Donald Trump is very good at delivering a message with minimal interference by the pesky media. His rallies are such entertaining spectacles that cable news channels have often carried them live. He frequently does TV interviews by phone — a tactic that makes cutting him off difficult, according to CNN's Chris Cuomo. And when reporters do interject with a fact-check or follow-up, Trump is ready with a forceful "excuse me!" to hold the floor.
Still, journalists willing to be as aggressive as Trump (MSNBC's Chris Matthews, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, CNN's Jake Tapper) have proven that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee can be put on the spot. Trump could use a new weapon against tough inquiries — since he views the press as a political opponent — and he appears to have found a potent option: retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.
Flynn is still on Trump's vice presidential short list (though not the favorite) and seemed to be performing a media audition do-over Tuesday morning, appearing on all three major cable news channels. As he made the rounds, it quickly became apparent that that he has a remarkable ability to disarm journalists.
Check out this exchange with Cuomo on CNN's "New Day":
CUOMO: The traits that define [Trump] as a candidate — you don’t check any of those boxes. You are not a guy known for hyperbole. You are a guy who does not exaggerate situations. You’re not a salesman, and you’re not looking to do a lot of the things that are effective for Trump. So where do you see the synergy? Or is it the contrast that you find appealing?
FLYNN: I think what’s happening, Chris, is there’s a shift in this country. You know, those that are in the bubble of Washington, D.C., or in the bubble, you know, of Hollywood, they missed what is happening in between. And I think that there’s a shift going on in both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. As a kid who grew up in a very strong Democratic neighborhood, right up in the state of Rhode Island, I don’t recognize the Democratic Party that I learned about.
What a pivot! Cuomo asked how Flynn's and Trump's starkly different personalities would work on the GOP ticket, and Flynn gave a response that had nothing at all to do with the question. He had a campaign talking point to hit — "there’s a shift in this country" — and that's what he was going to talk about. And Cuomo let him do it, moving on to the topic of Flynn's departure from the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014.
Something similar happened on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," when Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson asked Flynn about the economy.
ROBINSON: You mentioned the U.S. economy, and you said that’s the biggest threat. But, in fact, the U.S. economy is doing better than, like, anybody else’s economy, and the world is interconnected. So do you have a solution? Do you have policies you’d like to propose that would get the economy going?
FLYNN: Yeah, I mean don’t have any specific things sitting right here today in 30 seconds, but I will tell you that we have to understand that there’s two things that drive — I want to continue to drive the world for a long time, maybe another hundred, 200 years if we can make this country last that long, and that’s that the U.S. dollar is the currency of choice for the planet, and that the English language is the language of choice for global commerce. Those are critical, and we have to understand that all the things that are happening — particularly with China and the Chinese economy and what they’re looking at, I mean these are big, tectonic shifts.
There wasn't a ton of depth to Flynn's answer; he didn't have "any specific things" in mind to improve the economy. But the general wanted voters to know that a Trump-Flynn administration would stand for speaking English and dealing in dollars. Okay.
Nicole Wallace had the next question. She didn't follow up but asked instead whether Flynn feels confident, based on his conversations with Trump, that the business mogul is fit to be commander-in-chief.
At another point, Joe Scarborough asked directly whether Flynn would accept Trump's offer to be his vice presidential candidate, if asked. Flynn replied that "it’s an unbelievable honor that I’m in the mix" but didn't say yes or no. Scarborough didn't press.
Something about Flynn — probably a combination of his demeanor and rank, and journalists' respect for his service to the country — appears to make some reporters reluctant to go after him hard. That's a highly desirable quality in a running mate. Trump could seemingly use Flynn as the ultimate spokesman — one who could spread his message in the media without much resistance.
It is possible, of course, that the dynamic would change if Flynn were actually on the ticket. And Trump might wind up picking Mike Pence or Newt Gingrich or someone else, instead — he's said (at least for now) that he's leaning toward a "political" figure, rather than a military one.
If he doesn't tap Flynn, Trump should still make him a top surrogate. Flynn has a knack for getting past the media filter — in a very different way than Trump.