The White House shake-up has begun, and pundits and politicos inside the beltway are debating its uncertain end result. The President’s appointment of former Goldman Sachs executive Anthony Scaramucci as White House Communications Director set-off a chain of reactions in the West Wing on Friday, resulting in the resignation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and the naming of Sarah Huckabee Sanders as his replacement at the podium. Political insiders hope that Scaramucci’s appointment will recalibrate the White House’s communications problem, and kick-start a stalled agenda, but I believe the problem is deeper than just who handles the press.
The key to a good communications strategy is a clear policy agenda that outlines priorities important to the American people. Messaging only matters if the underlying ideas being sold are plausible and popular. No amount of media can make-up for an incoherent agenda that is not understood broadly by the electorate. As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said this week, “Coke believes that after 130 years, consumers still need to hear about Coke seven days a week to be reminded to buy it…Brute repetition is the only way to break through, and it’s hard to know right now what (the Administration) is supposed to be selling.” Only through crafting a clear message, and sticking with it, can the White House overcome its obstacles to successfully implementing its agenda.
Take, as exhibit A, Obamacare repeal and replace. The President and his team have been all over the map on healthcare, with the President himself ranging from supporting a full repeal, to repeal and replace, to letting Obamacare fail on its own and then picking-up the pieces with Democrats in tow. This sort of messaging muddle is aiding an abetting an already do-nothing Congress in its inaction. With no clear direction from the Commander-In-Chief, GOP members of Congress have no unifying message around which to rally, which has fueled factionalism on Capitol Hill. Obamacare is still as unpopular as ever, and is still slouching toward utter collapse under the weight of its own implausibility, but there remains no conservative consensus on how to proceed with repealing and replacing Obamacare with a free-market based plan that will lower premiums, cut costs to taxpayers, and give patients more access to healthcare options.
The shake-up of the White House communications team on Friday is a good opportunity to reset the message, but it is not a guarantee of good salesmanship. Anthony Scaramucci is a polished and professional business and media personality, who can help bring tremendous unity and clarity to the President’s messaging, if the President will allow it. The same was true, however, of Sean Spicer who is now out as Press Secretary after only 6 months on the job. President Trump is not an institutional kind of guy, and the Presidency is the ultimate institution. While he is the boss, he can no longer afford Twitter tirades, or to run the country in a slapdash fashion. Holding together an administration and a governing majority in Congress is the stuff of a master statesman, not simply the “art of the deal” in business and entertainment.
It is still early enough in the President’s term for things to turn-around, and I pray that they do, for the sake of the country. Obamacare must go, taxes must be cut, and our budget must be balanced. Anything less will be a betrayal of millions of Americans who voted to “Make America Great Again.” President Trump needs a few more quarts of Ronald Reagan to be the Great Communicator required to get our country back on track.