Through daily Twitter messages and perpetual mega rallies, the president-elect is fundamentally changing the way a commander-in-chief communicates and persuades، President-elect Donald Trump’s “Thank You” tour serve as a reminder to those watching from Capitol Hill that the masses are with him.
In the midst of the ferocious debate over the Affordable Care Act in 2010, President Barack Obama did something many presidents do when they feel stymied by an obstinate Congress: He took his pitch on the road, embarking on a multi-city series of campaign-like stops before supportive audiences. “When’s the right time for health insurance reform? Is it a year from now or two years from now, or five years from now or 10 years from now?” the president asked a crowd in Philadelphia in early March of that year, with a look of steely determination on his face.
“I think it’s right now and that’s why you’re here today.” The moment was a precarious one for Obama’s most prized domestic initiative. Polling showed a majority of Americans opposed to his prescription for health care reform, preferring him to focus on job creation, and Republicans were thirstily threatening to wield the plan against every Democrat on the ballot that year. But Obama’s team was convinced that placing the president in front of sympathetic crowds outside of Washington to plead his personal case even if it was a redundant one would pay dividends.
Two weeks later, Obama signed his bill into law. Donald Trump is still six weeks from his Inauguration Day, and yet he’s already signaling he’ll expand the presidential bully pulpit to bounds not seen before. This week alone, the president-elect is holding rallies in three battleground states North Carolina, Iowa, and Michigan – as part of his “Thank you” tour. But these rallies which look, sound and feel indistinguishable from his campaign events are about much more than simply offering thanks. They appear purposefully designed to portray Trump as a perpetual victory.
He’s placed squarely inside a reaffirming venue that’s used as a vehicle to champion even the smallest of successes and to push and press forward his unconventional ideas before adoring fans. To the members of Congress watching from their television screens and Twitter feeds on Capitol Hill, it’s a constant and powerful reminder that the masses are with him. And these events are more likely than not to remain a permanent fixture of his presidency. “What it does is assist him with communicating and laying out his agenda. It helps build momentum for that agenda.
People are just loving these. He didn’t win and go into hiding,” says Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who serves on Trump’s transition team. “It will help to put some pressure on Congress to move swiftly. 2017 is not going to be a usual, standard-operating-procedure year in Washington, D.C.” Take Trump’s Tuesday night event in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of Fort Bragg, the largest military base in the U.S. by population. Trump used it to formally unveil his selection for secretary of defense, retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis . “Mad Dog plays no games, right?” Trump crowed.
Because he’s only been retired for three years, Mattis will need a special waiver from Congress in order to bypass a law that prohibits recent active officers from serving as secretary of defense. Before thousands of supporters still waving campaign placards, Trump applied his case. “If he didn’t get that waiver, there’d be a lot of angry people,” Trump said. “Such a popular choice.” It’s just one example of how Trump is transferring the energy from his campaign to governance. “He’s a performance artist. That’s what he does for a living. Performers must perform.
He feeds off the crowds, he gathers his strength and momentum from them. I doubt he’ll suddenly switch that light off, because he may feel unalive,” says Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, and professor at Rice University. “He won’t make a differentiation between campaigning and governing it’s still all the Donald Trump show. He has a winning formula right now. What may get in the Trump’s perpetual roadshow is the responsibilities of governing. A foreign policy crisis. A heightened national security threat. A budget battle.
These are all nearly inevitable instances that require a president to huddle and strategize in person with his advisers. But this is where Trump’s second specialized weapon comes into play: his Twitter account. While Obama became the first president to tweet in 2015, his miniature missives generally have been formal, banal and forgettable. Trump’s tweets are the exact opposite, and there’s no mistake about who’s drafting them. They’re spontaneous, humorous and often substantive, though the veracity of their substance has been called into question on multiple occasions.