A heading in one of our most prestigious newspapers read, “Are the leaks on Trump officials linked with Russia whistle blowing or political warfare?” I don’t know the answer to this question, but it is interesting to reflect a little on what happened recently.
I believe that Donald Trump, who has been president for about five weeks now, never really expected to win the presidential elections last November. He was a one man show without the backing of mainstream Republicanism. Republicans like John McCain appeared to oppose him even more than Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama did. But he won, and the problem was, he simply didn’t have a team, especially in the area of communications, to take over from the Obama administration.
In this field, Mr. Trump had fought with and generally bypassed the mainline media. In this, in so far as the election results have demonstrated, he was successful. Now that he is president, matters are a lot different from being the candidate Donald Trump. He needs a department of communications, and he hasn’t got one.
Some days ago, for example, Mr. Trump tweeted that his predecessor Barack Obama “ordered a wiretap on him before the election”, and as this commentator put it, “the swamp was stunned”, especially as no evidence to the accusation was provided in the tweet. But then came the suggestion that the order may have come from the Justice Department and not directly from Mr. Obama. According to the same commentator, “the FBI director, James Comey, had urged the Justice Department to clarify the record and say no such wiretap was ordered”. So what are we to conclude from these communications?
Suppose Mr. Trump had tweeted that he suspected that officials from the old Obama administration who were still in situ were leaking negative information on Mr. Trump’s potential nominees especially in their relations with Russian embassy personnel? A tweet like this might have been more appropriate than his direct attack on Mr. Obama. The object of these leaks is, I suppose, to influence the ongoing FBI investigation of the incoming nominees’ ties with Russia. This, of course, is not spying, as Mr. Trump claims, but it is an effort to influence the FBI investigation before it is finished. This investigation has come up with nothing so far.
Why does this happen to Mr. Trump and why didn’t it happen to other incoming presidents? Part of it, I am sure, is due to Mr. Trump’s tweeting to his 7.6 million subscribers and his lack of precision in his messaging. But it can also be that he doesn’t have an adequate communication team. For example, Bill Clinton had a staff of 30, George W. Bush had 50 communication specialists, and Barack Obama had over 70 communication staff working for him. Up to a few days ago Donald Trump had only his press secretary, Sean Spier and 3 communication staff working for him (Jason Miller, Hope Hicks and Dan Scavino). This week he added a fourth member to the team, Mike Dubke.
Matt Mackowiak, a Republican consultant, is reported as saying that “The Trump White House is lucky to have someone of Mr. Dubke calibre join the West Wing in a gruelling and crucial job such as communications director. He understands communications, strategy, and tactics, and how to use them.” Another Washington communications professional described Mr. Dubke as a “behind-the-scenes operator who was confident and capable but had no love for the mainstream media”. This appointment could greatly help Mr. Trump on daily communications strategy. Messaging strategy is clearly one of the missing dimensions in Mr. Trump’s administration. Dubke’s role will most likely focus on this.
Although the addition of Mr Dubke to Mr. Trump’s team is to be welcomed, surely it is time that he builds up his communication department to the level of those of previous presidents and either abandons his tweeting or brings more precision to it. As to whether there is political warfare going on, the jury is still out on it. But it certainly appears that there is a battle for the communication high ground and that Mr. Trump is speaking to his own audience who don’t respect what the liberal established media thinks and opines of them, especially the popular talk shows on the main TV channels who are continuously making fun of the freshman president.