President Trump sees everything as a sales job.
He ran for president promising to be a dealmaker, but his skill set has always leaned much more toward boldfaced marketing than the quiet art of negotiation. That he was a dealmaker was itself a marketing slogan.
And as with the proverbial hammer, every problem Trump sees is a problem that simply requires a healthy dose of salesmanship. Last week he met with Republican senators about their health-care bill. His explanation of why they were having trouble passing a bill?
“If we’re weak on anything,” he said, “it’s on letting people know how good it was.”
This is the same thing that incoming communications director Anthony Scaramucci said Friday when he was explaining why Trump had hired him for the job.
“I think there has been at times a disconnect between the way we see the president and how much we love the president, and the way some of you perhaps see the president,” Scaramucci said. “I certainly see the American people probably see the president the way I do, but we want to get that message out there.”
The core assumption to both of those arguments is that the thing being sold is good but the sales pitch was bad. One can certainly debate the core premise, but the administration is quite certain of the proper response.
There’s a problem, though. Trump doesn’t understand how a main driver of his sales pitch — the media — actually works.
On Monday, the White House press pool was summoned by the administration to the East Room of the White House for a photo shoot with Trump and the White House’s outgoing class of interns.
Here’s what happened.
Trump invited the media to an event and then got annoyed when they asked questions. He told one reporter to “be quiet.”
“They’re not supposed to do that,” he told the interns.
Yes, they are. That’s precisely what they’re supposed to do — ask questions about the White House in service to the American people.
Earlier that day, Trump had tweeted about how his attorney general was “beleaguered,” though much of that beleaguering of late has been at the hands of Trump himself. He insisted that Republican senators should pass a health-care bill. Those are the two things about which Trump was asked at the photo shoot. The media was doing what it’s supposed to do — trying to figure out what Trump actually meant.
But the press wasn’t invited to the event to ask questions. It was invited to take pictures of a smiling Trump. He wanted a particular bit of marketing from that moment, and the press wasn’t playing along.
That’s why he always talks about using his social media to go around the media. It allows him an unfiltered bit of advertising for whatever he’s doing. He wants the media to do the same.
Unfortunately for him, the national news media isn’t an arm of the Trump Organization’s communications shop, and it isn’t the New York Post’s Page Six, where celebrities are explored in minutiae but, at the end of the day, with love. The media is, to put it into terms Trump might understand, Yelp. Like commentary on his hotels and products, the media reviews what the administration says and does and lets people know what things are really like. Sometimes the reviews are unnecessarily harsh and sometimes they are unnecessarily glowing, depending on the reviewer. The reason that Trump and the health-care bill are unpopular, though, is the same reason no one goes to that two-star hotel where multiple people have reported bedbugs.
At some point Trump needs to come to terms with the fact that providing honest information to the media will work out better for him than obfuscating and misleading. It’s easy to bash Yelp for revealing that the sheets on the bed were dirty, and more time-consuming and expensive to actually ensure the sheets were clean. But there’s value to everyone in having clean sheets.
Which brings us back to Trump the salesman. For anyone who does marketing work, there are some times that you have to make the case for a faulty product. Comes with the territory. In Trump’s world, there’s the difference between a Mar-a-Lago and a Trump University. One of those is probably an easier sell than the other.
In the case of Republicans in the Senate, polling repeatedly has shown that it’s the bill itself that’s problematic. Nor has Trump tried to make a real sales pitch for it, instead simply tweeting that it will be great and that Obamacare is dead.
It would be worth the White House considering the following scenario: Maybe the health-care bill is a flawed product? Maybe the Yelp reviews are warranted? Maybe by actually embracing the role of the media in identifying problems and then working to fix those problems, the end result for Republicans and the president could be better?
Or maybe it’s easier to tweet about fake news.