Happy Birthday Ronald Reagan, what do you think about Trump?

February 6, 2017

People make comparisons between Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan. They were both actors. Both had been divorced. Both men had been Democrats. Both men had some populist appeal. They were exactly the same on many issues, like their position on abortion.

img_2947

Ronald Reagan & Doug Wead

But there were also many differences. President Trump and President Reagan lived in different times. The national media was openly hostile to both men. Reagan didn’t fight back. At least openly. He smiled and waved and mirrored back the idea that people liked him even though he was bitterly despised by the corporate media and the journalists who covered him.

In some cases journalists would defiantly state false numbers and there was no recourse, no internet to quickly arbitrate, and no Twitter for him to use to retaliate.

There is no question in my mind that Reagan would have used Twitter to go over the heads of the media and directly to the hearts of the people. He tried to do that with earned media. And amazingly it worked. The American people knew they were being lied to by many in the media and they deeply resented it. Some knew intellectually, they knew the metrics, others didn’t have time to research the issues but they knew instinctively.

In 1984, after they experienced his presidency for themselves, in spite of the false and mean spirited media narrative, Reagan was re-elected overwhelmingly. He carried every state except Minnesota.And almost took that one too.

Donald Trump has some things going for him. There is Fox News and Fox Business Network. which are more objective, but again, that has driven the mainstream media even more to the Left to compensate. There is Facebook and Twitter.

Reagan was a gentleman, kindly and measured. He was strong but never out of control.

Still, while some would argue with me about this, I suspect that Reagan would be chuckling with delight at Donald Trump’s style and at his effectiveness. We now have this amazing political spectacle. Trump is president but a Court of Appeals in California, along with allies in the media, have just assumed responsibility for the next terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

 


Why Donald Trump is the most impactful president-elect since Abraham Lincoln

December 10, 2016

Okay, sit back down. You’re okay. Breathe. Breathe. You’ll be alright.

I said, “impactful,” okay? “Impactful.” It’s not even a Gates approved word, it underlines red in Microsoft Word. Just relax.

First, lets take a little tour and see some other impactful presidents-elect so you will get a sense of context.

Why Ronald Reagan was a great president-elect

Ronald Reagan made a big impact as a president-elect. He grunted and hummed and winked and whispered and the Iranians released the American hostages even while he was taking the oath of office on inauguration day. He had sent the signals. The Iranians had gotten the message. It didn’t take 8 years. It didn’t even take 8 minutes. Jimmy Carter was still president but we all know why they were released.

Richard Nixon made a big impact as a president-elect. He and Kissinger had agents on the ground in Paris at the peace talks with North Vietnam. Even while LBJ was trying to end the war. Lame duck, President Johnson, could only fume.

Lincoln had to keep Kentucky in the union.

Abraham Lincoln was the most impactful president-elect of all. Lame duck, President James Buchanan was having a 19th century version of a Netflix binge, nobody knew what he was up to, so with the nation being torn apart, Lincoln had to send signals from Springfield, Illinois.

He was trying, among other things, to keep Kentucky in the union and so keep his wife, Mary Todd and her family together. Happy wife, happy life? And happy country too?

Donald Trump best president-elect since Lincoln

Everything Donald Trump has done as president-elect has been impactful and strategic.

His trip to Indiana and involvement with the Carrier Company was hugely symbolic. It said, 1.) I keep my promises, 2.) This administration will be about jobs, 3.) I want it done fast.

Now, I know, the media says that the Carrier Company is only one company and a handful of jobs, he can’t go to every factory. Those jobs are a drop in the bucket.

But a president doesn’t have time to meet with the 2.79 million federal workers in his bureaucracy. They pick up on what he wants by listening to his speeches and by following his actions.

Obama was about giving speeches in the Rose Garden. Trump is about leadership on steroids, showing us by example how to get things done. Before this is over companies will be coming to him with deals that will create more jobs.

Likewise the message to Boeing was clear. You gave a million dollars to the Clinton Foundation and had all of your execs give money to Hillary’s presidential campaign. Now you want government money in return. Well, in the future, companies that want to succeed will do so better by producing products that are of good quality, come in under bid and on time and are actually needed. The day of bribe is over, the new day of supply and demand is back.

Finally, the call from Taiwan shows that everything is on the table. We know what we need from China and what they need from us and the arrangement will have to be more fair.

Changing the rules of history

When Trump delayed in naming his first cabinet officer the media pounced, using a new measurement to judge president-elects. Obama had named his first cabinet officer after three weeks, they said.

