There has been no honeymoon. There has been no “first 100 days” moment.
Consider: The Democrats childishly delayed confirmation of his Cabinet longer than at any other time in history, with caffeinated backbenchers calling for his impeachment within weeks of taking office. Senior Democrats opposed Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court selection before the person was named. A rabid Washington press corps, positively somnolent for the eight years of President Obama, is racing to see who can write the story that results in impeachment.
As Capt. Jack Ross, the military prosecutor played by Kevin Bacon, in “A Few Good Men,” says, “These are the facts — and they are not in dispute.”
Given these challenges, and the stiff headwinds of urgent national problems and international crises — from the Islamic State to North Korea — that Mr. Trump has inherited, it is time for the White House to recognize the degree of difficulty and adapt accordingly.
Republicans have unified control in Washington. This opportunity may last only two years, but if they get their act together, it can last far beyond that on Capitol Hill. Merging new staff with a loyal campaign team is always difficult — especially given the stress of working in the West Wing.
But if we are being honest, Mr. Trump so far simply has not sufficiently raised his game.
Every few days, his lack of discipline causes new headaches or needless controversies that wear down Republican allies on Capitol Hill, consume White House staff time and crowd out the public’s ability to focus on what his administration is achieving.
Here is some humble advice for how the president needs to adapt from someone who wants to see him succeed:
Discover the value of scarcity
The “bully pulpit” power of the presidency is vague. It is determined by how much a president speaks, by the subjects he chooses to address and by the value of their political capital at that time. Mr. Trump should take pride in everything that is communicated on his behalf, whether from the podium, in an executive order or even via his Twitter account. Every day, his administration is working to advance his agenda. He does not need to feed the beast with news at all hours. That is the job of his political appointees. The less you speak, the more important your words become.
Measure your words
Developing a reputation for “Ready, shoot, aim” is no way to be taken seriously. Watching a segment on cable TV or reading a story on a conservative blog and then speaking declaratively about it may be appropriate if you are a reality show host, but it is inappropriate as president of the United States. Remember the old saying: “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and a minute to ruin one.”
Turn the other cheek
This will be hard for Mr. Trump, as it is for any human being, but being president of the United States means you must accept criticism, even unfair criticism. In a messy constitutional republic system of government, it comes with the job. Lashing out at every person who attacks you was a brilliant strategy in the New York tabloid media, but in Washington, it simply doesn’t work. In fact, it hurts you by responding, elevates the attack and the attacker, and makes future attacks more likely.
The base isn’t enough
Winning support on Capitol Hill has often been described as “herding cats.” Within the Republican conference, the cats range from the conservative House Freedom Caucus all the way to moderate Republican senators such as Susan M. Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. For Mr. Trump’s first priorities to pass, he will almost certainly need all but two Republican senators to support him, and for a large chunk of his agenda down the line, he will need all 52 Republican senators and eight Democrats to meet the 60-vote threshold. To have real political capital, Mr. Trump needs to win over a majority of independent voters to put pressure on these Democratic lawmakers.
Unify your team
As Abraham Lincoln famously observed while quoting the Bible, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The White House team must be united and put aside individual ambitions. Leaks and infighting are roads to nowhere, and the president must demand a culture of teamwork.
The stakes are high, and the opportunity is great.
Now is the time to adapt.
• Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran, and a former press secretary to two U.S. senators. He is the host of a national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” produced in partnership with The Washington Times. His podcast may be found at washingtontimes.com/mackonpolitics.
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