Smoke Screen or Strategy?

Donald Trump’s ceaseless stream of controversial executive orders & statements has been a defining factor of his Presidency. If anything, these have ramped up in recent weeks. Politico’s recent deep dive into the matter recognizes that this is where Trump is at his Trumpiest and where he knows he has Democrats over a barrel given their multi-cultural base & platform:

On that battlefield, Trump is the Jason Bourne of trolls: a superhuman, indefatigable one-man army. The man weaponizes rallies and turns tweets into grenades. The barely veiled racial comparison of his succeeding President Barack Obama to a lunar eclipse. The “good people” among the neo-Nazis who just don’t like disrespect for their Confederate “heritage.” The “son of a bitch” black athletes who should be fired for protesting racism during a sporting event. Trump doesn’t shrink from these fights; these fights are his oxygen.

Which is not to say it’s working for him. As a result of producing minimal policy and maximum conflict, Trump today retains majority support among only one demographic: white males without college degrees.

…When Trump wages culture war, Democrats fire back and most other issues get lost in the noise. Or if a bread-and-butter issue does break through—and break in the Democrats’ favor, as with health care—Trump will quickly launch a new culture war front. The president was not going to let Jimmy Kimmel hog the spotlight forever; he made sure to turn it to Colin Kaepernick and Steph Curry as soon as possible.

Culture war as diversionary tactic is the common interpretation, but could there be another angle for the historically unpopular President than simply performing an interpretive culture war dance for his base? Could the primary purpose be not distraction, but testing the walls of his prison? Consider:

  • “The Russia Stuff” definitely heating up. On Friday Mueller’s team interviewed Reince Priebus, former Trump Chief of Staff and man mostly likely to sing like a canary. White House counsel Don McGahn, director of communications Hope Hicks, and former press secretary Sean Spicer are in the on-deck circle. To use the fire metaphor – which might go over Trump’s head given his lack of concern – the flames the Mueller Wildfire are closing in on him.
  • At the same time, Trump’s firewall of a GOP hungry for tax cuts and reducing health coverage for the poorest Americans is starting to crumble in the face of the President’s attacks on GOP leaders.
  • He has already tested his most serious weapon, firing, with Jim Comey. While the Comey firing drew significant backlash and led to the Special Counsel, it also showed such actions were possible by demonstrating that the action had very little effect on public opinion of the President.
  • In the meantime, Trump’s surrogates and media binkies like Trump supergroupie and probably third Press Secretary Sean Hannity are banging the drum for an end to Mueller’s investigation.

We’ve already seen Trump make and survive controversial orders & moves like the travel ban, (55% disapproval, 45% support), pulling out of  the Paris Climate Agreement (59% opposed, 28% support), LGBT transgender military ban (58% opposed, 27% support), and so far his health care order (66% for fixing Obamacare, 28% supporting the move).

Could it be that the culture war is at its heart a test of the limits of his ability to survive deeply unpopular moves?

If so, it appears that the red line the GOP has placed around Mueller’s investigation could well be tested in the next few weeks.