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Outsiders vs. Insiders: ‘Trump show’ brings policy to the masses with a bit of show biz flair

For far too long Americans complained their federal government is secretive, corrupt and unaccountable. The vast majority of citizens understand the human side of politics – they either like a candidate or they don’t – but few truly grasp what goes on in the day-to-day law and rulemaking functions of Congress and the executive branch.

If this weren’t the case then CSPAN would be the number one viewed TV network across the fruited plain and Trump national anthemeveryone could intelligently describe the procedure by which a bill becomes a law (and I’m not just talking about singing the Schoolhouse Rock or SNL versions of the “I’m just a Bill” song).

Let’s face it – almost all policymaking is done behind closed doors; our government is so large and complex no one person understands it all. People cast their votes on Election Day and pretend their representatives and senators have their best interests at heart when turning the gears of government. Unfortunately it doesn’t work out very well in practice.

That’s why it was remarkable earlier this week when President Trump orchestrated a televised negotiations session between congressional leaders and himself. The discussion itself wasn’t as fascinating as the fact the average Joe in the hinterlands could be privy to the conversation with a seat at the table opposite the president.

Tim Hains of Real Clear Politics reported, “President Donald Trump decided to allow the press pool to film a lengthy meeting Tuesday on immigration reform, where he has allegedly made a deal with Congressional Republicans and Democrats on the parameters of immigration reform.

“White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the deal in an official statement ahead of a press briefing Tuesday afternoon: ‘President Donald J. Trump just concluded a successful bipartisan and bicameral meeting on immigration reform. During the closed-door portion of the meeting, they reached an agreement to negotiate legislation that accomplishes critically needed reforms in four high-priority areas: border security, chain migration, the visa lottery, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA] policy.’”

Several congressmen and senators afterwards confirmed there was indeed a promise to “deal.” Granted, having members of both parties agreeing to hash out a bill is not the same as getting it done. There’s an awful lot that could go wrong between now and March 5 (the deadline for legislating on DACA). Needless to say conservatives fear an immigration “deal” acceptable to both sides will invariably equate to a capitulation on the all-too-important issue.

But the real story from the meeting was how Trump brokered an authentic bargaining session where the people’s representatives and senators were forced to sit nicely together around a large table and hold discussions on the record for all to see. There was no hiding behind soundbites and congressional office spokespeople – this forum laid bare the raw side of politics.

Some speculate Trump did it solely to demonstrate that he’s mentally up to the job and therefore refute the “dementia” accusations contained in the controversial Michael Wolff tabloid-style tell-all book. Others suggest Trump invited everyone in because he wanted to further the impression that both parties will work together on the final legislative solution Congress enacts; I personally think Trump did it simply because he wants to jumpstart the process – actually accomplish something politicians have been promising for years but never delivered through the “normal” deliberative progression of committee meetings and votes.

This was the businessman Trump conducting a staff meeting and demanding action. As an eternally busy man Trump doesn’t pay much heed to the faux political facade that goes along with being president. Clues are everywhere that Trump plays the political game effectively but what he really savors are the bill signing moments where he’s flanked by people dressed up and gathered all around him while he announces another success.

It’s a photo op to the extreme, just like his news conferences in the old days at Trump Tower surrounded by family and important supporters. These events make the head guy look good but it also conveys a message that there’s competence and drive to get things done.

These formalities are where Trump the showman really shines. The media observes and stews while Trump speaks, names names, tells a few jokes and speaks extemporaneously about some problem solved or benefit conferred upon the public. Does he know the nitty gritty details of the bill that was just passed? Probably not, but what’s most important to him is carving another proverbial notch into the Resolute desk in the Oval Office.

By insisting that the media be present in some of the talks on the immigration issue Trump intends to bring the matter front and center into America’s living rooms, perhaps hoping to stir up constituent support or opposition to the proposals. No doubt Republicans are hearing from their voters today as the grassroots voices their displeasure with what looks to be another possible legislative sell-out on immigration.

It’s all good in Trump’s eyes, however. Motivating the public – pro and con – is what the president does best. Congress won’t get away with business-as-usual when the people get to see firsthand where each of the lawmakers stands. What comes next is up to those on Capitol Hill to provide.

