Big mistake to lecture the President when he’s being presidential. It’s gonna cost him.
I think Ronna McDaniel of the Republican National Committee is right: CNN’s Jim Acosta wants his own TV show.
And why not? A ranter like Van Jones has one. A racist like Don Lemon has one. Anthony Bourdain used to have one. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had one.
At the President’s morning-after press conference, Mr. Trump actually was the most presidential I remember ever seeing him. Look, we are talking about Donald Trump here, so the baseline is what it is. Thus, we not only heard the President rightly point out that his remarkably energized personal campaigning efforts had helped nudge several GOP Senate candidates victoriously over the finish line, but we also got a Schadenfreude litany of all the Republican candidates who shunned his personal support — and proceeded thereupon to lose. That is Donald J. Trump of Queens, New York.
Even so, he entered the room with a presidential demeanor and spoke in a calm, measured presidential tone. He reviewed the election results, highlighted the Republican Senate gains, and even shared a very interesting insight into why the GOP sustained several retirements of Congressional committee chairs.
1. The Psyche of the Retiring Congressional Committee Chair
The GOP, desiring to remain fresh with infusions of new energy, has a party rule that term-limits its committee chairs. By contrast, the Democrats emphasize rewarding seniority, resulting in the decrepit decay they suffer at the top. Alas, as a result of the GOP’s approach, when Republican committee chairs are compelled to step down, they find themselves converted overnight from powerful lawmakers into much-less relevant back-benchers. That really is a severe psychological step down for a human being to sustain. Many years earlier for that now-retiring committee chair, it was a big “rush” when he or she, from outside national government, won that first Congressional race. They entered the House, got a staff of sycophants, a beautiful office in a splendid historical building with a magnificent rotunda. People started calling them “Congressman” or “Representative.” When they flew back home, they suddenly were incredibly important. Everyone would beg them to introduce some personal favorite type of legislation. Lobbyists started throwing money at them and giving them favors. They became high-demand speakers. Television news stations started vying for their time. People they never met would brag to others how close they were.
That was really so cool, and it got only better as they marched up the ladder. They got to fly to Washington, D.C. on the people’s tab, then to fly back home. “Hello, Mr. Congressman.” “Hello, Madame Representative.” How cool!
Over the years, the Representative works himself or herself up the hierarchy, first onto a better committee, and then one day becoming committee chair. Even more power. More lobbyists. More money. More sycophants. More cable news — even the Sunday morning talk shows. Now they even apply make-up. Really cool.
When all that suddenly gets withdrawn, a five-year or ten-year Congressional representative suddenly starts feeling “I am getting sick of all the flying. Flying home every weekend to be with the constituents, then flying back to D.C. to be at committee assignments and to cast votes. Then flying back home again, then flying back to D.C., then back home, then back.” They get sick of it. They get sick of the sycophants, sick of the requests for selfish legislation, sick of being yelled at by constituents who forget how much their Congressional representative does for them. Once deprived of that gavel, all the annoyances start becoming noticeable and increasingly intolerable. It’s just not cool anymore.
Maybe the most sickening and frustrating thing is when they work ten hours a day, five or seven days a week, perhaps for months, drafting and horse-trading and bartering and negotiating and further drafting a legislative package that will help more people and do more good than imaginable — only to have it shot down by the other legislative chamber. The thing miraculously gets through the House, and then it gets only 58 out of 100 Senators, so it all is dead. All that time for naught. Or maybe it seems en route to passage, only to get stalled into November, December, and the end of the Congressional session. So now the process has to start all over again with a new Congress. Again — all those hours and weeks for naught. Thus, it actually makes sense, in the face of all that, that Representatives decide to quit when they lose their committee gavels.
2. Trying to Be Presidential and a Unifier
President Trump made an interesting point, as he explained that aspect of why he believes the House losses were not attributable to him. Some Republicans retired. He could not campaign everywhere for each and every Republican House candidate, but he helped save some. Still, mostly he was being as Presidential as I remember ever seeing him. He spoke respectfully about Nancy Pelosi, perhaps sincerely, more probably tactically. First, that is the dignified thing to do, giving your victorious opponent her moment. Secondly, that is how he does business. He speaks of his “great friend,” China’s President Xi, whom he presumably despises and whom he definitely is battling brutally with trade tariffs. He speaks warmly of his special relationship with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, against whom he still imposes severe trade embargoes and whom he derisively was calling “Rocket Man” not long ago, even when addressing the United Nations General Assembly. In similar manner, when he stood alongside Vladimir Putin and spoke nicely about him, the Democrats and the Left Media — and Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan, who actually voted for a Communist to be President of the United States — accused Mr. Trump of treason. But that was just Trump being Trump, softening his opponent publicly with charm and compliments before applying the screws in private. And thus as he begins with Pelosi.
