The conventional wisdom in the media, and even among many conservatives, is that President Donald Trump’s tweets are frustrating his policy agenda. But the opposite is true: his most controversial tweets are helping him.
The conventional wisdom relies on the mistaken assumption that presidents must pursue their policy priorities by seeking support from the public at large. If that were true, it would indeed be best for Trump to play nice on Twitter.
But in reality, because Republicans control Congress, and since they are prepared to use the Senate reconciliation process to overcome total Democratic obstruction, Trump merely needs to unite his own party to fulfill his agenda.
Given that a significant portion of the Republican Party has been hostile to Trump and his agenda from the outset, he cannot hope to rally the Republicans by appeasing its different factions, many of whom cannot stand each other. The only way to unify them is to convince them that unless they fulfill their legislative promises on Obamacare and tax reform, they are going to lose the 2018 midterm elections, because conservative voters will stay home in droves.
Trump cannot say that directly, because that would compromise his own negotiating position. He needs to posture as if he can afford to walk away from a bad deal, and blame the Democrats for the ongoing collapse of Obamacare. But the Twitter fallout is showing Republicans that if they try to coast through the midterms without achieving any major goals, there is no way Trump is going to be able to save them from a hostile media and enraged Democrats.
This is incorrect. It is in Congress’s own interest to pass Obamacare repeal & tax reform. Trump’s tweets actually help: they have no choice https://t.co/rzjVkO3B8E
— Joel B. Pollak (@joelpollak) June 30, 2017
The president’s Twitter wars, like the one that exploded this week with MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, also boost the conservative base. Not because the base condones what he says — many conservatives do not — but because when Trump alienates the media and the Democrats, he must rely more heavily on his supporters. That makes the party base immensely more powerful in defining the president’s agenda and keeping it focused.
The notion that Trump’s tweets take media attention away from his accomplishments is spurious. The media have no interest whatsoever in covering Trump’s successes. At best, the MSNBC fight has done is displace the Russia story (probably not intentionally — Trump is not that calculating, and he has nothing to hide on the Russian front.)
There is another advantage in Trump’s tweets. From The Art of the Deal, through the presidential campaign, and today, Trump has shown that he uses a strategy game theorists call “massive retaliatory strike.” As Breitbart News explained last year, Trump “is friendly by default, but hits back hard if challenged.” As a deterrent, that strategy is most effective when it is consistent. And certainly Scarborough and Brzezinksi did enough to invite a response.
Far from embarrassing the country, as the media suggests, Trump’s approach also puts America’s enemies on notice.
Still, it would be best, for other reasons, for Trump to be gentlemanly on Twitter. And as 2020 draws nearer, he will need to broaden his support.
But as far as his policy agenda is concerned, his Twitter fights are a plus, for now.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.