Trump likes controversy, conflict less so

Trump likes controversy, conflict less so, by Gerald Seib.

He likes controversy, but he isn’t all that fond of conflict.

That might seem like a contradiction, but it actually isn’t. The distinction is important, and is woven through Mr Trump’s operating style during his first year in office.

He relishes stirring up controversy, and, in fact, believes stirring the pot advances his reputation as an outside agitator and improves his position by keeping adversaries off balance. But he usually keeps controversy at arm’s length, using his Twitter feed or offhand comments to attack and posture.

By contrast, when he finally comes face-to-face with both friends and foes, his actual positions are often less contentious and rigid than his public posturing suggests. His Twitter bark is worse than his personal bite.

Thus, he angrily withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, but then he walked into the very den of economic globalists at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week to say that he is prepared to negotiate a new version of it. He ordered the US out of the Paris accord on climate change, but told British interviewer Piers Morgan over the weekend that, thanks in part to the personal intervention of French President Emmanuel Macron, who, “as you know, I like,” he might rejoin the accord. …

He … complains openly about other aides, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the White House chief of staff, John Kelly. But he then promptly backs away and praises them, as if he had never whacked the hornet’s nest in the first place. When he wants someone to leave, he is more likely to drop hints he wants them to depart on their own, or have someone else send them overboard, than to fire them himself. …

Christopher Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media and a presidential friend. … “He often stakes out very extreme positions. He does this partly for rhetorical effort or to stake out a negotiating position. It’s worked for him in business so he’s applying it to politics.” … The problem is that the president’s allies and enemies alike, at home and abroad, have a hard time figuring out where bluster ends and reality begins.