Over the last week, the mainstream press has spent a lot of time talking about Greenland, specifically the notion that President Trump, like Harry Truman before him, ruminated recently about buying the island from the Kingdom of Denmark.
The issue has been met with a combination of healthy skepticism and giddy criticism from a chorus of Trump critics who have used it to bolster their contention that the president is at best aloof and at worst mentally unfit to serve.
The real problem with the Greenland story isn’t the policy. It’s the fact that we’re talking about it in the first place. Let’s put aside the fact that as a result of the leak, the president has thrown gasoline on the smoldering fire by now cancelling an upcoming trip to Denmark over the issue.
Since the beginning of the Trump Presidency, leaks out of the White House have been a significant and often damaging occurrence.
The unintentional leaks (distinguishing from those leaks that are intentional for strategic reasons) have repeatedly demonstrated either a lack of loyalty from political staff, poor management of the White House Office, or deliberate efforts on the part of career staff to undermine the administration.
The mainstream media is of course all too happy to publish everything from the merely embarrassing to conversations that, out of context, could jeopardize national security or relationships with other nations. The fact that we are talking about Greenland means it has happened yet again.
Presidents need to be able to have confidential communications with staff, intelligence officials, world leaders, and other advisors. It is essential to the proper functioning of the Executive. We want our presidents to think big. We want them discussing potential avenues to advance American economic and national security interests. We want them to build rapport with world leaders and Members of Congress. We want them to do it without fear that everything can end up on the front page of The Washington Post.
As Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus’ utter failure to aggressively handle a torrent of leaks during the opening months of the Administration set the stage for what has become a chronic problem. The president is on his third Chief of Staff and we continue to see leaks to the media that hijack the president’s message for days and play into the negative narratives of his opposition.
Like him or not, Donald Trump has made a life and career about thinking big. He has a frenetic thought process and enormous energy. Just ask anyone who has ever been involved with designing one of his buildings, listened to one of his speeches, or been the victim of a 5 a.m. Twitter tirade. It is who he is.
Every president has a unique approach to dealing with staff, discussing ideas, and generating internal debate.
President Bush would often play devil’s advocate with staff and encouraged disagreement to flush out ideas.
President Johnson used to make staffers take meetings with him while he was in ‘the can.’
As we get closer to the 2020 election, the White House should be on guard for an increase in leaks that could embarrass the president. They need to establish or augment operational changes and procedures stop leaks without totally isolating the president.
This isn’t the president’s issue.
It’s a management problem that must continually be addressed at a staff and operational level. We’ve seen what happens when it doesn’t.
Tom Basile has been part of the American political landscape from Presidential campaigns to local politics. He served in the Bush Administration from 2001-2004, as Executive Director of the NYS Republican Party and has held a range of senior-level communications roles in and out of government. Basile's critically-acclaimed book, "Tough Sell: Fighting the Media War in Iraq" (Foreword by Amb. John R. Bolton), chronicles his time in Baghdad fighting media bias and driving fairer coverage of the Iraq war. In 2011, he was featured in Time Magazine's Person of the Year spread about political activism around the world. Basile is an adjunct professor at Fordham University, a local elected official and runs a New York-based strategic communications firm. He is a member of the New York Bar and sits on a number of academic and philanthropic advisory boards. Learn more about him at TomBasile.com or follow him on Twitter @Tom_Basile. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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