MICHELE NORRIS: Hello. I’m Michele Norris. Welcome to the Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on air.
Donald Trump started the week criticizing airplane maker Boeing, which has a contract to replace two presidential planes with updated models. And we should mention here that Boeing is an underwriter for Washington Week. Donald Trump tweeted that the orders should be canceled because the costs were out of control, citing a $4 billion price tag. Boeing says its current contract is for $170 million. Now, Air Force One is not your ordinary jetliner. This is not your ordinary contract. What is it that Donald Trump is upset about? Is it just the price tag, or are there – is there something else behind this?
JEFF ZELENY: I think there’s much more behind that. I mean, that was another example of why was he tweeting about Air Force One and the cost of that on Tuesday morning? What else was going on? Well, one of the things going on was all the conversation about General Michael Flynn, who you mentioned on the broadcast, his son in particular, about spreading of fake news and lies and other things. He was involved in the official capacity of the transition. Many people believe that Donald Trump was trying to change the subject and was talking about Boeing, but what he was doing was trying to send a signal to companies that he can do this. He plans to call people out, and it’s a very popular thing to do. He’s fighting for the taxpayer. He’s saying I’m going to get a cheaper deal, other things here. But it caused alarm in boardrooms across the country, and at Boeing in particular. And then the CEO the next day had a conversation with him and they’re like, look, we can lower the price on this if you sort of change the specifications on this. So it was not just about Air Force One, it was about so much more – about he intends – the president-elect and president, at least as of now, intends to call out CEOs individually. That had never happened before.
MS. NORRIS: And he has been doing this. You noted in your piece that he’s going to have a series of these calls, five minutes each, but he’s already been doing this on a regular basis.
MICHAEL SCHERER: Yeah, no, and I think the thing to understand about a lot of these tweets – the flag tweet, the Boeing tweet, the Carrier event, even him claiming that there were 3 million people who voted illegally in the election – he did this during the campaign, but the strategy behind it is that the controversy that follows – and often it’s a controversy that’s about him saying things that aren’t true, so it’s a – you know, it’s a real controversy, or, you know, we don’t know – the $4 billion figure for Boeing, for instance, we don’t know where that came from. But it’s a controversy that always posits him as the guy fighting for the little guy against the elites, including the media, including the big corporations, and that’s the narrative he wants. And I think every morning he wakes up – or many mornings he wakes up and he sees another opportunity where he can – he can sort of grab the whole cable news day, all the chatter, and get them talking sometimes in outrage, sometimes in confusion, but set this dynamic where he is on the side, in this case, of the taxpayers against, you know, a big awful corporation who’s ripping them off, or he’s on the side of freedom-loving Americans against flag burners or he’s on the side of his voters against, you know, the fraudulent others who may have – who may have voted.
MS. NORRIS: This is an obvious departure from communications protocol at the White House, or even from a president-elect. But how does a message traditionally leave the White House and get disseminated in the public? There are all kinds of filters, are there not?
ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: Well, the modern presidency has changed that a lot. President Obama felt that he was really taking it technologically in a different direction, and we’ve seen President Obama try to reach out to his supporters or to send a message using – you know, finding your audience where they live, right? And so President Obama did that, before him President Bush. The internet didn’t exist quite the same way for Bill Clinton, but very much similar.
What’s interesting, though, is that you have – you know, Donald Trump hasn’t quite come around, and as – if Jeff is right he may never come around, to this idea that this isn’t decorum, this isn’t what you do, that your message has consequences beyond what it is you’re intending and you have to be really careful, or that that’s why you hire really smart people at the White House and have your, you know, team to help you do this, right? But Donald Trump, he’s said – he’s continued to do it. The White House press corps, I think he’s made it clear that his supporters are not big fans of the media. And he may try to use – continue to use the media as foils, I would imagine. We’re all girding for that, those of us in Washington who cover politics. We’re expecting that.
And he’s going to just have to mix it up and, you know, find out what works for him. Every president that I’ve covered gets a little closer to state-run media because the technology lets them do it. So we’ll see.
MS. NORRIS: And when you say state-run media, what do you mean by that?
MS. SIMENDINGER: I mean that Donald Trump likes the propaganda, the showmanship, the spin, whether the facts are there to support it or not. As president, that’s a different equation than for a candidate. And so we’re going to see whether the tools that come to him in the presidency, that he then absorbs, are utilized to do what he did in a campaign, to tell a story, or whether it is utilized to try to propel his initiatives based on facts or the dynamics of what he’s doing in Congress or to propel his agenda, actually forward in the environment in which you have to succeed.
MS. NORRIS: And another example of where he is rewriting a presidential playbook is in his communication with foreign leaders, which is also very – normally very prescribed. There are set people in the room. There’s a briefing book that you will receive to tell you where you – you know, what you can talk about, what you shouldn’t talk about. Could you tell us a little bit about that and the departure that we’re seeing with Donald Trump?
MICHAEL CROWLEY: So Trump is just breaking all the rules of how a president-elect or a president communicates with foreign leaders. I mean, typically, if a president-elect talks to foreign leaders, he would rely on the advice of the State Department, career diplomats who will give him some guidance, or at least just play it extremely safe. When a president makes a call to a foreign leader, he will actually be given a binder or a folder with a psychological profile of that leader that is drawn from open-source and even from U.S. intelligence saying this is the mood he’s in, he’s maybe even having a fight with his mistress, I mean, really personal stuff – here’s where his – what’s happening with his kids, here’s the kind of small talk you can make. He’s going to press you on this, you know, don’t give any ground; remember, we’re remaining ambiguous on this thing we’re in an argument about. So it is extremely choreographed.