Roger L. Simon wrote in PJ Media, “Basically, Trump (with the help of the cameras) shamed his fellow and gal politicians into civility and evidently cajoled them into at least a partial solution, later, in closed session, to that most intractable of problems - immigration.  If Trump were anything like his detractors say he is, he couldn't have done either.  He even urged them on to a more global solution on immigration, reminding the politicians at the table they were closer to that goal than they realized. If that's crazy, maybe we need more of it...

“That's what Trump does.  He looks us off a lot. Everyone, especially the press, goes running off in another direction.  Then, when we're not paying attention or when we think all is lost and calamity is upon us, something good happens -- tax reform passes, the American embassy is moved to Jerusalem, etc.  For a crazy, eleven-year old idiot, this guy seems to know what he's doing. For now, he's the best quarterback we've got.”

It’s true; a quarterback is but one of twenty-two players on a football field at any one time yet all eyes are on the guy who’s charged with distributing the ball. The best quarterbacks read defenses and change plays and formations based on experience, coaching and preparation. That’s exactly what Trump’s doing these days -- surveying the congressional landscape and snapping the ball.

Quarterbacks rarely score touchdowns themselves; instead they hand the ball to running backs or throw it to receivers and let their teammates put points on the board. Trump is tossing the immigration ball to Congress to see what they’ll do with it; the “game” is being televised and the action is live.

Americans realize it’s a production yet we’re still drawn to it. We are rapidly approaching the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration and the differences in operation between then and now are impressive. In the earliest days of his presidency Trump gave the impression he was a quick and decisive leader but didn’t bring the “team” along to share the spotlight very often; there were a number of Oval Office signing ceremonies where Trump applied his signature to executive orders and held them up for the media.

Even his nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch was basically a two-man show. These days Trump wants everyone on camera.

It could be said these impromptu public negotiations sessions are done just for political theater, a grand version of the “Trump show” for mass consumption. Even if there’s some truth in this, who cares?

Trump’s made-for-TV political moments make Washington politics entertaining and somewhat interesting. Isn’t it better for Trump to be seen sitting next to Democrats Dick Durbin and Steny Hoyer than watching yet another interview from inside the Capitol building where cable news personalities receive talking points from some self-serving politician?

If this is the “Trump show” we should have more of it; the ratings will be impressive and who knows, maybe more Americans will feel compelled to engage in the process rather than sit passively by and be talked at by the hate-Trump-all-the-time media.

Besides, the recent hubbub over Oprah Winfrey likely indicates the Democrats are looking for a little political star power of their own. Eddie Scarry wrote at the Washington Examiner, “Reports on Winfrey’s widely discussed speech at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards ceremony have speculated that the former queen of daytime TV may be positioning herself for a political campaign. Her longtime partner Stedman Graham stoked curiosity by telling the Los Angeles Times that it's ‘up to the people’ and that ‘she would absolutely do it.’

“In response, news outlets were quick to note that Democrats lack a clear and substantial choice in their lineup, which includes people like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; and former Vice President Joe Biden.

“’Indeed, the magical thinking fueling the idea of Oprah in 2020 is a worrisome sign about the state of the Democratic Party,’ wrote New York Times Magazine contributor Thomas Chatterton Williams on Monday. ‘That Ms. Winfrey could probably beat those considered likely front-runners — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand — is testament to how demoralized and devoid of fresh political talent the post-Obama party has become.’”

Not to throw cold water on the currently hot burning inferno of the draft-Oprah movement, but many of the negative things observers are now saying about the evolving 2020 Democrat field were being said about the Republican presidential contenders in 2015 – at least prior to the launch of the “Trump show” during the first candidate debates. With Jeb Bush depicted as the Republican frontrunner and de facto nominee back then hardly anyone was enthusiastic about the prospect of a Republican returning to the White House.

Hillary Clinton was waiting in the wings – and she was a sure thing, right?

Meanwhile the candidacies of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson had hardly gotten off the ground. When put together with Trump, people realized fairly quickly the Republicans actually offered a number of quality choices in the primaries. The gloom faded; the rest is history.

The Democrats will follow a similar path, with or without Oprah’s presence. We shouldn’t forget Democrats hate Trump so much anyone will look attractive to their core followers.

President Trump’s attempt to bring the immigration debate out into the open can only be a good thing for an American public starved for information as to what’s really going on in government. The entertainment value is high; one can only hope the final result will be just as gratifying.

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