Trump Talks the Talk | US News | 8.10.2017

Brilliant or reckless? What is going on with President Donald Trump and his mouth … uh, his rhetoric?

Well, to start, by and large his prepared speeches have been excellent, even brilliant. Think of his address to the joint session of Congress. Yes, Republicans were ready to cheer, but the real question of the night was, would the Democrats give full rein to their inner MSNBC, all rant all the time? Or, against all their apparent instincts, would they maintain civility? Would they simply listen to him with chilly silence? In the event, the new president had the entire hall – friend and both GOP and Democratic foe alike – on their feet cheering. In the first three seconds.

It was masterful; and it set the tone for the entire evening.

Critics dismiss his set piece performances as just the work of speechwriters. Now, having been a speechwriter for the man current history calls “The Great Communicator,” I have every reason to water the flower that is the modern cult of the speechwriter. Yes, I can tell you with absolute authority that “The West Wing” (the TV show, not the place) got it absolutely right: The handsomest, most brilliant, most principled, dare I say behind the scenes most powerful person in the joint has always been the speechwriter.

Except it isn’t so. OK, isn’t entirely so.

Every president cherishes his speeches with a lover’s jealousy. This included Ronald Reagan – actually Ronald Reagan especially. And it is worth noting here that, at the time, the word was out that the staff was spoon-feeding him his words. Never true. What was true was that he was such a master of delivery that he could alter the meaning of a less-than-ideal sentence with a nuance of inflection and a nod of the head, making edits to text less essential. And if he didn’t want a particular phrase to lead the evening news, he would just so slightly stumble over it, making it a loser to segment editors in pursuit of the perfect passage.

Mr. Trump may not be Ronald Reagan, but it is clear now that his campaign was serious and specific and in area after area compellingly presented the candidate’s purposes with a clarity and force that no other candidate approached, laying out a policy agenda in terms so convincing that to this day it galvanizes his supporters.

Trump’s tweets and seemingly off-the-cuff remarks are as much a part of his ability to convey authentic conviction and ferocious (at times) passion as are his prepared addresses. I am more of a fan than most of his Tweet-storming. I think it is clear now that they have allowed him to deny to the major media maw decisive domination of the daily discussion. Whatever the editors of The New York Times or The Washington Post are resolved to make the next day’s top story he reliably turns on its head each sunrise just as his favorite “Morning Joe” goes on the air.

Many say he has often used the Tweet tool unwisely – focusing attention on feuds when he should be promoting policy. I agreed with that after the health care debate got going and hope he will do better when taxes are on the table. But if his occasional crudeness can be off-putting, the wise will remember that his supporters are not for him because he is such a great guy. They never were, something opponents who gloat over his low approval ratings should keep in mind.

But his supporters did and do fervently care about where he said he would take the country – and they expected that the journey would be no cakewalk. If the phrase that captures your political heart is “drain the swamp” – a phrase of which Mr. Trump said he was skeptical when it was first suggested to him – then you are not going to be deterred in your support when your gladiator finds himself wrestling alligators and poisonous snakes. You expected no less of him or the swamp.

So the story of the Tweet is the disconnect of the moment: The tone of confrontation and the stance of resistance that Washington so haughtily disdains, many, perhaps very nearly all, of Mr. Trump’s voters greet with approval, even if they occasionally feel he goes too far or turns off the main road into a cul de sac. What they will not accept is ineffectiveness, though it is a fair bet that, if their agenda continues to be frustrated, they will turn their fury in the 2018 elections on those they feel got Trump’s way far more than on him.

Now, I know that it wasn’t the last ratings-building attack on former presidential friends Joe and Mika that led U.S. News to ask me to write something about the president’s rhetoric. It was the verbal grenade Mr. Trump just tossed North Korean despot Kim Jong Un’s way: “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” So undiplomatic. So unpresidential.

Except that in foreign policy this kind of resort to the rhetorical ramparts has served Mr. Trump remarkably well so far.

Opponents howled when as a candidate the president spoke intemperately about illegal immigration. Yet without a wall or a new law, mainly because of his words, illegal immigration along the southwest border has plummeted by more than 70 percent since he took office.

Europeans had seizures when he let it be known that if they didn’t care enough to contribute as promised to their own defense, they might not be able to count on us alone to do it for them. Except now NATO allies are writing the often-pledged but never delivered 2 percent defense spending into their budgets.

Go to YouTube. Watch Mr. Trump as he delivers his “fire and fury” remark. He looks down twice, apparently at the prepared answer to the question that he and the staff knew was coming. Talking head diplomats may cringe, but after nearly a decade of irresolution in the White House, an American president has sent to the little dictator who has become accustomed to us always backing down a strong, unmistakable message of strength and utter determination.

Here, at least, it is about time.

This post originally appeared in US News. 

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