Donald Trump is showing the next phase of this strategy: pure theater.
Recently, President Barack Obama pointed out that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Grand Old Party (GOP) figured out something very important during the Obama presidency: Most Americans either don’t know or don’t care about the nuance of how government works. “And the problem is, is that the general public is not following the intricacies of the legislature and they’re not interested in who’s to blame, they just want to see stuff done. And the one guy they know is the President of the United States, so if things don’t get done, that can advantage the politics of the other party.”
Americans know that the president is in charge of the government, and so if they are told that the government is not working, and they don’t see it working, it must be the president’s fault.
This is how the Republican Party survived—and actually thrived—through eight years of obstructionism in Congress. By blocking nominations, budgets, and legislation—much of which that would have actually helped their own constituents, and some of which Trump has championed as his own—the GOP was able to convince enough Americans that the resulting ineffective governance was Obama’s fault all along. He is the president, after all, and he is responsible for getting things done.
Republicans were able to ignore a Supreme Court nominee for eight months, along with 90 other judicial nominations, without any electoral punishment—and they knew they could do it, because not enough Americans concern themselves with esoteric notions like structural democracy.
The In-Party Game
Now, Donald Trump is showing the next phase of this strategy: pure theater. First, Trump claimed credit for keeping a Ford plant in the US that wasn’t actually slated for closure or relocation. Now, he claims to be saving jobs at a Carrier plant, which actually amounts to a state tax break deal from the governor of Indiana—soon-to-be Vice President Mike Pence—and still allows for jobs to be shipped to Mexico.
But most Americans don’t read beyond these headlines. They don’t understand or care about the details, such as an incoming president’s legal inability to unilaterally provide incentives for an individual firm to change their financial decision making. And Trump knows this.
He knows that his tweets and his statements will create headlines that will get tens of millions of views, whereas the resulting fact-checking and counterarguments will merely get thousands of views among his supporters. Further, he and the GOP have already convinced 86% of Republicans that the “mainstream media”—the ones best positioned to uncover the facts behind his claims—are untrustworthy.
Like a lucky hat during a baseball game, Trump supporters will cling to these superficial displays as the cause of all that is good while overlooking the bad—or likely blame it on Obama. No rigorous investigation of cause-and-effect will take place. And without hold of either the House or the Senate, the Democrats have little ability to even use the Republican’s obstructionist playbook. They have little ability to undermine the empty theatrics of the Trump administration that will echo among his supporters.
The Democrats cannot count on Trump’s scandals or failures to shake his support come 2020. If the president-elect keeps up his smoke and mirrors theater and Americans take them at face value, the next election may actually be more “post-truth” than 2016.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: Savushkin