But then, lovers of history like yours truly, reminded them that Reagan, Ford, Carter, Clinton, George W. Bush, had all taken six weeks. And when Trump surprised everybody and named off cabinet picks, pop, pop, pop, the media moved the goal posts. The rules had changed. President-elects would henceforth be judged by something else, we will find it, just be patient. It will be something that Trump doesn’t do well.

The fact is, whether he is a good president or not remains to be seen, but like it or not, he is indeed an impactful president-elect. Even a great one. He is sending signals that need to be sent. He is a leader.  And whether he got 40 jobs out of Carrier or 4,000 misses the point. It’s 40 more than any other president-elect has ever gotten before.

Donald Trump has come out of the gate fast.

 

 

 

 


The Political Genius of Nancy Reagan

March 6, 2016
Doug Wead and Nancy Reagan in 1994.

Doug Wead and Nancy Reagan in 1994.

I have been planning to write this blog for some time. And then today, sadly, I learned of the passing of the former First Lady.

Nancy Reagan was more than a  classy lady, a good dresser, a charming hostess, she was a very politically astute woman. Her husband’s image only grew after his own death and that was not as accidental as it seems. Nancy Reagan knew how to burnish that image and how to walk the tight rope of political-media issues.

What it took to get Ronald Reagan elected president, what it took for him to govern from the White House and what it took to establish a legacy afterward were three very different animals and no one understood that better than Nancy Reagan. She knew when to say yes, when to say no and how to protect her man, sometimes from himself.

My introduction to Nancy Reagan was in November, 1979, only days before he would announce his run for president. The Reagans were hosting a private dinner in their home in Pacific Palisades. The sun was setting on the Pacific Ocean down below. There was a fire in the fireplace. Pat Boone and other friends were there. Ronald Reagan, himself, would talk about that night long after.

From the conversations an idea of a Charity Awards was born. The Reagans envisioned an Academy Awards of Charity, a chance to honor volunteers and heroes from the private sector. When they were in the White House a year latter they made it happen, with Nancy as the driving force and the East Room as the venue. Three more times I would work with Nancy Reagan both in and outside the White House to host that event.

I have one other rather compelling image from that dinner long ago. In between courses at the dinner table, in a darkened hallway, I spotted political aide Michael Deaver alone with Nancy Reagan, whispering furtively. It was hard not to notice because the story was in the newspapers that Deaver was out, John Sears, the former Nixon staffer, was in.  Sears would be running the coming presidential campaign and dumping Deaver was apparently one of the prerequisites.

This moment comes back to me often because others will say that Nancy Reagan was the person who would lay down the law and urge the good natured Ronald Reagan to fire a disloyal staffer. But Nancy was also the doorway in. And that was true for me and many others.

A few months later, I was with Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail in Florida. It was almost three in the morning. When I stepped into an elevator there was Michael Deaver. He was on his way to the basement. His hands were piled high with underwear. I suspect it was his and his boss’s as well. Later, when Deaver looked back at me from the cover of TIME magazine I remembered that moment.  Nancy Reagan had good instincts about what loyalty was and who had it.

My last long conversation with the Reagans was in 1992. Ronald Reagan started talking about the Gipper, the Notre Dame football star, telling some stories we had all heard him tell before. And I spoke with Nancy about the research I was doing on children of presidents, which she found fascinating.

Since I was her dinner guest that night and the former president was on the other side of the podium, she picked up the conversation  where we had left off in the room. She was very concerned about her own children and where they would go and what they would do. It was a touching moment. Always so perfectly poised and groomed and politically disciplined, it was a side of her I hadn’t seen. In that moment she was like any other mother.

It is hard for young people to remember, but Ronald Reagan was once vilified by the mainstream media.  His idea of winning the Cold War was not only considered impossible it was considered dangerous. He was accused of being racist.

When I told my literary agent, Jed Mattes that I had an exclusive to write a Reagan biography, he got back to say that the publishing  folks in New York don’t expect him to make it through Iowa.

“Well,” I said indignantly, “The polls show him neck and neck with Ambassador George Bush.”

Jed Mattes laughed. “You don’t understand,” he said. “They don’t think he will LIVE through Iowa.  He is too old to make it to the White House.”

New York was wrong.

Both before and after the White House, Nancy Reagan threaded her way through political issues, often purposely taking a more moderate tack than her husband. It infuriated some of his more ideologically supporters but it provided a bridge to the media who eventually embraced him.

