When President Donald Trump kicked off a multi-day tweet storm ridiculing the London Mayor’s response to terrorism attacks, blasting the courts for blocking his “travel ban” and blaming endless leaks on the “fake news,” people in Washington were stunned by his audacity and lack of filter.
His supporters loved it. And that was the point.
While politicians wring their hands and the media focus on the expanding controversy surrounding his team’s ties to Russian operatives, and allegations that the president himself tried to derail an FBI investigation into those connections, Trump has gone back to his roots—ignoring professional advice and speaking plainly and directly to the people who sent him to the White House.
“It’s a good thing he’s fighting back,” said Dave Saluan, a retired police officer from Petaluma, California, who recently attended a Sonoma County celebration honoring Trump’s first 100 days in office. “You don’t turn your cheek when they’re stepping all over you. You better punch them back. And he’s doing it.”
White House officials and those close to the administration say it’s a part of a return to a more offensive campaign-like communications style to focus the public’s attention—or at least his core supporters’ attention—onto issues important to Trump and away from Thursday’s much anticipated congressional testimony by James Comey, fired by Trump while he was conducting a former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“It’s effective for the same reason he won the primary and the campaign,” said a former campaign adviser who remains in close contact with the Trump White House. “He’s goes directly to the people. Of course, some of the things he says are eye-brow raising, but a lot of it is common- sense, cut through the crap.”
It’s not just a matter of reframing the conversation. It reflects the Trump team’s belief—backed by anecdotal evidence in battleground states that supported him—that many voters are simply uninterested in the Russia controversy that is dominating the media’s attention.
“All the hankering that goes on by the D.C. elite, your average voter doesn’t relate to that,” said the adviser. “But they can relate to someone saying how it is.”
The change was abrupt. After a relatively buttoned up foreign trip where he didn’t hold a news conference and didn’t tweet much, Trump reembraced Twitter, launching a series a tweets about the “fake” media soon after landing late Saturday May 28.
He picked up more steam the following weekend after seven people were killed and 48 injured when three men drove a van into pedestrians and stabbed people in bars in the London Bridge and Borough Market, Trump on Twitter berated the London Mayor’s response to the attacks. He later took a swipe at the U.S. courts on Monday blaming them for blocking his travel ban geared toward keeping Americans safe
Trump then undercut his spokesman and lawyers and made clear that his controversial immigration executive order was, in fact, a “TRAVEL BAN” despite their repeated statements that it was a temporary review period to study and ensure proper vetting procedures were implemented.
“People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!,” Trump said. That tweet that was retweeted or liked more than 100,000 times.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, at the same time, kicked off the week on the morning news shows “shaming” the media for bsessing on the Comey investigation and ignoring what is actually happening in the White House.
“This White House will continue to be on offense or defense, and that offense includes shaming people or guilting them, or telling them to be responsible, by telling them to cover things like the infrastructure investment,” Conway said on Fox News.
Washington is laser focused on the upcoming Comey hearing. Some bars in the District of Columbia plan to open early for the hearing. Networks will carry the hearing live. Local residents have bragged about popping popcorn and canceling lunches to watch what many in the city see as the event of the year.
It’ll be the first time Comey is in a public forum, subject to lawmakers’ open questions about his conversations with Trump. Senators are expected to ask whether the president urged him to ease off his investigation of Flynn.
Even Trump seems unable to ignore the event; according to some reports, Trump intends to live-Tweet during the hearing.
But Trump’s team thinks the president can refocus attention on his legislative agenda, raising issues such as healthcare and infrastructure in a way that might rally his supporters and encourage lawmakers to understand his support, and theirs if they cooperate with him, remains strong.
On Tuesday, Trump accused the media organizations with trying to silence his use of social media.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended his boss’ use of social media, calling him “the most effective messenger on his agenda.”
“His use of social media ... gives him an opportunity to speak straight to the American people, which has proved to be a very, very effective tool," Spicer said.
Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist, doesn’t know how effective this strategy will be, but he said it has clearly fired up Trump’s base, which sees the president as a victim of a witch hunt.
“As long as the president remains popular among Republican voters who would be backing for members of Congress, and voting for them, that prevents members of Congress moving away from the White House,” Siegfied said.