? The video came a week after the president had a related message on preparations ahead of the storm, when he said:
“Bad things can happen when you’re talking about a storm this size. It’s called Mother Nature. You never know, but we know.”
I still don’t know what that means. Who’s “we”? What is it that they know about nature that the rest of don’t?
Perhaps my favorite was the very first video message, released about a month ago, when Trump declared, “ ‘Made in America’ is back. Now, some people would say ‘Made in the USA.’ I personally don’t care.”
In response to yesterday’s installment, Jon Chait noted, “Watching this video is very much like the common experience of making small talk about the weather with a stranger, except rather than ending the conversation after the normal ten seconds or so, the stranger believes his job and stature require him to elaborate with words that are not at his disposal.”
Watching these strange clips, perhaps the most obvious question is why someone at the White House doesn’t help Trump out and write a script for him to read. The president has speechwriters and communications aides, and it’s unlikely any of them would describe a hurricane as “one of the wettest we’ve ever seen from the standpoint of water.”
The trouble, of course, is that Trump has a habit of throwing away scripts – sometimes literally – so even if someone handed him a well-written monologue, he probably wouldn’t stick to the prose on the page.
All of which leads to the other question: why in the world is the White House filming and releasing these videos? Olivia Nuzzi had a report on this a few weeks ago:
According to – I swear to God – five current and former officials from both Donald Trump’s White House and campaign as well as one former official from the Trump Organization, the purpose of this on-camera exercise is simple: It makes him feel (and, he believes, look) good. It’s also a reminder of a freer time in his life, on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, when he first perfected the cockeyed art of digital media virality with an off-the-cuff series of videos called From the Desk of Donald J. Trump and Ask the Donald.
“The president didn’t like the sitting down, read prompter, lights-inside-a-room at the White House. So, he told the digital guys at the communications shop to come up with a couple of new ideas, and this was one of them. The president liked it, and we’re trying it out,” one senior White House official told me.
“He is the most TV-savvy president in history. Somebody said to me today, ‘Reagan was, too!’ Well, Reagan was a little bit more movies,” the senior official said. “Because of The Apprentice and everything else this gentleman has done in his life, he understands all of this – he understands lighting and, to some degrees, in some rooms of the White House, he’s not a big fan of it. So, we’re just trying to help him.”
It doesn’t appear to be working.