the national interest

Trump Staffers Plant Alternative Facts to Stop Him From Tweeting Them

Donald Trump can sometimes be prevented from saying crazy things if the work can be outsourced. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Several days have passed since the last news story appeared filled with hair-raising reports from inside the White House attesting to Donald Trump’s utter unfitness for office. The latest dispatch from the child monarchy of Donald Trump comes via Politico’s Tara Palmeri, who conveys the methods used by Trump’s staffers to manipulate his delicate and damaged psyche.

The thrust of the story revolves around the constant struggle to prevent Trump from tweeting out angry or false things that degrade his standing with the public by opening up a window into his mind. Palmeri, who spoke with six former Trump campaign officials, discovered that their method for controlling the president is based on a combination of his pathologies:

1. Media criticism makes Trump irrationally angry. The president’s habit of firing off replies to critical media outlets is well known, but Palmeri provides more details of his vulnerability to psychic distress when presented with criticism:

One Trump associate said it’s important to show Trump deference and offer him praise and respect, as that will lead him to more often listen. And If Trump becomes obsessed with a grudge, aides need to try and change the subject, friends say.

2. Trump does not control his own print-media diet. Other than a handful of legacy newspapers and magazines that he reads in print, the rest of the president’s news diet is spoon-fed to him by his staff:

He rarely reads anything online, instead preferring print newspapers — especially his go-to, the New York Times — and reading material his staff brought to his desk.

3. Trump does control his own television-media diet. He surfs cable for hours, a habit that can feed into his self-destructive mental state:

Leaving him alone for several hours can prove damaging, because he consumes too much television and gripes to people outside the White House.

4. Trump’s staff manipulates him by presenting him with favorable “news.” Trump tweets his own message out of a belief that his allies are not defending him with sufficient vigor, so he can he dissuaded from doing so if he sees favorable coverage in the printed-out news collection handed to him:

“He saw there was activity so he didn’t feel like he had to respond,” the former campaign official said. “He sends out these tweets when he feels like people aren’t responding enough for him.”…

“If candidate Trump was upset about unfair coverage, it was productive to show him that he was getting fair coverage from outlets that were persuadable,” said former communications director Sam Nunberg.

5. If there was not enough favorable coverage available, Trump’s aides would plant favorable stories in conservative media. Palmeri reports several such examples of planted stories in the right-wing media:

During another damage control mission, when former Miss Universe Alicia Machado took to the airwaves to call out Trump for calling her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping,” the communications team scrambled to place a story in conservative friendly outlets like Fox News, the Washington Examiner, the Daily Caller and Breitbart.

“Alternative media” describes media that will report the Trump administration’s “alternative facts.” The Washington Examiner and Fox News contain a mix of legitimate reporting with conservative propaganda. Infowars is a fever-swamp conspiracy site run by Alex Jones, who promotes hoaxes like “Pizzagate,” insists the Sandy Hook shooting was faked, is suspicious of fluoridated water, and so on. Jones is barking mad. Breitbart and the Daily Caller lie in the middle ground between normal, conservative, Fox News–crazy, and Alex Jones–crazy. (Jim Rutenberg recently noted the overlap between Jones’s conspiratorial beliefs and Trump’s, but the administration refused to tell him that Trump followed Jones’s claims. Now Palmeri has confirmed it.)

And so Trump’s staff essentially outsources the job of circulating pro-Trump alternative facts to the right-wing media in order to dissuade the president from doing it himself and thereby tarnishing his brand. The president is therefore not only the subject but also the object of his own staff’s propaganda campaign.

Palmeri also reports a fascinating detail about the efforts to confirm Neil Gorsuch. The nominee’s comments to Senator Richard Blumenthal expressing dismay with Trump’s attacks on the judiciary were planned, out of the calculation that demonstrating Gorsuch’s independence from Trump and willingness to oppose his attacks on the judiciary would ease his path to confirmation. “White House officials anticipated that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch would distance himself from Trump’s attack and thought the planned comments would help the nominee’s bid, said a person with knowledge of the conversations,” she reports. Alas, Trump was not privy to the plan and, filled with rage, fired off a series of tweets attacking Blumenthal:

Trump himself didn’t like Gorsuch’s “disheartening” and “demoralizing” critique. He fired off a tweet criticizing Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Democrat who repeated the comments, digging up a past controversy over the senator’s military record and accusing him of incorrectly characterizing Gorsuch’s comments. Afterwards, Blumenthal and other Democrats criticized Trump and said the president’s comments would hurt his nominee’s chances. Asked if aides and advisers liked the tweet, one White House official said sarcastically: “What do you think?”
Staffers Plant Alternative Facts to Stop Trump From Tweeting