By Robert Reich
What’s worrying isn’t that Trump is now getting advice about public policy from fanatics like John Bolton and Lawrence Kudlow. Trump has never cared about public policy.
The real worry is that – with Robert Mueller breathing down his neck, and several special elections suggesting a giant “blue wave” in November – Trump is getting ready to do whatever it takes to win, even if that requires fanatical policy.
Trump’s presidency has been, first and foremost, about marketing Trump. It’s what Trump has done his entire adult life. He doesn’t know how to do anything else, nor is he interested.
Now that he’s being pushed into a corner, he’s reorganizing his team for an epic marketing battle. This requires purging naysayers from his Cabinet and White House staff because naysayers are terrible at marketing, and replacing them with tried-and-true salespeople, like Bolton and Kudlow.
Fox News is being reorganized for the same battle, and has made a parallel purge – removing Trump critics like George Will, Megyn Kelly, and Rich Lowry, and installing Trump marketers like Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, and Sebastian Gorka.
Trump and Fox News are pushing the same story line – designed to win the marketing war and boost their own ratings the same way.
Some of the story is by now familiar: Liberals have opened America to hostile forces – unauthorized immigrants, Muslims, Chinese traders, criminal gangs, drug dealers, government bureaucrats, coastal elites (Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi), North Korea, Iran, and “political correctness” in all its forms.
Trump intends to protect America from these forces.
The new twist to the story– requiring the recent purges and a united front – is that these forces are conspiring with the FBI to oust Trump from the presidency.
The membrane separating Trump’s brain from Fox News has always been thin, but in the coming battle it’s likely to disappear entirely.
We all know Trump watches an inordinate amount of Fox News – beginning in the wee hours with “Fox and Friends,” which provides much of the fodder for his morning tweets.
Last Friday, soon after a “Fox and Friends” anchor attacked Congress’s new spending bill as a “swamp budget,” Trump tweeted he was “considering” vetoing it.
In January, after Trump agreed with “Nancy and Chuck” to grant legal status to so-called Dreamers brought to this country illegally as children, Fox host Sean Hannity told Trump in a phone call – and then repeated on his show – that he needed to be tougher.
Almost immediately, Trump came up with a list of conditions that thwarted the deal. Hannity’s advice wasn’t about policy; it was about marketing. Trump had to be tougher on Dreamers in order to reinforce his image as a strongman standing up for America against the liberal plot.
Trump has made Bolton his National Security Advisor not because Bolton has valuable insights about foreign affairs, but because Bolton – for years, an on-air fixture on Fox News – is a showman who knows how to sell big lies and crazy ideas, and thereby help Trump in the looming battle.
As undersecretary of state for arms control in the Bush administration Bolton did more than anyone else to market the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. During his year and a half at the United Nations, Bolton was so outspokenly critical of the organization that he gained the devotion of xenophobic conservatives.
Even before he became president, Trump was so pleased with Bolton’s performance on Fox News that he named Bolton one of his sources for national security advice.
It hasn’t hurt that Bolton has sucked up to Trump since then. Describing Trump’s address last year to the United Nations, Bolton swooned “in the entire history of the United Nations, there has never been a more straightforward criticism of the unacceptable behavior of other member states.”
Kudlow isn’t a Fox News pundit but he’s been the next best thing – a rightwing CNBC contributor known for his sharp wit, simplistic “trickle-down” economic views, and salesmanship.
Several other cable news anchors and pundits are already in the Trump administration or will soon be, providing additional ammunition for Trump’s marketing salvo.
“He’s looking for people who are ready to be part of that television White House,” says Kendall Phillips, a communication studies professor at Syracuse University. “This is the Fox television presidency all the way up and down.”
How can a television presidency be dangerous? Because it is solely about marketing Trump. Its only goal is to win. It is unconstrained by truth, reason, or the Constitution. It doesn’t give a fig about the public.
When the occupant of the White House and the sycophants surrounding him are prepared to use anything, including real-world battles – trade wars and hot wars – to win a political battle at home, nothing and no one is safe.