06.19.2017 02:04 PM

This week’s column: what Trump could’ve done, and didn’t

Undersell and overperform.

Those of us who had the honour and privilege of working for Jean Chrétien knew that aphorism well. It was his mantra, and therefore ours, too.

It worked. Chrétien was never once defeated in his 40 years in the political game. He won three back-to-back majorities, and he was the most popular Prime Minister in the history of polling. He repatriated the Constitution, he defeated the separatists, he kept us out of Iraq. He did okay, you might say. A proof is a proof.

And the reason why he was so successful, politically? Along with being a regular guy, along with being likeable, along with having an innate understanding of what Canadians wanted? Because he undersold and overperformed.

He didn’t brag a lot. He didn’t take credit for the achievements of others. He didn’t make everything about him. He kept quiet when he should, and he stayed out of the papers.

Donald Trump, now under criminal investigation for obstruction of justice, could have benefitted from following Chrétien’s example. He could have survived if he’d kept his mouth shut, just once. But he didn’t. He couldn’t.

Trump’s presidency is now measured in months, not years. Because, as the Washington Post has reported, special counsel Robert Mueller is conducting a criminal investigation into Trump’s conduct on two fronts. One, whether he obstructed justice when he fired former FBI director James Comey. And, two, when he earlier told Comey to “let go” of a criminal probe into the connections between Russia and his campaign team.

When did the Washington Post discover that Trump was under criminal investigation by Mueller’s FBI team? Well, just a day or two after Trump surrogates darkly warned that the Unpresident was seriously contemplating firing Mueller, that’s when.

Cause and effect. Action, reaction. Trump just couldn’t keep his sphincter-like mouth shut – he just couldn’t keep his stubby little thumbs away from Twitter – and he made things markedly worse for himself by threatening Mueller. Now he couldn’t fire Mueller if he tried: it would be a stronger admission of guilt than a signed confession and videotape of the crimes being committed.

Same thing happened with Comey. Trump just could not keep keep quiet. He. Could. Not. Shut. Up.

So, not long he after he fired Comey – because Comey, he knew, was getting perilously close to finding out the truth about the Trump-Putin pact to subvert US democracy – Trump tweeted that Comey better hope “there are no tapes” of their conversations at the White House.

With that, Agent Orange bought himself a world of hurt, on two fronts. One, it prompted Comey to release a highly detailed account of a previously-secret meeting with Trump – a meeting in which the FBI director was directed to drop the Russia inquiries. And, two, it spurred Congress to demand the tapes. (And the disclosure of Oval Office tapes, historians will note, are what brought down Richard Nixon.)

But that is not all. Trump’s mouth and tweets have gotten him in plenty of other messes. To cite just one example: executive privilege. Comey was a federal employee when he met with Trump. Their discussions entirely dealt with sensitive matters, most relating to national security.

Trump, therefore, could have easily invoked executive privilege – a presidential prerogative that would have effectively silenced Comey, and prevented Congress from questioning him on Trump-Comey interactions.

So what did Trump do? He tweeted about his meetings with Comey. A lot. He himself disclosed what was not supposed to be disclosed – thereby giving Comey the pretext for doing so, too. And he eliminated any credible argument for the invocation of executive privilege. How, everyone wondered, could executive privilege happen when the most senior member of the executive has personally violated it?

It goes on and on. His Muslim ban, defeated in serial lawsuits in the Ninth Circuit courts because of Trump’s own words. Lawsuits by two states, in which they claim that Trump has violated the Constitution by benefitting financially from his position – all because he loudly refused to withdraw from his Trump business empire. And, of course, the millions of women (and men, like this one) who marched against Trump the day after his inauguration – because we objected to the foul, feral things that he says and tweets.

All of Donald Trump’s political wounds are the worst kind: they are self-inflicted. Those are always the ones that cut deepest, and are the ones that are usually fatal. He is unlikely to see the inside of a jail cell – his sycophantic Vice-President will pardon him for his crimes, naturally – but he is certain to be drummed out of office. How can it be otherwise? How can it be avoided, now?

It could have been different. It could have been avoided. If Donald Trump had kept his mouth shut – if he had stayed away from Twitter – he could have dramatically improved the odds.

Most of all, if he had simply undersold and overperformed – as Chrétien did – it would have all been so, so different.

He didn’t. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t.

He’s done.


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    Gord says:

    Well said. A couple other Canadian politicians who fall into that category would be Peter Lougheed and Allan Blakeney.

    I do have one minor quibble – Chretien did suffer one defeat: the 1984 Liberal leadership (Although in retrospect he probably dodged a bullet by not inheriting the poisoned chalice. I’m sure he would not have been the trainwreck Turner was but I think the die was cast by the summer of ’84 and he would have been hard-pressed to win another majority for the Grits.)

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    Richard says:

    The greatest piece of advice Hillary Clinton gave to Trump, which of course went unheeded, was three simple words: “Delete your account.”

    It will be the failure to do so that continually haunts him, not least because every calamity he walks into there’s an old tweet for that.

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    Howard says:

    The folksy demeanour of Chrétien went a long way. In terms of popular vote he never won more than Mulroney or PET (save 1972). Preston Manning’s schism with the Tories and resulting vote split gave Chrétien his three majorities but at least it paved the way for a party that actually offers Canadians an alternative ruling party with its own guiding principles vs the old PCs who were indistinguishable from the Liberals. That is important for our democracy.

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    Charlie says:

    “Most of all, if he had simply undersold and overperformed – as Chrétien did – it would have all been so, so different.”

    L O L.

    Donald Trump’s entire life has been one giant oversell. There is literally no facet in this mans life where we doesn’t absurdly exaggerate. Whether they be building floors, business ventures, net worth, women, hands (penis), electoral win; he oversells every aspect of his life because he’s such a pathetically petty little man.

    The notion of underplaying, underselling or basic modesty does not register with this guy. Thats what makes him a laughably desperate clown.

    A man who utilizes the words best, great and “bigly” at the rate Donald Trump does, is not one who delivers consistently on that level of hyperbole. Which should have been the biggest forewarning for those who voted for him. At least some level of skepticism could have prevented America from choking on this 71 year-old tangerine.

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    Aongasha says:

    Funny thing though, young Mr. Trudeau and Co. keep calling in Hon. Brian Mulroney for advice. Not Chretien, Turner or any of their gang. Strange that?

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      Simon says:

      You know, that is actually a very good point, come to think of it.

      I wonder if burnishing Mr. Mulroney’s profile as a “saviour” will reflect positively on the current Tories and Scheer.

      I somewhat suspect it will.

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      Charlie says:

      Strange how?

      Mulroney is a wealthy acquaintance of Trump’s; which is something that Trump values. Mulroney was the Canadian signatory on NAFTA with a firsthand experience of the negotiations; which is somewhat relevant given the intention of the current American administration. The former PM is also extremely well known in Republican/business circles in the United States and still maintains relationships with GOPers with influence.

      The objective of the Trudeau PMO is to establish good and diplomatic relationships with the new regime in Washington, so they chose to tap the person with the most relevant qualifications.

      But I’m sure you had a deeply insightful and well-informed thought process to your comment.

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