Not very often do journalists and pundits admit they are wrong about anything. But many today admit they were wrong about Ronald Reagan. And that is partly due to the political genius of his wife, Nancy, with the laughing face.

 


Megyn Kelly for president!

January 28, 2016

Dateline January 28, 2016

Megyn Kelly, a former attorney, now Fox News journalist, conducted herself with grace and grit this week. GOP front-runner, Donald Trump, made her the target of his wrath promising he would not participate in the GOP Fox News Debate if she were one of the moderators.  Fox News stuck by her and her performance in tonight’s debate was stellar.  Her questions were provocative, cleverly constructed, persistently delivered and her follow ups were tenacious. She did it all with a smile and a good nature. I have watched every presidential debate since Kennedy and Nixon and served as a shill in practice debates for numerous presidential candidates but I have never seen such a polished and effective performance by a debate moderator as Megyn Kelly tonight.

Megyn Kelly is not the first journalist to become the center of controversy in a presidential race.

George Will had been a favorite of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.  His brilliant analysis and insider information made him a fascinating commentator.  But in 1987 George Will, at the time a pundit on ABC and a columnist for Newsweek, referred to vice president George W. Bush as president Reagan’s “lapdog.” Bush prided himself on his loyalty to Reagan and felt that this was his duty as vice president. Newsweek ran a cover story of George Bush entitled “The Wimp Factor” questioning if the senior Bush would be strong enough to be president.

The bitterness in the Bush family ran deep. In 1988 I accompanied the president’s son, George W. Bush, to Iowa.  On Caucus night we walked into a ballroom where famous pundits, sat on platforms, talking to the nation. No one recognized or acknowledged George W. Bush , who would one day be president himself, but George Will commanded respect, sitting on one of those platforms, pontificating on the results of the Caucus. Young Bush was furious. When we passed under the ABC platform, Bush muttered to me, “Look at George Will sitting up there. Pompous asshole.”

Actually, as president, the father, George H.W. Bush, showed himself to be quite strong, invading Panama to bring Manuel Noriega to justice, invading Iraq to defend the national integrity of Kuwait. Ronald Reagan had called for the Berlin Wall to come down but it happened under president George H.W. Bush.

The Bush family eventually, after a long period of punishment, forgave Newsweek Magazine, they had too. At the time it was too powerful to ignore. But George Will was vulnerable. And they never forgave him.  This was their message to any other journalist who might take them on. For the next eight years Will would be in the deep freeze and the White House would carefully withhold any information that could have helped his career. At the time, I was a senior White House staffer, and the word was out, no one could talk to Mr. Will.

Today, George Will is back, as brilliant and polished and well read as ever. Ironically, he is on television thanks to the Fox News Channel.

It remains to be seen what will happen to Megyn Kelly. If Donald Trump becomes president she may find herself on his blacklist, no White House Christmas party invitations. But if tonight’s debate is any indication, we have only begun to hear from Megyn Kelly. And Donald Trump may have met his match.

I have had the privilege of being interviewed several times by Ms. Kelly.  One of those interviews was characterized by political critics as being harsh or unfair.  One of them ran up 250,000 views. Friends sent me emails asking if I was irritated by the questions. The truth was that the harder her questions the better. I did not resent them. They were expected and fair and exactly the questions that she should have asked. And her nature was pleasant.

Here is that interview, judge for yourself. I see Megyn Kelly as a great journalist and she was on her game tonight justifying her bosses at Fox News.


Why was James Foley left to die?

August 22, 2014

Gretchen Carlson is one of the best of the Fox News anchors and she just nailed it with her comment about the gruesome  murder of James Foley by ISIS thugs.  She quoted a State Department spokesman, who explained why we had not negotiated for the release of the journalist. “The United States does not negotiate with terrorists.”

“But isn’t that exactly what we did for Bowe Burgdahl?”  Carlson asked.  Burgdahl was the Islamic sympathizer whose parents were feted at the White House by President Barack Obama when his release was announced.

An article in The Hill says the Pentagon clearly broke the law in the Burgdahl case.  The Associated Press just ran a story on the hypocrisy of the difference between the two hostages.

What many will miss is the deep faith of James Foley and how that factored into this story and American policy.

Keep in mind, ISIS is confronting Christians in Iraq with the following option: convert to Islam or die.  And Christians are being executed in other Islamic countries for no other reason than their faith.