Trump is hopping on the phone with these people. There seems to be no contact with the State Department, no request for any guidance from them. He’s not the president yet, he’s the president-elect, so maybe the standard is a little lower. But he’s not meeting any kind of standard that career diplomats would like to see him meet. And so what we have is him, you know, seeming to make policy maybe by accident, or nobody really knows what he means in some of these calls. He told the prime minister of Pakistan he would love to come and personally help them solve any problems, and that caused all kinds of consternation in India because those two countries have disputes that they don’t want an American – the Indians don’t want an American president involved in. He fielded this call from the president of Taiwan, which broke 35 years of diplomatic precedent. Not clear whether that was rigged up by lobbyists, whether it happened sort of by accident, somewhere in between. But the bottom line on all this is he’s kind of flying without a manual here, and the diplomatic world is, frankly, appalled. But Donald Trump does things his own way, and we’ll see how it works out once he’s inaugurated.
MS. NORRIS: Jeff, there is a lot of consternation and clutching of pearls about some of these breaks from protocol, but is he doing in some cases things that other presidents wish they could have done and he’s just sort of pushing the boundary a little bit further?
MR. ZELENY: I think perhaps, because his whole role as – you know, he came to this dance as an outsider. He touted himself as that. He promoted himself as that. But he also – I think one thing to keep in mind as we all, like, learn much – a lot about him, he said one line the other night in North Carolina that stuck with me. He said, “the script for what’s to come has not yet been written.” And I think that’s actually true. I think he will unfold and develop in front of our eyes.
MS. NORRIS: But that could be said about anything, right? I mean, the future is always written in pencil.
MR. ZELENY: It could, and that’s what worries some Republicans, though, and it, you know, obviously worries some Democrats. But look, I think he is going to break some china. But he also wants to be liked. He desperately wants to be liked by people, and I think he does want to sort of change some minds. So we’ll see how he does that. He’s doing all these thank you tours across the country, but so far just to his own supporters. So I think it’ll be interesting to see how he uses the bully pulpit to sell his agenda when his supporters may disagree with him, and I think they will on several things. So an interesting hundred days – first hundred days to come.
MS. NORRIS: Does he want to be liked in Washington? Is he making the same kind of overtures to Republicans on Capitol Hill, to Democrats also in Washington, that he’s making on the – on his victory tour? Is he extending an open hand?
MR. SCHERER: I think – I think he will be incredibly friendly with Chuck Schumer when they sit down to meet, but so far it hasn’t been a priority of his time as president-elect. I think –
MS. NORRIS: And what about Republicans who are somewhat uncomfortable with some of the moves he’s making, for instance that –
MS. SIMENDINGER: He met with the speaker today in New York.
MS. NORRIS: Yeah.
MR. SCHERER: Right, but – and what he says is they love me now. I mean, but there’s always the threat there, right? There’s always the threat. And I think – I think Jeff’s right. I think he wants to find opportunities to continue to scramble the political definitions that define this town. He sees that as his advantage, his ability to do that. I think the first big test next year –
MS. NORRIS: So being unpredictable is in his toolbox.
MR. SCHERER: Right, and forcing Republicans out of their comfort zone, forcing Democrats out of their comfort zone. I think we will see – even though his Cabinet picks suggest a very conservative administration of the government, I think we will see proposals from him next year with regards to infrastructure, maybe with regards to how they handle the debt, that Republicans will be furious about, but will be kind of forced to go along with, or at least pressured to go along with, and that Democrats might find they’re surprisingly happy about. And I think he sees that – that idea that it’s not left and right, it’s I’m with the people against the elites – as the defining dynamic he wants to establish. And if he can do that by scrambling the parties, he will.
MS. NORRIS: How important is diversity or inclusion to Donald Trump? In the past few administrations, both Democrat and Republican, there has been an attempt to create a Cabinet that looks somewhat like America.
MS. SIMENDINGER: You know, it’s an interesting question. But I think in some ways Donald Trump is kind of a captive of an era that a 70-year-old is used to. And so, as Jeff was saying, he’s looking around at his Cabinet table and thinking: strong men, these are winners, these are real winners in a terrain that I know, business or finance or New York or whatever. These other departments and agencies where we have seen women, it’s not to say these are not accomplished, smart and, you know, strong women; they just don’t happen, all of them – Linda McMahon is an exception – to be women that he’s known very well. And so he’s been introduced in some other ways to these women, and he will – probably we’ll see a few more of those get appointed to jobs around the Cabinet.
The White House staff, that is a big open question. You know, obviously he has a woman as a campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway.
MS. NORRIS: But who has signaled that she doesn’t want to work at the White House.
MS. SIMENDINGER: And she does not want to work in the White House. And she said something really retro like, you know, who – with children, who would have children in the White House? Which is kind of funny, because there’s a lot of women with children. So we have yet to see. We know in business he relied on strong women, but we have yet to see in his government –
MR. CROWLEY: On the issue I track, on secretary of state, I think there have been about 10 candidates who have either come to Trump Tower or had their names repeatedly appear in the media. Every single one is a white male. I’m pretty sure they’re all over the age of 60. It’s pretty remarkable when you consider recent track record of secretary of states. Before John Kerry, you had Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright –
MS. SIMENDINGER: Madeleine Albright.
MR. CROWLEY: No longer a white man’s job, looks like it’s going to be again under Trump.
MS. NORRIS: Right. Well, thank you, everyone.
While you’re online, test your news knowledge on the Washington Week-ly News Quiz. Until next time, I’m Michele Norris.