Donald Trump's difficulties with the presidential learning curve are well documented
. He didn't realize health care policy was "complicated"; he didn't know there are limits to China's influence over North Korea; he didn't understand how much he likes various policies he campaigned against; he had no idea being president would be so difficult
; the list goes on.It's worth pausing, though, to appreciate how Trump changes his mind about things. For example, the president apparently overhauled his entire understanding of Asia-Pacific after "listening for 10 minutes
" to China's Xi Jinping.And what about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which the American president was poised to abandon tomorrow? Trump gave up on his plan
his reversal yesterday, saying he spoke with Canadian and Mexican leaders on Wednesday, and they asked him not to walk away from the policy. "I like both of these gentlemen very much," he said.He added
that terminating NAFTA "would be a pretty big shock to the system."That's true, but it's not much of an explanation. Trump liked the Canadian and Mexican leaders before this week, and the effects of abandoning NAFTA would have been an equally "big shock" whenever the White House scrapped the agreement. Why decide on Tuesday to walk away from the trade deal, only to do the opposite on Wednesday?The Washington Post
offered a behind-the-scenes peek
on how the president's team convinced him to change course.
As news of the president's plan reached Ottawa and Mexico City in the middle of the week and rattled the markets and Congress, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and others huddled in meetings with Trump, urging him not to sign a document triggering a U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA.Perdue even brought along a prop to the Oval Office: A map of the United States that illustrated the areas that would be hardest hit, particularly from agriculture and manufacturing losses, and highlighting that many of those states and counties were "Trump country" communities that had voted for the president in November.
We were told a couple of months ago that Trump "likes maps
" with his briefings. Apparently, there's something to this.Regardless of whether you believe the White House ultimately made the right call on this, the description of the president's team effectively treating him like a malleable child isn't exactly flattering.It is, however, common. This week's big Politico report
on Team Trump was filled with interesting insights:
White House aides have figured out that it's best not to present Trump with too many competing options when it comes to matters of policy or strategy. Instead, the way to win Trump over, they say, is to present him a single preferred course of action and then walk him through what the outcome could be -- and especially how it will play in the press."You don't walk in with a traditional presentation, like a binder or a PowerPoint. He doesn't care. He doesn't consume information that way," said one senior administration official. "You go in and tell him the pros and cons, and what the media coverage is going to be like."
It's worth pausing to appreciate just how incredible this is: White House aides have discovered that in order to get Trump to make the best decision, they have to present him with one choice, so he can't screw it up, all while emphasizing expected media reaction, which shouldn't be any president's principal concern.In effect, officials in the West Wing find it necessary to trick the Leader of the Free World into doing what they think he should be doing.The same report
quoted one Trump confidante saying the job of a presidential adviser in this White House includes talking him out of "doing crazy things."Evidently, that process involves maps.