WASHINGTON — There is a price to pay when a U.S. president communicates mostly through tweets, off-the-cuff responses to shouted questions and the rare press conference given in concert with a foreign leader. And that price is decreased credibility.
It's odd because, in many ways, President Donald Trump is more accessible than any modern president. He often takes questions when the White House press pool pops into the Oval Office or as he heads out of town. But as he talks more often, he says less, or he repeats the same lines you've heard over and over again.
This is not optimal while Trump faces a House impeachment "inquiry," as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls it. One rarely makes killer arguments on Twitter or with Marine One cranking up in the background.
With a different White House, there would be a war room ready to lay out Trump's case against the impeachment machine, and that team would be ready with rapid response. The White House would be answering questions, briefing the press corps and calling attention to the origins of the Russian probe, why Trump believes Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, the thinking behind Trump's July suggestion that President Volodymyr Zelensky investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter's position on the board of the country's largest natural gas company, Burisma.
Instead, there's a team of one, repeating himself in an echo chamber of conservative-only media, making minimal effort to draw support from outside the base.
Trump likes to think he is his best spokesperson. But at this point, his bursts of angry words — "coup," "hoax," "treason" — are just noise. Actually, they are inaccurate noise that hangs the impeachment issue on him, not the presidency.
On his way to Marine One on Thursday morning, Trump actually told reporters that he wanted Ukraine to investigate the Bidens — which is what put him in the impeachment zone in the first place. And he added China.
So, later in the day, it was a relief to watch Vice President Mike Pence give an expanded answer from Arizona. Pence replied that he and Trump were elected in part to "drain the swamp," and Pence thinks "the American people have a right to know if the vice president of the United States or his family profited from his position."
Pence smartly referred to Hunter Biden's $50,000-a-month salary as his father was ostensibly leading the Obama administration's efforts to staunch corruption in Ukraine. It does look swampy when Hunter Biden rates such princely compensation.
It was a thoughtful answer with more than one facet. For that alone, it stood out.
USA Today found that Trump ratcheted up his tweet volume to 500 in September. That's twice his monthly average for 2018. He's tweeting more than ever, but does anyone feel more informed?
No wonder people tell me they're starting to tune out.
I get that a lot of readers hate the news media, they don't miss the showmanship of the daily White House briefings, and they don't want to hear why Trump would be better served having a press secretary or somebody who articulates what the administration is thinking in real time.
But who can argue that tweets with nasty nicknames and helicopter banter are going to unify the country?
Contact Debra J. Saunders at [email protected] or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.
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