What's Tony Thinking

Trump from the Oval: It Didn’t Work


It was Donald Trump’s first address from the Oval Office. And there’s a reason for that.

This is not his natural habitat. Neither the Oval Office, with its weight of tradition, genuine crisis and solemnity. Nor is a Presidential “address” really his thing. Indeed, “Trump” and “Presidential address” are an oxymoron.

Whoever advised him to this strategy should be looking for work.

Trump’s chosen habitat is Twitter, “Reality tv” and the campaign rally. In such settings, he plays to emotions and spouts slogans (with vicious asides) — “Build the Wall” “Mexico Will Pay for It” — that his base will cheer. He preaches to the choir. He is fueled by their adulation.

But there is no cheering audience to play to from the Oval Office. You talk into a camera that neither cheers nor groans. You’re on your own here baby. And Trump on his own is a diminished figure.

There’s more — Trump who has made his mark by “being Trump” kowtowed to public opinion.

He never used the word “wall.” (You can almost hear his advisors counseling, “Don’t say ‘wall.'”) It was “a physical barrier.”

And he tried to frame this as an “humanitarian” issue. All about women and children. Give me a break. These women and children are trying to escape brutality where they come from.

While much of what he had to say was a reprise of what he has said for three years now, these changes — trimming his sails — meant that he wasn’t quite being his demagogic self. He was trying to be a President speaking from the Oval Office.

But that’s a charade. A bit of fakery. An Emperor without . . . well you know what.

It came through. He seemed more plaintive than passionate, more whiney than winning, more desperate than decisive.

And what was that weird bit about why rich people put up fences?

And while I’m not a huge fan of the Pelosi/ Schumer show, I thought they did a good job.

Shumer, in particular, effectively separated the government shutdown from “border security.”

In doing so, he put the government shutdown on Trump. This is Trump’s shutdown. Remember when he was “proud” to shut down the government? Funny, no mention of that, no chest-thumping now.

Why? It turns out that that people, even in Trump country, or perhaps especially in Trump country, are noticing and feeling the pain of a government gone awol.

It’s a reveal on his “populism.” The government shutdown is hurting ordinary people, middle and lower-middle class people. There aren’t a lot of multi-millionaires, billionaires, who are wondering when their next government check is coming.

Okay, I’m am putting my take out there without benefit of punditry or analysis. But this is what I saw, what I heard.

For Trump, from the Oval Office on January 8, 2018, it was a flop.

My prediction: watch for a rush of overnight tweeting, trying to redeem his address, bolster his case and trash his enemies.

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