Are Trump’s August controversies careless — or calculated?

Are Trump’s August controversies careless — or calculated? By Gerald Seib.

Here are two ways of looking at how President Donald Trump has spent his August:

He has ruined the month — perhaps even his presidency — by mindlessly picking fights with Republican congressional leaders and the media, and by wallowing in divisive cultural issues rather than pushing his economic agenda.

But here is another:

Rather than stumble and fumble into these controversies, Mr Trump has quite deliberately chosen his issues and his enemies.

He has drawn attention to cultural issues — immigration, his border wall, defending Confederate symbols, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio — precisely because they speak clearly to Middle America. There, they resonate with both his core supporters and a wider universe of people who don’t love the president but think the nation’s elites have walked away from them on social issues.

Similarly, he has picked his targets for wrath — the media and the Republican establishment — carefully rather than cavalierly.

Targeting the news media is a winner with his base as well as a much broader segment of GOP votes. And by attacking Republican senators, he is trying to be sure they are blamed rather than him for failures on health care — while also creating grassroots pressure on them to atone for that failure by delivering on tax reform.

“He’s framing the fall,” says Jason Miller, who was communications director of the Trump campaign and maintains close ties to the White House. “I think the president masterfully knows how to work the synergy of this counterculture, anti-Washington-elite sentiment to help him push forward on his agenda.”

In short, perhaps Mr Trump is simply doing exactly what he did during last year’s presidential campaign, which is to use controversy and even seeming chaos to show that he stands apart from establishment forces that many Americans think have failed them. He won by running essentially as a political independent and, after seven rocky months in office, he appears to be gambling on that course again. …

While many in Washington hear defence of neo-Nazi groups when Mr Trump talks, his supporters make clear that what THEY hear is defence of historic Confederate statues — and, by implication, a traditional version of American culture.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has responded by calling for removing every Confederate statue from the US Capitol — something Mr Miller calls “a very dangerous spot of overreaching.”

hat-tip Stephen Neil