There’s a time-tested way for White House aides or other administration officials to roll a president into approving a preferred policy of theirs while letting him think he’s still in charge. They present him with three options: one of which is obviously too extreme, one of which is far too weak, and the third of which is just right. This last one, not so coincidentally, is what the advisers wanted all along. Clever, right?
Now, according to a new report by Politico’s Josh Dawsey, Shane Goldmacher, and Alex Isenstadt, President Donald Trump’s aides added a further innovation by simplifying this process even further. Why give the president three options, after all, when you can just give him one?
The authors write:
White House aides have figured out that it’s best not to present Trump with too many competing options when it comes to matters of policy or strategy. Instead, the way to win Trump over, they say, is to present him a single preferred course of action and then walk him through what the outcome could be – and especially how it will play in the press.
This is really a remarkable paragraph, because much of the job of the presidency has generally involved deciding between courses of actions advocated by different advisers, or different options presented.
George W. Bush called himself “the decider,” and Barack Obama often characterized his job as making a series of difficult decisions that people further down in the government hadn’t yet made. (This constant stream of decisions was so strenuous, Obama claimed, that he simplified his wardrobe just to avoid having to decide what to wear in the morning.)
But if the claim in this Politico piece is accurate, Trump does not enjoy weighing the pros and cons of competing options and would much rather have even important matters decided before they get to his desk.
Of course, this approach is rather risky for the aides themselves, because if their preferred policy backfires or becomes a problem in the press, Trump will simply blame them for steering him astray.
However, it also gives aides immense influence in determining presidential decision-making, and makes the question of just who is advising Trump and presenting him with this “single preferred course of action” very consequential indeed. Furthermore, if it’s the aide who presents the decision to the president who is the “decider,” then the fighting among aides over which of them should get that vaunted decision-making role will likely prove even more intense.
So it has proved for Trump, whose administration’s early months have been characterized by conflict between warring camps of advisers. The advisers, too, have had a learning curve. The Politico piece also includes the remarkable quote from one anonymous aide: “I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here. But this shit is hard.” Head over and read the whole thing for much more.