That is his negotiating style. When he is contending, he is frontal: “Lyin’Ted — oh, how he liiiies and liiiies! So many lies!” Then, when he is finished contending and now wants to deal, he becomes sweet and charming: “I used to call him ‘Lyin’ Ted’ but now I call him ‘Texas Ted.’ I like the way that sounds: ‘Texas Ted.’ Don’t you?” That is Trump. And Wednesday he was being Presidential, speaking warmly of Nancy Pelosi and contemplating “great deals” on lowering the cost of prescription drugs, building infrastructure, and finding other areas of common interest. At the same time, in a very Presidential tone and style, he augured his alternative vision of the future that would unfold if the Democrats start trying to sabotage his Administration by issuing investigatory subpoenas and demanding his personal taxes. If they do, then all bets are off, and he is ready to go to war, and nothing will get done. But it was all as Presidential as I have seen him.
3. Accosted by Acosta
Next the President opened the floor to questions. He handled the first two pretty nicely, calmly, presidentially. And then came Acosta.
Acosta wanted to know why the President, during the election campaign’s final weeks, had characterized the Caravan marching up Mexico from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras as “invaders.” In itself, the question was fair game for a Presidential press conference. This is a democracy, and a free and robust news media is entitled to explore a President’s thinking on a controversial matter. In response, the President explained his reasoning. And then Acosta shifted into his next gear, starting to lecture the President as to how the Caravan should be perceived and why the President is wrong. Again, did you catch this? — Acosta shifted from asking questions and instead started lecturing the President on public policy.
In other words, instead of being a journalist at a press conference, Acosta decided to change clothes like Clark Kent in a phone booth, and emerge as a talk-show host delivering his program’s opening monologue — in the President’s face on the public’s dime. The arrogance!
CNN’s Jim Acosta has emerged publicly as a profoundly rude and nasty person. Perhaps he is delightful and elegant in private, perhaps not. Maybe he opens doors for ladies, lets women enter and exit elevators before he does, and regularly offers his seat to standing seniors. But he ain’t like that in public. It startles the senses to see how incredibly rude and arrogant he is at press conferences. For a reality check — he is not the star in the room. He has not been invited at press conferences to deliver a graduation lecture or a keynote address. Rather, the center podium belongs to a Sean Spicer, a Sarah Sanders, or the President of the United States. Second, there are dozens of other reporters in the room, each wanting to ask two questions that they hope can become three, and each believing that they also are stars. Most of all — and maybe this is subtle — one simply does not talk that way to the President of the United States, no matter who the President is, no matter how disagreeable his policies or personality.
In the past half century, there have been Presidents who have been rewarded with their well-deserved haters. Consider the passions generated by Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. It is almost impossible not to have hated at least one of those five. But proper etiquette demands we all recognize that it is not just about the person serving in the White House but also about the Office of the Presidency itself. A society, even the coarse one we cultivated during the Age of Obama, that kneels during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” and that belches out four-letter words at Academy Awards programs and that twerks and bumps-and-grinds at high school parties, and that televises programs with foul language and highly inappropriate subject matter during the family hour — even such a society as coarse as the one that took root during the Age of Obama — must have some rudimentary standards of civilization. Recognizing that, there is a way to challenge a President, and there is a rudimentary standard of etiquette that honors the Office itself.
Ronald Reagan always wore a suit jacket or sport coat when in the Oval Office. He revered and honored the institution. By contrast, Clinton engaged Monica Lewinsky there, and Obama infamously sat arrogantly with his shoes propped up on the President’s desk. Jim Acosta seems to have taken root during the Age of Obama. He is a boor, a rude and arrogant fellow who does indeed now seem to qualify to sit alongside racists and ranters like Don Lemon and Van Jones with his own CNN show. For those of us who do not watch CNN, except during the three-minute intervals when Marie Harf, Jessica Tarlov, or Chris Hahn is offering political commentary on Fox News, it would not surprise if Acosta now is auditioning for his own nightly hour. It would be nice to see the boor transferred. And the next time that a President invites reporters to rise and ask their questions at a press conference, it would be nice to know that we already had witnessed Acosta’s last stand.