The NYC attack is the latest proof Donald Trump is our first pundit president
Posted November 1, 2017 9:47 a.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Cable television is at the center of Donald Trump's life. It's stoked his interest in politics, informed him (sort of!) on policy and sharpened his natural instincts for attack and confrontation.
And so, it's not surprising -- although it is worrisome -- that in office, Trump acts more like a pundit and less like a president.
Trump's response to the terror attack in New York City Tuesday night that left eight people dead and more than a dozen injured is the latest example of his pundit sensibilities.
After a relatively generic tweet wishing the victims of the attack well, Trump quickly put on his pundit hat.
"I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program," he promised on Twitter. "Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!"
A quick check with the Department of Homeland Security showed that they had no information on any sort of increase in the "Extreme Vetting Program," referring all questions back to the White House. Trump's initial promise of "extreme vetting" -- a vague one made on the 2016 campaign trail -- turned into a suite of policies that have stepped up checks on people seeking visas and also included the so-called "travel ban," which kept immigrants from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.
(The suspect in the New York City attacks is reportedly from Uzbekistan -- a country not included on the extreme vetting list.)
DHS has said that some increased vetting measures will remain confidential due to national security concerns.
On Wednesday morning, Trump was at it again -- this time, as he often does, apparently watching Fox News Channel and offering his thoughts via Twitter in real time.
First, there was this: "The terrorist came into our country through what is called the 'Diversity Visa Lottery Program,' a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based."
Then, this: "'Senator Chuck Schumer helping to import Europes problems' said Col.Tony Shaffer. We will stop this craziness! @foxandfriends"
The first of those tweets is a classic move by a partisan talking head. In the wake of a tragedy, find a policy -- or a person -- on the opposite side of the aisle to blame. Lay the incident at their feet and let them explain why it's not their fault. But make sure your viewers -- er, voters -- know that you saw this coming and if only the other side had acted like you told them to act, this whole thing could have been avoided.
The second tweet is just a simple the-President-is-live-blogging-a-morning-cable-show situation. While this would be absolutely stunning under another President -- imagine Barack Obama tweeting out some quote from Mike Barnicle on "Morning Joe" the day after a terror incident -- it's de rigeur for this President.
This is all classic pundit behavior.
1. See a major incident.
2. React immediately -- and without all facts.
3. Draw hard and fast conclusions -- without all the facts.
4. Blame your political opponents.
5. Cite other pundits who agree with you to bolster your point.
The terror attack in New York is the latest, but hardly the only, example of Trump as more pundit than President.
In the immediate aftermath of twin attacks in London over the summer, Trump fired off five tweets that, among other things, advocated for the necessity of his travel ban, attacked the mayor of London and bashed gun control backers.
Then, after another attack on London in September, Trump tweeted this: "Another attack in London by a loser terrorist. These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!"
UK Prime Minister Theresa May scolded Trump for his premature tweet suggesting Scotland Yard knew about the attackers. "I don't think it's helpful for anyone to speculate on what is an ongoing investigation," she said on ABC.
Trump, again, appears to have jumped the gun in blaming the "Diversity Visa Lottery Program" and Schumer for the attack.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said on Wednesday morning that the attacker had self-radicalized in the US, meaning that the the program by which he entered the country is less relevant than how he became radicalized in America.
And Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, tweeted a defense of Schumer regarding the Diversity Visa Program.
"Actually, the Gang of 8, including @SenSchumer, did away with the Diversity Visa Program as part of broader reforms. I know, I was there," wrote Flake. Then, in a follow-up tweet, he added: "In fact, had the Senate Gang of 8 bill passed the House, it would have ended the Visa Lottery Program AND increased merit based visas."
(Read this for much more on the history of diversity visas.)
Any past president would be cowed by not only repeatedly politicizing these sorts of tragedies but also getting some of the basic facts wrong. Trump, of course, is, by his own definition, "modern day presidential."
The best way to understand that phrase is to think of Trump more as pundit and less as president. Trump views all of politics -- and all of the world -- through the lens of cable and reality TV. In both of those mediums, you are often rewarded by jumping to conclusions, by saying the most controversial thing and always always always refusing to back down or apologize.
It works for pundits. Not so much for presidents.