In the heat of the 2016 campaign, “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd asked Donald Trump whom he spoke to for military advice.
“Well, I watch the shows,” Trump responded. “I mean, I really see a lot of great — you know, when you watch your show and all of the other shows, and you have the generals.”
Trump's campaign insisted he was misunderstood — that he spoke to lots of military advisers in addition to watching them on television.
Um, maybe. But what's become very clear in the intervening months — even as Trump stunned the world by winning the presidential election — is that he A. watches massive amount of cable TV and B. regularly reacts to it and borrows ideas from it.
Twelve minutes after he saw a supportive blog post about the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruling on “Morning Joe,” Trump tweeted it out to his 24.5 million Twitter followers. (Sidebar: That blog post wasn't as supportive as Trump thought.)
This is far from an isolated incident. In fact, it's become something of a cottage industry to try to link Trump's early-morning tweets to something he has seen on television in the very recent past. Here's one more example, from Thursday:
This Associated Press story on Trump's difficult transition to the White House contains two remarkable paragraphs about the president's TV habits:
The president's advisers have tried to curb his cable news consumption during the workday. But there are no limits when the president returns to the residence. During another recent telephone conversation, Trump briefly put down the phone so he could turn up the volume on a CNN report. When he returned to the call, he was complaining about “fake news.”
In some ways, his new lifestyle in the White House resembles the routines he created during decades living atop Trump Tower. He long has preferred the comforts of home, eschewing much of Manhattan's social scene in favor of evenings in his penthouse with close friends, family and his television.
The best possible interpretation of Trump's obsession with cable TV is that he is constantly plugged in, always searching for pieces of information that help inform a situation or sell a plan to the public. President Obama famously disdained cable news and actively sought to avoid it — a decision that led some of his critics to cast him as aloof and out of touch.
But, even if you are a Trump ally — as many people the AP talked to clearly are — it's hard to see the amount of cable television he consumes as a good thing. Presidents need to be aware of the circumstances in the country and the world, but using cable news as your primary source for that information probably isn't the best move. (Nota bene: I love cable news!) A president simply can't be reactive to every gibe that is thrown his way on 24-hour news networks. If you spent your days responding to what people said about you on cable, you wouldn't have much time to do anything else.
That's the point Trump's advisers seem to be making to him — albeit unsuccessfully — according to the AP story.
The reality of Trump's presidency is that he is 70-year-old man who is set in his ways. (That's not meant as a criticism. I am a 40-year-old man who is set in his ways.) Trump has spent a lifetime using cable TV as a sounding board. He seems to believe he learns from it and benefits politically from reacting to it. No adviser is going to dissuade him from those habits simply because he is now president of the United States.
In Trump, we have the first president of and for the cable news era. He's obsessed. He's not changing. And he's not sorry.