In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned from the nation’s highest office in disgrace. His administration was the first to institutionalize a “permanent political operation” inside the White House. These operations were clandestine, unethical, and criminal. They were eventually exposed by the Watergate scandal.
Nixon’s breach of public trust, by obstructing justice, didn’t just destroy Nixon – it damaged the integrity of the presidency.
Nonpartisan distrust was a barrier for both parties.
Nixon’s successors welcomed public skepticism and proclaimed it was a necessary requirement for good government. But secretly they felt the need to combat the climate of permanent distrust. So, White house insiders revamped Nixon’s operations into what is called “The Permanent Campaign.”
The phrase was coined by an assistant to President Jimmy Carter, mastered by the architects of President Bill Clinton’s “war room,” and perfected by a special assistant to President George W. Bush from the Office of Strategic Initiatives. (An office that didn’t exist in previous administrations.)
According to Scott McClellan, President Bush’s longest-serving press secretary, “The Permanent Campaign” is conducted 365 days a year, year in and year out, to shape and manipulate sources of public approval. In that sense, continual campaigning is the means by which an administration exerts a lasting impact on the nation. “The Permanent Campaign” uses tools as the news media, political blogs, popular web sites, paid advertising, talk radio, local organizations, and propaganda disseminated by interest groups to shape narratives to one’s advantage.
Now, then-candidate Donald Trump was at odds with all of the traditional tools his administration would have utilized to conduct a permanent campaign like their predecessors. After his victory, President-elect Trump did something different. He held nine post-election “thank you” rallies.
But was this really a “thank you tour” or a victory lap, or was he testing his own “permanent campaign” format?
Observers of these “thank you” rallies said they were identical to the rallies Trump held as a candidate – same format, same pledges, and the same condemnation of those that opposed his candidacy.
Critics wanted the President-elect to stop gloating and transition toward governing. But President-elect Trump responded by telling his supporters that critics said he shouldn’t hold rallies as president, but he thinks he should because he’s done everything opposite.
Here, opposite means the President has literally taken “The Permanent Campaign” and turned it inside out. Instead of manipulating a message through media outlets, President Trump has decided to speak directly to his supporters, campaign-style, but six months into his Presidency what is his message or what is he manipulating?
Recently in Ohio at a Make America Great Again rally, President Trump spoke for an hour. He bragged, “No president has done anywhere near what we’ve done in the first six months.” Trump supporters cheered and shouted for the president to “build that wall” like it was 2016 again. One supporter told reporters Trump’s biggest accomplishment was, “All the rallies he has. These people here are like family, and he’s brought that to us.”
But the reality is President Trump has nothing to brag about after six months in office and no serious accomplishment with a Republican congress.
President Trump also said at the Ohio rally that the press accuses him of not acting presidential. The crowd booed. The President continued, “It’s so easy to act presidential, but that’s not going to get it done.”
And neither will pep rallies disguised as some permanent campaign.
(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier. He blogs at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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