WASHINGTON - Even some in the administration dearly wish President Donald Trump would stop tweeting. That’s unlikely to happen, but perhaps the new White House chief of staff, John Kelly, can reduce one category of tweets - those taking the place of a presidential directive or more formal executive order.
Take, for example, Trump’s much-criticized tweet announcing a ban on transgender personnel in the military, including expulsion of those currently serving. Peter Feaver smartly observes in Foreign Policy:
“Any policy change in this area will be litigated in the courts - so before deciding and announcing a proposed policy, the administration should subject it to extensive legal review. So far as I can tell, there are no reports that the new policy was vetted in this way. Given the heartache that the administration has suffered on its various travel ban policies, it is mind-boggling that the White House would make the same mistake again. . . .
“Any policy change in this area should also be backed up by careful policy review. In fact, the administration was in the first month of a six-month review designed to get the information needed to make sound policy on this matter. If the president wants to short-circuit his own review, he can do so, but he should have a compelling explanation for why.”
In fact, from what we know, Trump was simply trying to throw a bone to the Freedom Caucus, irate over the military paying for gender-reassignment surgery. (Do these congressmen not have actual issues to worry about?) Trump doesn’t seem to understand that, as president, his words and tweets have legal implications (as he found out in the travel ban litigation) and real-world ramifications (lowering morale and unit cohesion, straining military-civilian relations, etc.).
If Kelly can at least obtain agreement from Trump that new policies, directives, orders, etc., will not be disseminated by tweet, that would eliminate the scramble to explain and implement (or ignore) the president’s outbursts, thereby preserving some sense of calm in the administration. That’s the easiest category of tweets to attack, and perhaps Kelly should stop right there.
Trump’s tweets fall into three other categories, which generally inflict harm on him personally and diminish his stature but do not set the wheels of government spinning.
The first is the kind of tweets containing threats, insults and attempts to bully others, including Trump’s own attorney general, Jeff Sessions. All these tweets do is make the president look petty and small. Having survived a Trump tweetstorm and derived a great deal of public support, Sessions arguably came out stronger, with more job security than he had before Trump’s temper tantrum. Trump will either learn that he loses in these exchanges and should stop such tweeting, or he keeps diminishing his authority. (We’d be content either way.)
The next category of tweets are the Russia scandal missives. They often create new legal problems (e.g. witness intimidation), contradict Trump’s or his staff’s initial spin or simply evidence a high degree of panic. In offering a window into his mind, the president provides the special counsel and his team with new ammunition and possible avenues to pursue every day. If Trump’s lawyers cannot stop him, Kelly likely cannot either. To the extent that these tweets actually prove helpful to the special counsel, we think the more the merrier.
Finally, the last category of tweets are those that reveal Trump’s ignorance, abject dishonesty, ludicrously false boasts, crudeness and political impotence (as when he insists that the Senate do something, only to be ignored). This is where he reveals his TV habits, his penchant for conspiracy theories and his lack of connection to the real world. Here, too, Kelly won’t be of much help. Trump, true to his narcissistic personality, refuses to believe that these tweets cast him in a negative light. Ah well, tweet away.
In short, Kelly may be able only to curtail tweets that cause executive branch employees and the military to react. That would be positive and reduce the chances of serious miscalculations, international incidents and the like. But if Kelly cannot stop the rest of Trump’s repertoire, that might be just fine from his critics’ perspective. Democrats are already beginning to make the case that Trump is unhinged and unstable: Trump remains his own worst enemy.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.