Politics

Anatomy of a Stumble

“I wish people would read or listen to my words on our compromise here,” Custer wrote on Twitter. “We are not planning a defeat. It was taking care of people who were getting badly hurt by the 7th Cavalry with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal with the Sioux is done, it’s off to the races at Little Big Horn!”

Look, we got beat on the shutdown/wall issue. Admit it. We only do better next time by acknowledging reality this time. No sugarcoated cheerleading, denial, or changing the subject will alter that. If you don’t think so, ask yourself: Was this your preferred resolution to the situation?

Actually, I almost called this piece “Bringing You News of Fresh Disasters.” But that’s a bit much, even for me.

And on Sunday the president himself put the odds of getting a deal after his recent capitulation at “less than 50-50.” Ergo…

Thus the failure to accept what happened, learn from it, and move on to victories tomorrow (as the president and the administration have in everything but name) is a very unfortunate trait consistently apparent in some Trump supporters. In fact, it is plainly delusional. We saw it in those who proclaimed a “red tsunami” was on the way in November, despite no evidence to support their contention, and we see it here and now.

It makes the president into some omniscient being, incapable of being wrong or losing, and thus deserving of blind loyalty regardless of circumstance. Well, only God deserves unqualified loyalty. Politicians, including this one, are mortals to be judged on their actions. They are not free from accountability because of rah-rah team sentiments.

And we don’t do ourselves any favors by sticking our heads in the sand and relying on future promises that are illusory. Is it going to be a wall or “barrier”? The president has “evolved” on that. Will the Mexicans be paying for it? Uh-huh. Will the Dems be any less intransigent in three weeks? Yeah, right. If the president actually goes through with his threat, going for the national emergency move, will it just look like the desperate gambit of a man who couldn’t win without resorting to over-the-top measures? Will that promise of calling a national emergency be as credible of the promise the president himself made not to “cave” less than 72 hours before he caved? Will said national emergency be exaggerated by the Dems and their media lapdogs into a prelude to something sinister? Will the very term get gullible people, including moderates the president needs, to buy that malarkey?

I’ve seen otherwise rational people on social media and elsewhere intone, in one example, “Donald doesn’t cave. He wins.” That’s about as “the fuhrer in a bunker” as it gets. Also love the familiar form of address, as if the guy is popping down to Mar-a-Lago for brunch after his next chin wag with Kellyanne and the staff. There’s a whole host of people out there who, between posting pictures of the president garlanded with laurel leaves by Jesus Christ himself, have internalized a perception of Trump as perfect, without flaw, omnipotent. They would be happier methinks in Berlin or Moscow of 1938. Here and now, we still retain a semblance of critical thinking.

You had to recognize the problem with McClellan to get Grant. You had to recognize the problem with Fredendall to get Patton. Speaking of Grant, he said, “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.” Not, “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer. Or maybe I’ll just retreat a couple of days after I promised I wouldn’t.”

Nevertheless, this is just a big stumble. A lost battle. It sticks in the craw to hear from Chuck Schumer that he hopes “the president has learned his lesson.” But the war is far from lost. It will be decided against us if we don’t win the comms battle. And coming on the heels of the loss of the House and postponing the SOTU because of Pelosi’s edict, this dog’s breakfast of another result is just not a good omen.

In that aspect, despite great ideas coming up from everywhere except Bill Shine, we got our clocks cleaned. From the Teleprompter Debacle to the boxing of the president in a corner by that “no cave” promise, when they must have been already considering caving, the president has been ill-served by his communications staff. Now granted, they caved because they saw they were in a hole and decided to stop digging. Good. But, how did they get in that hole in the first place?

And why do I feel like a czarist apologist in 1905?

Playing Not to Lose: It seemed like the White House was on defense from the start. They imprisoned POTUS in the Rose Garden and did not let him get out repeatedly to places like the border where his message would stick through repetition and be emotionally and visually resonant with voters.

The Flip-Flop: Napoleon said, “When you start out to take Vienna, take Vienna.” He didn’t say, “Lose Vienna but hope next week you’ll take Prague.” Saying he was going to not cave —yes I know I am belaboring this point; it’s vital to emphasize it because it shows comms-shop malfeasance— and then turning around soon and doing just that was crazy. The president knows how to spin. He and everyone else in politics does it daily. Three days before “the deal,” he could have said, “We’re looking at all options. Nothing is off the table.” He’s used that line on national security issues on a regular basis. That would have given him some wiggle room and lessened the blow when he went south. But it’s not the president’s job to know and execute this. It’s the job of Bill Shine and the White House Communications Office. Who’s really running the show over there? The guy who ran Mark Sanford’s comms office when he was S.C. governor? Maybe the genius who is the flack for Kevin Spacey.

Though in Shine’s semidefense, after almost two decades in political comms myself I can tell you, sometimes the pros get overruled by the client. It doesn’t lessen the responsibility of a pro to advocate the right track to the client. But there are times when the client disregards professional counsel, usually much to their eventual dismay. It could have happened here, but I don’t think likely.

In any event, the president can come back from this. He can put this behind him and go on to greener pastures. But that won’t happen with mindless rationalizations. We need to fix what is wrong, come up with a clear and pro-active comms strategy, and then credibly and forcefully execute that strategy until we win. We need to take the initiative, not merely react to the tactics of the other guys.

Grant also said, after Shiloh, “We’ll whip ‘em tomorrow.” We can. But first we have to deal with reality today.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
David Kamioner

A veteran of service with US Army Intelligence, the Pershing Nuclear Brigade, and the First Infantry Division, Kamioner is a graduate of the University of Maryland’s European Division and spent over twenty years as a political consultant, college instructor, non-profit director, and corporate PR director. He hails from New York City and grew up in South Florida. He served with the American Red Cross as part of the relief effort for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. For several years he ran homeless shelters, most recently homeless shelters for US military veterans. He currently is a Senior Contributor for OpsLens.com, a writer for American Greatness, and the Editorial Director of This Week in the News with Drew Berquist. He is the author of the novel "Prisoner of the Chattering Class" and lives in Annapolis, Maryland.

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