Even the President’s Friends Sometimes Fail to Understand Him

Originally published 7/06/2017 at American Thinker

Of all of his many remarkable tweets, President Trump’s infamous one from last Thursday mocking Mika Brzezinski now has the distinction of being the most viewed and covered.  Much of the coverage has been decidedly negative and, as one would expect, most of those offended are either Democrats, establishment Republicans, or media figures.  But this weekend Alan West weighed in against President Trump.

As you probably know, Lieutenant Colonel West served in the House of Representatives as a Republican from Florida.  And he’s certainly no “flailing old woman of the nominal right.” Before his time in Congress, he saw combat in the Army during both Iraq wars, and you’d be hard pressed to find any public figure who’s been more consistently, comprehensively, and unflinchingly conservative.  So, what exactly is his beef?

Well, surprisingly, some of his complaints are typical of those who have a visceral distaste for the President’s style.  In an opening aside, he tells us that defending the President’s tweets would be “no different from liberal progressives who were able to excuse the abhorrent actions of President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office with a young intern.”

It’s hard to know what to make of this criticism, because it’s almost impossible to believe that Lt.  Colonel West doesn’t see the difference in scale between President Trump’s insulting words and President Clinton’s reprehensible actions.  But West goes on to criticize the former on purely tactical grounds, so it’s here that his real complaint surely must lie.  West garnered the lifelong esteem of all hardcore conservatives when he famously fired his gun close to a prisoner’s head during an interrogation in Iraq.  West’s bold move was a success — the prisoner talked –  and West later justified his action as follows: “I know the method I used was not right, but I wanted to take care of my soldiers.” So, he clearly wouldn’t engage in this silly and out of proportion moral fussiness if he thought President Trump’s tweets made tactical sense.

But West’s critique of the President’s tactics depends upon misunderstanding the circumstances, the man, what he’s doing and, oddly enough, West’s own political history.  He advises the President:

So what if folks are over-the-top critical of you and speaking of you in demeaning, disparaging and denigrating terms? Hey, welcome to the world of being a black conservative.  The professional and adult response is not to respond at all; never punch down Mr.  President.  You must maintain the moral high ground… If you continue to show yourself as being so very thin-skinned, well, this little Pavlovian experiment will continue.  The liberal progressive media is truly unhinged.  You should not continue to take the bait or be an accomplice and follow them over the edge.  The first course of action is to ignore the left, and realize that you won.  You are the president.  The left and their media are not required to legitimize you, but you must stop giving them legitimate reasons for their assessments.  They want a reaction.  Stop giving them one.  When you willingly provide them a reaction, you lower yourself to their level.  I know Mr.  President, you’re from New York and pride yourself as some kind of “street fighter.” But toughness isn’t measured by blindly swinging and wasting energy at every single affront.  You sir must learn to “fight smarter, not harder.” There’s no honor in what you did and how you responded.  I know there’s many a sycophant telling you to go git ’em, and you’re really showing them up? Really? You want to show up the left? Defeat them ideologically, as you have the world’s greatest platform, the bully pulpit, so there’s no need to just be a bully on Twitter.  How about this Mr.  President, tweet out why Medicaid for everyone is a really stupid idea.  Stay on a disciplined policy message, and don’t allow yourself to be like a dog seeing a squirrel and completely losing focus.

In comparing the President to a dog seeing a squirrel and describing his responses as Pavlovian, West makes the same mistakes that Trump’s enemies make.  He can’t understand President Trump’s responses in any other terms except as indicating someone out of control and blindly giving in to impulse.  The President’s critics very likely make this mistaken assumption because it’s the only way they could imagine themselves responding as he does.

But, if we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that President Trump isn’t like everyone else.  And upon reflection, it really ought to be impossible for any unbiased observer to believe that President Trump has succeeded as a developer, television star, and in so many other walks of life, with the impulse control of a five-year-old.  The President’s wife not only knows him better than his critics, she also gave a much more plausible account of what’s going on.  President Trump acts on a principle: when attacked, counter attack 10 times harder.  And someone as successful as President Trump almost certainly acts on this principle because he believes it makes strategic sense.

Thomas Lifson and Keith Koffler have each explained that the President’s strategy is, in fact, well grounded in human psychology.  To quote Koffler:

Trump’s calculation is this: By baiting the media with his Twitter account, Trump is both revealing and provoking their instinctive liberal bias, helping undermine their legitimacy.  And he is maintaining the energy and commitment of his voter base, which reviles the mainstream press.

And  Gregory Winkeleer has pointed out that the President’s tweets serve the further purpose of distracting his media opponents from other news, like the House passing Kate’s Law, that would have otherwise generated a lot of melodramatic and misleading negative coverage.  And Winkeleer appears to be right on target here.  If you google “Kate’s Law” you’ll get many results like this:  ‘Kate’s Law’ would usher anti-immigration policies in the U.S  But they are all from June 29th, the day of the infamous tweet, or earlier.  And it’s hard to believe that absent that tweet, these stories wouldn’t have continued for days.

West’s suggestion that the President should have tweeted on policy matters instead also makes no sense.  President Trump sent out 13 tweets on July 29th, 11 of which touted policy successes.  But the media focused entirely on the two insulting tweets directed at Mika Brzezinski.  A brief perusal of the President’s twitter feed shows that he’s constantly tweeting about policy but that these tweets are virtually never covered.  And it’s ridiculous to suppose that the hostile media would cover them if only he’d stop with the few and far between insulting ones.

So, contrary to Allen West and the President’s enemies, the President very likely knows exactly what he’s doing.  But West was an early Never Trumper.  And, though he changed his mind and declared his willingness to support the President as soon as it became clear that he’d clinched the nomination, it’s perhaps not surprising that he still doesn’t quite get Donald Trump.

But what is surprising is that West’s advice to the President seems to misconstrue his own political history.  As West says, being a black conservative means he knows exactly what it’s like to be attacked unfairly.  In his 2012 race to retain his congressional seat, his opponent ran an ad in which West was depicted as repeatedly punching a white woman in the face.  West did exactly what he’s now advising the President to do.  He took the moral high ground, responding that the ad “played on stereotypes” and reflected “the sad state of politics in our Republic.” But, unfortunately for both the Lt.  Colonel and our Republic, he lost his bid for re-election and thereafter abandoned politics.  This was West’s third campaign and his second loss, this time as an incumbent.  One can only wonder what the results would have been had he adopted the President’s strategies rather than his own.

Taking the high road in the face of offensive attacks certainly allows one to feel morally superior.  But it also lends credence to your opponent’s attacks and de-energizes your base.  I’m sure I’m not alone in remembering how demoralizing it was to watch President W.  Bush take the vilest insults without responding or breaking that good-natured smile.

Donald Trump’s intuitive understanding of human psychology allowed him to win the Presidency in his very first run at public office.  Moreover, he did so with virtually all the media, both left and right, and even much of his own party against him.  He also buried both the Bush and Clinton political dynasties and he did so spending a fraction of the money they did.  These accomplishments are remarkable but it’s perhaps more remarkable how little his opponents, and even some friends like Allen West, appreciate them and give him the credit he so obviously deserves.  Whether one likes his style or not, the President has a record of winning that should command respect from any clear eyed and rational person.


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