That's technically true. The president can send a tweet while he's in a meeting. He could probably send several. It takes all of a couple seconds — a couple minutes, max — to formulate and post a 140-character tweet. But that argument misses the point entirely. The president is not undermining his agenda because he takes a few minutes out of his day to tweet. He's at risk of undermining his White House because of what he tweets.
Especially lately, he's posted content on his Twitter account that is so shockingly outside the norms of civility — let alone the norms for a president — that its political and cultural reverberations take the national conversation miles away from policy.
The president has given us two textbook examples of this over the past week.
The media coverage lasted 36 hours. The societal echoes could last years. And lest you think the media was making something out of nothing — just another retort from the Trump administration — Republicans in Congress condemned the tweet, too.
Three of those condemnations came from swing votes for Senate Republicans' imperiled health-care legislation, which can only afford two “no” votes.
Please just stop. This isn't normal and it's beneath the dignity of your office.— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) June 29, 2017
This has to stop – we all have a job – 3 branches of gov’t and media. We don’t have to get along, but we must show respect and civility.— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) June 29, 2017
Stop it! The Presidential platform should be used for more than bringing people down.— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) June 29, 2017
Rinse, repeat for the tweet that Trump hit “send” on Sunday, which showed a gif of him beating up CNN.
Actually, rinse, repeat for the past month or so. The Washington Post's Philip Bump tracked the content of the president's tweets during the White House's attempts to devote four, consecutive weeks to a specific White House policy priority: “energy,” “infrastructure,” “technology” and “workforce development” weeks.
Don't feel bad if you pay attention to politics and had no idea that the White House was trying to promote any of this. Bump found that just 7 percent of the president's 163 tweets during those four weeks were about the topic at hand.
Bump: “What was he talking about instead? The usual: Russia. Fake news. What he was watching on television.”
The presidency is uniquely suited to influencing public policy by influencing public opinion. That's why we call it the bully pulpit; when the president speaks (or tweets), the citizens listen.
It's true that the president can shape policy behind closed doors, and maybe he's doing that in between tweets. When the House of Representatives was debating its health-care bill, Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) went out of his way to let us know that the president was involved in the negotiations.
“This is a power we haven't seen since Ronald Reagan,” Ryan said.
Maybe. Now that the bill is over in the Senate, Republicans in Congress say they're getting little to no help from Trump as they try to piece together a near impossible puzzle of legislation that can snag 50 of 52 GOP senators' votes.
Meanwhile, the bill they're working so hard to pass is astonishingly unpopular. Only 18 percent of Republicans say they strongly want this bill to become law, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.
Trump, as the leader of the Republican Party, could go a long way to assuaging GOP voters' concerns about the health-care bill. He could hold rallies celebrating the legislation; he could visit local hospitals who say they are hamstrung by Obamacare regulations.
He's doing none of that, either. In fact, when he talks publicly about the health-care bill, it's to send mixed messages about what he wants it to included. He's even called it “mean.”
All that silence from the president on health care only serves to turn up the volume on his “facelift” and CNN tweets, which then undermines any effort he makes to talk policy. It's a vicious cycle, created by the president himself.
Point is: What the president says matters more than how he spends his time saying it. That's an important distinction.