President Trump is his own communications team. Frankly, that’s worked out a lot better than many observers thought it could. Current Communications Director Stephanie Grisham is not exactly a regular household name — in fact, she is about as famous right now as the average 1980s member of Menudo. The White House press briefing has gone the way of the Dodo and in its stead the president does his own briefings, often under the whirring blades of Marine One.
But while the team of one gaggles and his bevy of tweets have served Trump relatively well on most issues, it is a problem for the recent U.S. troop removal from northern Syria. There is no clear sense of why he did this specific thing, beyond ending forever war, but that argument isn’t working because this move doesn’t end forever war. On the question of why this move, and why now, there has yet to be a cogent answer from the White House. And we have to wonder, is one coming?
The Trump communications style is unique but not without merit. The basic method is to choose one firm talking point and pound it home over and over again until the news cycle churns over. It worked well in regard to the Robert Mueller investigation and the slapdash Ukraine impeachment effort. But on the removal of U.S. troops from Syria, the president seems to be taking on water.
Part of the problem here is that Trump does not have a united Republican Party behind him. In general, aside from ex-conservatives and congressmen named Amash, Trump has had a ready, willing, and able cadre of his faithful to take up his message. On this issue, he has lost higher-profile Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Dan Crenshaw.
These congressional Republicans have typically served as surrogates for Trump, broadening his one-note approach with more nuanced takes. In some sense they have operated as a de facto communications team. And that has been extremely important to Trump’s efforts. In the absence of these voices, we’re left with a limp defense of this action that so far has not stood up to the significant scrutiny it is receiving.
It may well be that the story of a bitter betrayal of our friends and allies the Kurds is a tad overwrought, but Trump’s somewhat bizarre excuse that the Kurds didn’t help us in World War II is less convincing than my 9-year-old son’s magic tricks. As the kids say, this ain’t it.
As the situation builds on the ground, amid reports of ISIS fighters getting out of jail like they found some huge stash of Monopoly cards, the White House has some questions to answer. But if Trump doesn’t want to personally address it, then it’s not going to be addressed. And that leaves those who wish to defend him without a defense.
The White House needs a competent communications team at this moment. The question is whether Trump will allow such a thing. The answer is probably no. And as the situation deteriorates in Syria, that will leave Republican hawks with a stronger argument.
What is going in Syria, right now? Does anyone know? Does the White House know? We hope so, but we aren’t being given any good reason to think this policy is better than what was going on three weeks ago before the pullout was announced. We need that. We need a much more full understanding of why this choice was made.
Does the White House need a new communications team? Which is actually to ask, does the White House need a communications team that isn’t just whatever Trump thinks or feels just at the moment? In this case yes. Tell the American people what is going on and why. We don’t have that yet. We need it.