A new president puts lobbying interests into supercharged four wheel wheel drive. What are those interests? Congressional leadership, corporate lobbyists, unions, public interest groups, egos angling for high office appointments, other egos desiring a plumb ambassadorship. You name it. The process is more or less the same with each new president regardless of party. Who do they know that has access? What is the best way to approach new White House staff, and through them, the president? How well do they know cabinet designees? What are their most important issues? How will they make decisions? Where will they connect with Congress? What do they like to eat and drink? Where did they play golf? What old school connections might lend a hand? Then comes the hard work of making opening moves, establishing relationships, making or faking friendships. It’s all about getting one’s pound, or ounce, of influence, and maybe a little direct access. It’s a power game where egos are made and broken by how well the game is played. It’s always worked in some fashion because no matter who the president elect might be, it was understood that ‘he’ knew how all of this worked, and, at some level, really did intend to be a good president for the nation. The unwritten norms of D.C. politics could be relied on to function the way they usually did. Of course there were winners and losers, but the rules of the game were reasonably well known to the pros that run things.
We have a new president elect. Following the normal pattern, supplicants crowd the escalators and elevators of Trump Tower, each fawning in the usual way over the newly elected, and those closest to him, in hopes of establishing a little traction. What’s different is that Trump doesn’t play by the usual rules. He doesn’t doesn’t know what they are, and doesn’t care. The old game is not his game. He has his own. For him, it’s one enormous, endless episode of The Apprentice. He’s lapping up all the attention, loves every minute of it, and has no intention of honoring anything that is not in whatever he thinks is his best interest, which can change from moment to moment. To him, whatever is on a supplicant’s agenda has no intrinsic value in itself. It has value only if it benefits him. He may have paid to have someone write The Art of the Deal in his name, but he’s not a good faith negotiator, he’s a sociopathic manipulator. Each supplicant will go away thinking they have gained a foothold, that he is someone they can work with. They will be wrong. If they presume say out loud that they have an in with Trump, the only words from him they will hear is “You’re Fired!”
Trump doesn’t play the traditional game by the traditional rules. We learned that in the campaign. Business partners learned it years ago, and tried to tell us. He plays his own game by his own rules, making them up as he goes along. If he wants something, he uses every juvenile trick of manipulation to get it. What other people want or need is of little interest to him, unless he can use it to his own advantage. Otherwise, who cares? To what might we compare him? Not to other presidents, though Nixon might come close. Perhaps Henry VIII of England, or maybe Louis XIV of France, as they might have been portrayed in a Mel Brooks movie. That would have been funny, but this is real life, and it’s not funny.
What is a workable way to engage with him and his staff? Stick to the issues. Use only verifiable information. Avoid the usual exaggeration of facts to suit political ends. Avoid all contests of wit or personality caricatures. In fact, ignore him altogether. Deal with the office of the president as a thing, not a person. If he wants to play his game, let him come to you. Let him play it with zeal. But do not respond. Stick to the issues. One of Clinton’s mistakes was to play his game with him by continually comparing herself to him by name while criticizing his positions. All it did was give him added publicity on her dime, raising his name as one worthy of validity by virtue of frequent mention. Let he who must not be named, not be named.
What will be the result? You will lose most of the time. You might win a few. You will retain your dignity. You will not fall victim to his game playing, looking like a fool in the end. You might even gain his grudging respect as someone he will give into when it won’t cost him too much, and otherwise avoid as too dangerous to play with because you know the game. The most important thing you will gain is public trust in what you have to say when the next election rolls around. Not the public at large, they will remain as ignorantly uninvolved as usual. I mean the public that has influence and actually votes.