Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty

White House discovers that Trump listens more ‘when it’s on TV’


The Associated Press ran an interesting report this morning, noting Donald Trump’s newfound interest in rejecting White House constraints. Like a toddler who knows when a parent is skipping pages during pre-bedtime reading, the president has slowly started to notice when his aides are trying to steer him toward a responsible decision – and he doesn’t like it.

The AP article included this great tidbit.

Managing a boss who despises being managed is a difficult game. And those who have succeeded have proceeded carefully. Some aides, convinced that Trump puts more stock in what he sees on TV than in his own aides’ advice, regularly phone prominent commentators and news hosts to provide talking points on everything from tax policy to Syria in hopes of influencing Trump.

Similar strategies have also been embraced by foreign governments and outside groups trying to sway the president’s thinking.

If this sounds familiar, it may be because the Washington Post had a report late last week, which noted that White House aides “sometimes plot to have guests make points on Fox that they have been unable to get the president to agree to in person.”

A senior administration official told the newspaper, “He will listen more when it is on TV.”

The Wall Street Journal had a related piece a few weeks ago, describing a bizarre behind-the-scenes strategy: White House aides have asked Jared Kushner to reach out to John Bolton – the new White House national security adviser, who was a Fox News personality until very recently – so that Bolton “would have a firm grasp of the administration’s position before appearing in forums that the president watches.”

As we discussed at the time, it’s an amazing dynamic without precedent. When White House officials want Trump to understand his own agenda, they brief television pundits in the hopes that they’ll convey the lessons to the president through his preferred medium.

In theory, presidential aides could just brief their boss, but everyone involved seems to understand that doesn’t work. After all, Trump “will listen more when it is on TV.”

What’s more, as regular readers know, none of this is especially new. When White House aides wanted to convey to Trump that the indictments of 13 Russian operatives were not good news, for example, they went to cable news in order to shape the president’s understanding of the developments.

Members of Congress reportedly regard a TV appearance “as nearly on par with an Oval Office meeting in terms of showcasing their standing or viewpoints to the president.”

Some officials close to the president have even spoken about this on the record. Kellyanne Conway conceded during the campaign that if she wanted to deliver a message to Trump, she wouldn’t just tell him what’s on her mind. “A way you can communicate with him is you go on TV to communicate,” she explained.

The level of dysfunction in this White House is almost certainly underappreciated by the public.