The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

More evidence that Trump’s advisers talk to him through the television

The Senate and the House on Jan. 22 voted to end the government shutdown. (Video: Jenny Starrs/TWP, Photo: Melina Mara/TWP)
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Republicans outlasted Democrats in the staring contest known as the government shutdown, which isn't really saying much, since the whole episode didn't even last three full days. But convincing President Trump not to blink first was a challenge that required coaxing by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), according to The Washington Post's Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey.

Parker and Dawsey reported that the president's aides employed another tactic, too, as they tried to curb Trump's urge to offer a deal that might have cost the GOP more than it ultimately gave on Monday:

The White House also made sure that senior administration officials, as well as top surrogates, were out on television pushing the president's message. The strategy helped magnify the White House pitch and ensure that Trump, who spent large portions of the weekend following the shutdown on cable news, would not see negative coverage that made him more inclined to strike a deal with Democrats, White House officials said.

Here we have more evidence that Trump's advisers, formal and informal, talk to him through the television, believing his decisions are influenced by what he sees on cable news. The fear in this case was that Trump would grow impatient if too much airtime was filled by commentators blaming him for the shutdown, and might make a hasty, unfavorable concession just to end it.

The solution: Soothe the impulsive president by putting supportive voices on TV.

White House shutdown strategy: Keep Trump contained

There were many such voices on the Sunday talk shows. NBC's “Meet the Press” featured Trump's legislative affairs director, Marc Short, and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), an immigration hard-liner. Short also appeared on ABC's “This Week.” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) joined CBS's “Face the Nation,” as did White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who made stops on CNN's “State of the Union” and “Fox News Sunday,” too.

And that's just one small sample of the weekend's programming. On Saturday, Trump tweeted five times about positive commentary on Fox News, including from his son, Eric. He tweeted again on Sunday evening, during the NFC championship game, about praise from Fox News guests.

Trump in December denied a New York Times report that he watches four to eight hours of television per day, but his tweets lend credence to Parker and Dawsey's report that he “spent large portions of the weekend following the shutdown on cable news.”

The effect of TV punditry on Trump's thinking sometimes spills into the open, as it did earlier this month when the president quoted “Fox & Friends” on Twitter and suddenly questioned a federal surveillance program that his spokeswoman had said he supported.

Also this month, CNN's Jake Tapper called out White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller for, in Tapper's view, playing to an audience of one during an interview.

“There is one viewer that you care about right now,” Tapper told Miller, referring to Trump. “And you're being obsequious; you're being a factotum in order to please him.”

Miller protested the suggestion that he was talking to Trump through the TV, calling it “snide” and “condescending.” But White House officials acknowledged after the shutdown that they do, in fact, plan on-air commentary for the president's ears.

The takeaway for viewers is that some of the pro-Trump arguments you hear on TV might not be delivered with the principal goal of winning or retaining your support. They might be aimed at the president himself.