Donald Trump, jawbone-in-chief.
Monday evening, Republicans in the U.S. House approved a plan to eviscerate the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted his concern: “Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!” he wrote.
The plan was scrapped before noon — over the presumed objections of GOP Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, by the way, who appeared to be one of the ringleaders of the plan to blow up the ethics office.
But the day was just beginning. Over lunch, the Ford Motor Co. said it had dropped plans to build a $1.6 billion small-car plant in Mexico. The firm will use some of the funds to hire U.S. workers instead.
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Trump had hammered the company for months, urging it to abandon the Mexico plant.
It’s tempting to scoff at these related stories. It isn’t clear that Trump’s views were the only reason for the Ford decision, or for the GOP’s stunning reversal in the House. In fact, there was some evidence Tuesday Trump merely wanted the House to wait before gutting the ethics office — important, because the president-elect will soon face conflict-of-interest questions of his own.
More generally, we’re not accustomed to presidential pronouncements by tweet.
But it’s pretty clear we’re going to have to adjust, because Trump obviously believes he can talk anyone into anything. The early evidence suggests he may not be wrong.
This skill is more politically important than most of us realize. Pundits are now busily adding up the pluses and minuses of the Barack Obama administration, but there’s general agreement the Democrat, to his detriment, did a poor job of selling his proposals to a skeptical public.
He tried, of course. But his speeches and interviews and press conferences often resembled college lectures — meant to inform, not convince. That’s fine in a world defined by logic and reflection. In a world dominated by passion and disagreement, it’s less effective.
Through instinct or personality, Trump seems to grasp the changing rules of political engagement. He’s always arguing, debating, asserting, proclaiming. Republicans in Congress, and businessmen and businesswomen in the corner office, have so far been no match for Trumpian tweet storms.
Can it continue? Perhaps. A member of Trump’s staff slightly contradicted him Tuesday, before the House decision on ethics, but he didn’t seem to mind the crosstalk, nor did she. Trump’s communications may be a maddening jumble of non-linear thinking, but if they bring results, who cares?
Much of pundit-world, maybe. Voters may simply applaud.
This will be harder to pull off as the problems grow more complicated. If North Korea launches a ballistic missile this month, a tweet may seem inadequate. (Trump’s initial response — “it won’t happen” — is hardly reassuring.)
Disassembling the Affordable Care Act will take more than a day or two. Protecting American industries with higher tariffs and penalties on foreign imports might help blue collar workers in Ohio, but will clobber farmers in Missouri and Kansas. And so on.
And reality will intrude, too. Did Sprint allow Trump to take credit for job expansion because the company has its eye on future merger possibilities? We will see, soon enough.
For now, though, it can be fairly said that Trump looked House Republicans in the eye, and they blinked, as did Ford. There will be more jawboning to come.