Someone in the White House has been leaking the president’s schedule. Axios has now twice published copies of Trump’s personal planner. The big news here is the leaks, which had seemed to be tamped down in recent months, but may be again on an uptick. But the secondary story is about how Trump uses his time. Some in the media have particularly criticized the many hours a day Trump devotes to executive time.
Executive time is basically a euphemism for unstructured parts of the day when the president can do whatever he pleases. Some think Trump takes too much of it. The argument seems to be that he should spend that time in meetings, briefings, traveling, or something. Instead, critics maintain, he just watches cable news and uses Twitter. In a nutshell, the argument is that Trump is being lazy.
Setting aside the question of how useful it would be for Trump to sit in on meetings about oil prices in Pakistan, or some such thing, there is a very plausible and reasonable explanation for him taking good quantities of executive time. One of the curiosities of the Trump presidency is that he is basically his own communications director. No president since Richard Nixon has taken such a hands-on approach to his White House’s messaging, and Trump probably even has Tricky Dick beat.
Anyone who works in comms — or some kinds of journalism, for that matter — understands how forcefully cable news shapes narrative, and how Twitter affects how that narrative develops. No politician has ever dominated the media narrative as effectively as Trump has. He is the news all day, every day. Part of how and why he established this dominance is by immersing himself in these platforms.
Trump isn’t just “watching” cable news, and he isn’t just “surfing” Twitter. He’s researching and influencing. He is seeing what attacks of his are landing, and what attacks against himself he can expect. This is a man who, long before politics, pretended to be his own press representative to place stories in New York tabloids. He is his brand. And so is his presidency.
It is reasonable to wonder if being the White House communications guru is really the job the Constitution lays out for the president. It probably isn’t. On the other hand, communicating and gathering, or at least maintaining support for White House policy, certainly is part of a president’s job. And it’s not a small part. It’s actually quite essential.
My colleague Emily Jashinsky wrote last week about Twitter’s disproportionate and arguably dangerous influence on the news. Political journalists of every type and stripe spend a lot of time there, and its ebbs, flows, and trends directly influence the news American people consume. Trump’s mastery of the platform is a big reason why he is president. It makes all the sense in the world that he spends a lot of time on it.
When you look at Twitter influencers in politics, or really any area of life, the most successful ones are the ones who tweet almost constantly. Fifteen or 20 tweets a day is not rare for many of these pundits, reporters, surrogates, and operatives. The way to get good at Twitter is to be on Twitter, a lot. The fact that most politicians don’t have that kind of time in their day is why when most try to take on Trump in social media, they wind up looking like Shooter McGavin trying to do Happy Gilmore’s running tee shot. It just doesn’t work.
We are well past the point where anybody even bothers to suggest the president should stop or slow down with the tweets. It’s like asking Bob Newhart not to stutter. A TV executive once tried that. Newhart told the guy that that stutter had bought him a house in Hollywood Hills. Tweeting got Trump an even better house.
It’s been more than 20 years since cable news began dominating the storylines of American politics. It’s been more than 10 years since Barack Obama, in an attempt to gain followers, promised to announce his choice for vice president on a new platform called Twitter. In that time, the two have formed a Mobius loop of influence over how we govern ourselves.
It should not come as any surprise that a president who came to power through the force of that Mobius loop spends an awful lot of time inside of it.