(CNN)The fundamental question, always, when it comes to President Donald Trump is this: Is he following a grand plan that only he can see or is he just saying and doing things with no broader blueprint in mind?
The stunning nature of his election convinced most people — including me — that he was playing a sort of three-dimensional chess, executing a strategy that seemed crazy on its face but turned out to be crazy like a fox.
The events of the first 117 days of the Trump White House — and, especially, the last 7 days — suggest that assumption might be dead wrong.
This paragraph from a New York Times report today on allegations as to whether Trump revealed classified information to two top Russian officials is stunning:
“In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling — and honest — defense of the president for divulging classified intelligence to the Russians: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of his briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or the knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would harm American allies.”
Trump’s lack of interest in details of policy is legion. We know from leaks from within the White House that Trump prefers bullet points, graphs and charts to word-heavy briefing books. A Reuters story this morning details the Trump White House’s preparation for his first overseas trip set to start Friday and includes this eye-popping paragraph:
“National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump’s name in ‘as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned,’ according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with NSC officials.”
Trump’s skip-the-details approach worked for him in the private sector for a very specific reason: He was the face of his own brand. Trump’s main job was to cheerlead for himself/his brand. Trump played Trump — on his reality TV show and in real life. He cut ribbons, fired people (at least on “The Apprentice”) and took phone calls. Other people did the nitty-gritty deal-making. If Trump was involved, it was solely as the closer.
Remember, too, that when Trump was in search of a vice presidential running mate, there were a series of reports that his son, Don Jr., made an approach to Ohio Gov. John Kasich with this promise: Kasich could be in charge of domestic and foreign policy. What would Trump be in charge of then, Kasich asked Don Jr.. “Making America great again,” Don Jr reportedly replied.
(Nota bene: Trump’s campaign denied this story which was first reported by Robert Draper in the New York Times. The Kasich sources, who were the original source of the information, stood by it.)
The problem for Trump is that you can’t just be the face of the country as president. There’s a lot more to the job than that. Like meeting with foreign leaders. Outlining and then building consensus for your domestic priorities. And so on and so forth.
In short, you can’t skim your way through the presidency. You have to fully engage on lots of fronts all at once because, if you don’t, you run the risk of causing major problems — for yourself and the country — without even meaning to. (Sound familiar?)
There’s a reason that every president ages a decade or two for the four or eight years they spend in the job. The job is incredibly difficult even when you are devoting 18 hours a day to it.
Trump seems to have never grasped that. Look at his 100-day interviews. The thing he kept returning to was how “big” the job is. “I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,” Trump said to Reuters in one of those 100-day sitdowns. “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”
The last week suggests that Trump has yet to adjust to the challenges presented by the difficulties of being president. And winging it isn’t a strategy.