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How Donald Trump uses distraction and surprise

November 21, 2016 at 6:35 PM EST
As Donald Trump chooses members of his upcoming administration and begins to outline his plan for once he takes office, Judy Woodruff speaks with Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and NPR’s Tamara Keith about his avoidance of press conferences, his penchant for unpredictability and his first staff picks.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, it’s time for Politics Monday.

I’m joined by Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

And welcome to both of you.

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Thank you.

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we just a few minutes ago saw this video the Trump transition team released, telling us what Donald Trump plans to do in the first — in the early part of his administration after he’s inaugurated.

He talked about trade. He talked about energy and investigating people who abuse their visas, trying to make sure people aren’t here taking jobs away from Americans.

Amy, this is unusual, isn’t it? I mean, the election is almost two weeks ago. He has not had a news conference yet. He’s done some tweeting. We have seen him greeting people coming to Trump Tower, and now this.

AMY WALTER: And now a video, where, obviously, you cannot do questions and answers.

The only thing he — interestingly he said in the video is the things he was going to do by executive order, not things that he would — here is what I’m going to work on with Congress in my first three days. Here are the things that I’m going to do as president.

And, again, each president has come in with the ability for executive orders to roll back the previous administration’s executive orders, right, because they’re not a rule of law in the same way as if they were passed by Congress.

That said, to your other point about this being unusual, we have to stop treating Donald Trump like this is just a traditional, normal, political candidate who’s now going to be a traditional, normal president.

The fact that he did tweet out this weekend, get in something of a fight with the cast of “Hamilton,” as well as the cast of “Saturday Night Live,” this now as president-elect, not just as a candidate, the fact that he’s just using video, instead of having an actual press conference, so the role that Donald Trump carved out as a candidate is the same role that he’s going to play as president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What does it tell us, Tam, about how he relates to the public and to the news media?

TAMARA KEITH: Yes. So, he hasn’t held a press conference since July.

This goes way, way, way back to the campaign. And he has not related to the press or the public in a traditional way ever. And he’s had an incredible skill at distracting, at creating — there was this movie “Up” and there was a dog who gets distracted, and, squirrel, squirrel.

That’s what happens. Every time there is a story that is not favorable to him, like settling the Trump University lawsuit for $25 million, suddenly, there is a Twitter fight.

Meanwhile, he has skillfully avoided sort of the type of environment that a press conference creates, the environment where you get asked a question, and then somebody else asks a question, then somebody else asks a question, it builds on it, and you really can’t escape.

And so there is nothing like a press conference. And his transition team is saying, well, you know, don’t tell him what’s traditional and what is conventional. This is Donald Trump.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Amy, a million eyes are on him, a million pairs of reporters’ eyes and the public paying attention here, not knowing what’s next. He’s keeping us on the edge of our seats.

AMY WALTER: And he loves doing that. Remember, this is a candidate who said, I like being unpredictable. And it’s a candidate who said, you are going to have to wait and see if I accept the results of this election during the debate.

So, this isn’t surprising to me at all that he’s continuing this as president. I think this is what we learned during the course of the campaign is that just, every day, we would come in and we would say, well, maybe now is the time that he’s going to pivot. Maybe now he’s going to look more like a traditional candidate.

That just is not going to happen. And so as he’s parading these people through, you can argue that he’s bringing a lot of different faces and voices, but the people that he’s picked are the people we should be focusing on. And right now the people that he’s chosen in his administration are very much out of the cloth, the Trump cloth, I guess, that he has — you know, these are his acolytes. These are not a team of rivals that he’s putting together. They support everything he stood for in that campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What are we to make of these choices so far?

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, personnel is policy, especially in his case, because he doesn’t have really well-defined policy positions that he campaigned on.

He doesn’t have strong positions on a lot of things and he doesn’t have the government experience. And so what we have so far are people who are very much of the Trump party. They are not traditional Republicans.

Now, he’s met with people like Mitt Romney or General Mattis, people who would be considered more traditional, but he hasn’t picked them yet.

And so, at this point, it’s really not clear — aside from who he has picked, like a Steve Bannon or a Mike Pompeo.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jeff Sessions.

TAMARA KEITH: Jeff Sessions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jeff Sessions for attorney general.

TAMARA KEITH: Exactly.

Other than those names, we know who he’s taking to, but we don’t know who he’s actually listening to or choosing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it’s giving us — these names, though, Amy, have given us something to look at.

AMY WALTER: The names the he’s picked.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The names he’s picked. Jeff Sessions has a record.

AMY WALTER: Absolutely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Steve Bannon has a private sector record. Certainly…

AMY WALTER: And it aligns with the Donald Trump that we saw on the campaign trail. Their views and vision align with what he talked about on the campaign trail.

And all of them were active for him on the campaign trail and as surrogates. So, you’re right. If you bring in a General Mattis, who is very well-respected both in the traditional military establishment, as well as the political establishment, that’s bringing in a new voice.

Now, it’s unclear whether he wants to have new voices giving him new advice or he’s just more comfortable surrounded by the kinds of people that he has been surrounded by for the last year.

TAMARA KEITH: And so far, the people he picked were very loyal to him in the campaign. And he’s rewarded that loyalty by bringing them into his administration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But he’s talking to people like Mitt Romney, who the two men didn’t have a single kind word. In fact, they were very tough on each other during the campaign. Now they’re saying he’s under very serious consideration to be secretary of state.

TAMARA KEITH: And Tulsi Gabbard, the congresswoman, Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, who endorsed Bernie Sanders.

It’s just a wide range of people who he’s talking to. And it’s just — it’s not clear at this point what philosophy is guiding Trump’s choices, other than loyalty, thus far in the picks that he’s made.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that — Amy, do we just get used to this?

AMY WALTER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hanging on the edge of our seats?

AMY WALTER: Yes, is that you have to just get used to all of this.

As I think Tam said perfectly, there is a lot of distraction here. And so what I’m trying to do is spend all of my time focused on what he’s actually done and doing, as opposed to all the other stuff that is sort of floating out there.

If he picks a Tulsi Gabbard, a General Mattis, a Mitt Romney, then we are going to have a different conversation, because we also know that there is part of Donald Trump that does like to have internal tension around him, that he likes to have people around him competing for his attention.

So, we may see something like that. But the team of rivals sort of idea doesn’t seem to be something that Donald Trump likes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we need to talk about the Democrats, too. We just heard from Bernie Sanders. And next Monday, that’s what we will talk about.

AMY WALTER: Absolutely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you.

TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.

AMY WALTER: Thanks.

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