Donald Trump’s “loose lips” moment in the Oval Office last week with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador is the latest blow to his credibility as a leader and gives many in the intelligence community – and partners around the world – further reason to believe he is not up for the job. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently made a dry, acerbic dig at Donald Trump’s credibility saying “I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House.”
We can look at the issue of Donald Trump’s credibility through three distinct lenses.
Credibility and The Office of President:
The Netflix series “The Crown” recounts the challenges a young Queen Elizabeth II faces as she realizes that her very identity changes as she ascends the throne. Her role as monarch begins to supersede her other identities (wife, mother, sister, friend) and the first season ends with her beginning to really grapple with who she is becoming. While the office of President of the United States is in no way encumbered with the trappings and history of the British monarchy, most successful presidents have dealt with similar challenges as they recognize that they represent more than themselves and have to put country and others ahead of their own interests. The credibility of the office of President of the United States depends on a far-ranging belief that the president is not concerned more with himself than with others, that the needs of those from Sandusky, Ohio or Fresno, California are as important as his own. One of the most telling illustrations of this is the role that Sean Spicer has come to play in the administration. Traditionally, the White House press secretary has been a spokesperson for the country, an official mouthpiece of the government. Since the very first time Spicer took the podium he has acted much more as a publicist for Donald Trump rather than as a spokesperson for the executive branch.
Credibility and the American People:
There are two ways of looking at this. First, Trump’s most ardent supporters are not showing any signs of abandoning him. He has credibility with them because they wanted a disruptive, anti-politician to shake things up in Washington. Every time the media or Democrats get excited about something Trump has done they simply have more evidence that Trump is, in fact, doing what they sent him to Washington to do. On the other hand, there are many Americans who clearly disapprove of Trump’s performance and comportment since he assumed office. While President Trump started out with little credibility with this group of Americans, he has only made things worse by spending what little he had on issues like inauguration crowd size or absurd accusations of surveillance on Twitter. It looks like we may have to choose between believing former FBI Director James Comey who documented President Trump’s effort to derail the FBI Russia investigation or Donald Trump who claims that he never asked anyone to halt the investigation. There were only two people in the Oval Office for the meeting. Many will believe the President but more would likely believe him had he not squandered precious credibility with lies and exaggerations over the past few months.
Credibility and U.S. Allies around the World:
Despite National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s assertions that Trump’s actions and words in the Oval Office with the Russian foreign minister were “wholly appropriate,” the upshot is that revealing classified information without first vetting it with the Israelis (who supplied the intelligence) hurts the President’s credibility with partners and adversaries around the world. A potential outcome of his Oval Office “oversharing” could well be a reluctance on the part of partners in the Middle East to share critical information with US intelligence counterparts that could potentially be used to avert further terrorist attacks.
In a commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy earlier today President Trump complained about his treatment by the media asserting that no “politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.” This assertion is more than debatable and, as a deflection of blame for self-inflicted wounds, does nothing to improve his credibility.
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