Before Barack Obama, every recent president since Reagan has been active worldwide in helping persecuted and martyred Christians.  When I worked in the White House of George H.W. Bush we regularly helped get Christians out of prisons all over Africa and Asia.  These included missionaries and educators but also journalists and relief workers.  Bill Clinton helped establish the International Religious Freedom Act that worked with the United Nations to stop the slaughter.  Unfortunately what we saw happen to James Foley is only a small vignette of killings of Christians worldwide.  Senator Rand Paul has called for withholding foreign aid to nations who execute Christians just because of their faith.  But he has had only two co-sponsors.  And the Obama administration quickly quashed the idea.

The national media, who once winked at communism, hoping to avoid getting on their killing lists when they took over America, now seem to be courting the Islamic extremists.  Leave us alone.  Don’t hurt us or our families when we travel the world and we will not hurt you.  Here, take our Christians.  For years the media blurred the distinctions between Muslims and Christians in wars in Africa leaving most Americans ignorant of how religion was actually driving the crisis.

On all of these issues moderate Muslims are silent.

Meanwhile, being a Christian and being open about it can get you killed in the Islamic world, and left to die by a politically correct American government who will not ransom you.  James Foley, whose Christian faith was no secret, once described to an audience at Marquette how prayer kept him alive during his captivity by Muammar Gaddafi.

As it turned out surviving Barack Obama’s foreign policy takes more than prayer.

 


When presidents go on vacation

August 16, 2014

Having written about presidents and worked for presidents I can tell you that there are some misconceptions about presidential vacations.  Some things happen like the rest of us.  Some things don’t.

First there is the idea that the president is the boss and can take off when he wants.  Actually, he is at the mercy of other people just as we all are.  For example, he must co-ordinate with the legislative calendar on Capitol Hill.  If he is not in Washington to help lobby his own bills in congress both his legislation and his presidency will suffer.

Likewise, the timing and planning behind visits from foreign Heads of State are calculated well in advance.  If the president cancels a visit in favor of a sudden vacation with the kids to Disney World he can ruin a relationship or trigger an international crisis.  And if the president insists on taking a scheduled vacation when the rest of the world is falling apart he risks a political uproar.

In 1983, when the Soviets shot down a civilian Korean Airlines, Reagan cut short his time at the ranch in California and flew back to the Oval Office to address the nation.

Some people get upset if the president isn’t in the Oval Office with his sleeves rolled up.  But actually the work of a president is making decisions and that process does not stop, not for Eisenhower on the Golf Course, Kennedy at the beach, or Obama on a bicycle.

Woodrow Wilson, who had been the president of Princeton University, and brought an academic mindset to Oval Office decision making, was scandalized by the pace.  He told his wife and daughters that he didn’t have time to think, that he couldn’t even take a walk before making a decision.

The Oval Office was only built in 1909, which means that most presidents never worked there at all.  And today’s West Wing Oval Office was built in 1934 by President Franklin Roosevelt.  Many presidents, such as Richard Nixon, only used it for ceremonial purposes.  He did his real work in a more expansive office in the Old Executive Office Building which is adjacent to the White House mansion.

Some presidents, like George W. Bush, were not paper shufflers.  They got much of their work done through conversations and that could take place anywhere. The staff had to turn it all into paper. When presidents travel their communications network travels with them, as well as a miniature White House staff.

You will hear a lot of people talk about how Air Force One has ushered in a new era of the traveling president.  Not really. American presidents began extensive travel with trains.  At their peak presidential trains crisscrossed the continent and were a virtual traveling White House.  At one time each cabinet member had his own available train.

Presidents have always been criticized for taking time off, beginning with George Washington who often visited Mt. Vernon.  President Obama recently took a lot of hits for taking a vacation in the midst of world crisis but former presidents of both political parties won’t criticize one of their own for getting some rest. “I don’t agree with your politics,” Richard Nixon said to John F. Kennedy, after the latter won the 1960 election, “But I will never criticize you for taking a vacation.”

Perhaps the biggest misconception about presidents is how well informed they are, and how their morning intelligence briefing keeps them in the loop, even while on vacation.

It depends on the president, of course, but almost all of them become isolated in office.  It is the nature of power.  A memo sent to the president is stamped “The President Has Seen” and becomes an official document of government that will one day be seen by the world.  And so staffers who once told their boss everything are reluctant to send information that others will one day see and judge out of context.

While it’s true that because of their security briefings presidents have information that the rest of us don’t have, even on vacation, the fact is that we sometimes have information that they don’t have!  It is a story as old as the Emperor’s Clothes and it is strikingly seen in George W. Bush’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina and the unfolding tragedy in New Orleans. While the whole nation watched as mothers and children were trapped in 90 degree heat on rooftops without water, food or toilets, and an obvious major health crisis was in the making, the president was at his ranch and not to be disturbed. It was a costly mistake.

