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Monday, December 10 , 2018, 12:20 pm | Mostly Cloudy 63º


Susan Estrich: Donald Trump and the Power of the President

For decades, political science students have been taught the late Richard Neustadt's battle-tested maxim that the power of the president is the power to persuade. I don't think he ever imagined Twitter, and he certainly didn't imagine a Donald Trump in the White House. What for decades looked like a challenge requiring skill and leadership turns out to require nothing more than a Twitter account and a nation of followers.

With all the attention to Russia, consider this: Is Trump's MO really so different from Vladimir Putin's? The idea that every word the president says needs to be carefully considered because of its potential influence has been upended by a man who sees that very vulnerability as a source of unlimited power, so long as he is oblivious to all the criticism about being "unpresidential."

So Lockheed Martin woke up Monday morning to find that the president-elect of the United States had "tweeted," in fewer than 140 characters, disapproval of its F-35 fighter-jet program. It's not that Trump is the first president or president-elect to single out a company for criticism. But generally, there is some warning. Generally, there is a particular trigger. Generally, there is an opportunity to respond before the president-elect of the United States tells millions of people that your project is a waste of money.

But in a bonanza for the public relations industry, the general rules don't apply. My guess is that there isn't a CEO in America today, and certainly not one that does business with the government, who didn't look at what was happening to Lockheed Martin and say to themselves: "It could be us next." And what do you do to avoid that? Presumably, there is a simple answer to that: Stay on his good side — and maybe make a major donation.

Is this responsible?

No. But if people were looking for the most responsible candidate for president, they would have picked Hillary Clinton.

It pains me to see Clinton's campaign team defensively looking for a scapegoat for their defeat. The signs, as my friend Bonnie says, were right there: On the worst days of the campaign, when the Billy Bush tape was everywhere and women were in line to accuse the future president not just of inappropriate flirting but of forced sex, Clinton was still ahead only by 3 points and never solidly held 50 percent.

If you think about it — many of us were, frankly, afraid to — there also were too many "undecided" voters. How can anyone, after her 25 years in the spotlight, be undecided about Clinton? If you weren't ready to vote for her yet, how likely is it that you're going to go her way in the end? These weren't the usual independent undecided voters; they were people who really didn't want to vote for Clinton. Would they have voted for Joe Biden? Maybe. He might have done better among angry white men and maybe even among educated women who have always been ambivalent about Clinton (for reasons that have been discussed to death). But it doesn't matter.

This is a democracy. In a democracy, you win some and you lose some, and when you lose, you do it with as much grace as you can muster. I feel very sorry for Clinton, as I would for anyone who spends years trying to achieve a great goal and falls just short, whether of a gold medal or the Oval Office.

Everyone thought Trump was beatable — even members of his own staff were saying so on election night — but he wasn't, at least not by Clinton. Some of that is about her, but the point isn't just that Clinton lost. Trump won the Electoral College, which is how you win the presidency under our Constitution.

We were all horrified when Trump suggested he might not respect the results of the election. How can the same rules not apply to us? Trump won. What we saw is what we are getting. This is not fake news. If only.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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