The following article by Tara Palmeri was posted on the Politico website February 22, 2017:
The trick? Making sure his media diet included a healthy dose of praise.
President Donald Trump’s former campaign staffers claim they cracked the code for tamping down his most inflammatory tweets, and they say the current West Wing staff would do well to take note.
The key to keeping Trump’s Twitter habit under control, according to six former campaign officials, is to ensure that his personal media consumption includes a steady stream of praise. And when no such praise was to be found, staff would turn to friendly outlets to drum some up — and make sure it made its way to Trump’s desk.
“If candidate Trump was upset about unfair coverage, it was productive to show him that he was getting fair coverage from outlets that were persuadable,” said former communications director Sam Nunberg. “The same media that our base digests and prefers is going to be the base for his support. I would assume the president would like to see positive and preferential treatment from those outlets and that would help the operation overall.”
Staff members had one advantage as they aimed to manage candidate Trump’s media diet: He rarely reads anything online, instead preferring print newspapers — especially his go-to, The New York Times — and reading material his staff brought to his desk. Indeed, his media consumption habits were on full display during his roller-coaster news conference this past Thursday, when he continually remarked on what the media would write “tomorrow,” even as print outlets’ websites already had posted stories about his remarks.
The White House did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Trump is also, however, a near-nonstop consumer of cable news, and his staff’s efforts were not always enough to keep Trump from tweeting on topics that were far from his campaign’s core message. Throughout the campaign, whatever messaging the candidate’s staff had planned was continually accompanied — and often overshadowed — by a string of feuds that played out both on and off Twitter.
But his team believed that its strategies would keep Trump from taking to his preferred social media outlet to escalate his personal or political conflicts.
For example, when Trump engaged in a Twitter war with Khizr Khan, the father of a slain Muslim U.S. soldier in Iraq, the team set up a meeting with Gold Star Mothers of Florida and made sure to plant the story in conservative media. Breitbart also wrote stories about Khan’s relationships with the Democratic Party. “We made sure that conservative media was aware of it, they connected the echo chamber,” the former official said.
During another damage-control mission, when former Miss Universe Alicia Machado took to the airwaves to call out Trump for calling her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping,” the communications team scrambled to place a story in conservative-friendly outlets like Fox News, the Washington Examiner, the Daily Caller and Breitbart.
A former senior campaign official said Nunberg and his successor, former communications director Jason Miller, were particularly skilled at using alternative media like Breitbart, Washington Examiner, Infowars and the Daily Caller to show Trump positive coverage.
And once they got the stories published, campaign officials with large numbers of Twitter followers would tweet them out.
They would also go to media amplifiers like Fox News hosts and conservative columnists to encourage them to tweet out the story so that they could print out and show a two-page list of tweets that showed that they were steering the message. While Trump still couldn’t contain his Twitter-rage with Machado, and ended up tweeting about a mystery sex-tape of the Hillary Clinton surrogate, aides say they dialed back even more posts.
“He saw there was activity, so he didn’t feel like he had to respond,” the former campaign official said. “He sends out these tweets when he feels like people aren’t responding enough for him.”
The in-person touch is also important to keeping Trump from running too hot. One Trump associate said it’s important to show Trump deference and offer him praise and respect, as that will lead him to more often listen. And if Trump becomes obsessed with a grudge, aides need to try and change the subject, friends say. Leaving him alone for several hours can prove damaging, because he consumes too much television and gripes to people outside the White House.
Part of the current problem is Trump is still adjusting to his new circumstances and has plenty of time to stew over negative reviews as he spends time alone in the evenings and early mornings as his wife, Melania Trump, continues living in New York while his youngest son, Barron, finishes the school year.
That alone time played a factor in Trump’s response to revelations that his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, had criticized attacks on the judiciary days after Trump attacked a “so-called” judge for blocking his administration’s travel ban.
White House officials anticipated that Gorsuch would distance himself from Trump’s attack and thought the planned comments would help the nominee’s bid, said a person with knowledge of the conversations.
The problem: Trump himself didn’t like Gorsuch’s “disheartening” and “demoralizing” critique. He fired off a tweet criticizing Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Democrat who repeated the comments, digging up a controversy over the senator’s military record and accusing him of incorrectly characterizing Gorsuch’s comments. Afterward, Blumenthal and other Democrats criticized Trump and said the president’s comments would hurt his nominee’s chances.
Asked whether aides and advisers liked the tweet, one White House official said sarcastically: “What do you think?”