Having worked on senior staff at the White House I was often astounded and surprised at what the president knew and what he didn’t know.  There just isn’t time for anyone to know everything.


Is Obama too big too fail? Why is he acting so strangely?

July 26, 2014

President Barack Obama’s shameless fundraising tours in the midst of a world in chaos have brought immediate comparisons to Ronald Reagan.   Led by his erstwhile advisers, such as Michael Deaver, who understood imagery, Reagan would have been back in the Oval Office, looking presidential and sounding like the statesman he was.  Reagan would likely have brought his government together, State Department, NSA, Pentegon, CIA and taken an assessment of how it could all impact on American economy and lives.  He would likely have given a national address, reassuring the nation and signalling the world how we expect civilized people to act.

On the surface, Obama’s actions are incomprehensible.  There is no explanation.  Obama appears transcendent, not responsible for his own administration and uncaring about the world around him.

It has been the Obama style from the beginning. The economic crisis was the fault of the previous administration.  When his own stimulus program could not produce one of the one million jobs he promised, it was replaced with more of the same and  blame on congress for failing to immediately enact more of what wasn’t working.

The president declared that he had no responsibility for the IRS which was blatantly being used for political purposes, he had nothing to do with the failed Healthcare website and nothing to do with the Veteran’s Administration which was corrupt on his watch. Whatever happened to Harry Truman and his Oval Office motto, “the buck stops here?”

It was not just that the president was not in charge of anything, or seemed to know anything, or should be blamed for anything, it was also when we found out differently he didn’t apologize.  When we learned, for example, that the $678 million , no bid, Healthcare website was awarded to Michelle Obama’s buddy from Princeton, the White House ignored it all.  When a news agency asked about it they were charged with racism.  When the president’s hand picked political lieutenant at the IRS claimed she had lost her emails the president defended her.

Sometimes, these juxtapositions can get downright comical.  Recently, General Motors was fined millions of dollars by the Justice Department for faulty ignition issues when, in fact, at that time, the company was owned and being run by the U.S. government.  Should the Justice Department fine itself?  When Obama ran for re-election he bragged about saving the auto industry?  But he has no responsibility for the company he bought.   The President is too big to fail.

On closer examination, Obama’s recent actions make sense.  He is angling for his post presidential role.  He will either be the Secretary General of the United Nations or else he will be some NGO equivalent.  Thus, he spent the week campaigning for the Democrat Party and ultimately Hillary Clinton whom he will need as an ally if he is to realize his ambition.  Nor would he want to poke the Russians more than necessary.

And the Federal Aviation Administration’s sudden cancellation of all flights to Tel Aviv?  At a cost to Israel of millions of dollars?  At first we were told that the president didn’t get involved in such things.  And given the fact that the president isn’t responsible for the economy, the IRS, his own Healthcare namesake and the Veterans Administration, to name a few departments, then one could almost believe it.    What does he do with all that free time?  But if he is now on track for his post presidency then it makes perfect sense.  The U.N. votes solidly against Israel, with only American on her side.  Obama will need to have some more of these anti-Israel moments to shore up his support from the African and Arab nations who dominate the the U.N. and will dictate the reach of any international role.

There was an awkward scene on CNN last week.  Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg snapped at Wolf Blitzer.  The CNN reporter had asked if the FAA decision represented policy.  Given Obama’s anti Israel record it was a reasonable question.  And it had just been raised by a U.S. Senator.  A testy Bloomberg was outraged at Wolf Blitzer for daring to ask such a thing.  It was another shameful moment.  Bloomberg has taken a lot of heat for his slavish support of Obama, in spite of his record toward Israel.

The irony was that Bloomberg’s very appearance was proof of the politics of the policy. If Tel Aviv was safe, and Bloomberg could fly there, then why was it ordered closed to all American airlines?  And if it wasn’t safe, why was it opened up again after the American people reacted to the FAA’ decision with outrage?

Oh, by the way, as someone who once worked in the White House, I can tell you that no one at the FAA would make such an unprecedented and politically charged decision without the okay of the president of the United States.  Sorry.

It all points to this very likely scenario.  We will have Barrack Obama on the world stage for a very, very long time to come.

 

Below was a controversial “what would Reagan do” moment during the Egyptian crisis and the Arab spring.  On this segment, several years ago, I voiced a lonely position that turned out to be prophetic.