By Andrew SullivanThe White House, for all its talk of “pivot” and “flexibility,” is still largely a Washington operation.
But on the issue of the president’s ability to manage a national crisis, Trump and his aides are not only more aggressive than any previous administration in trying to push a narrative — in the case of Syria, a humanitarian disaster, but also more conservative than their predecessors.
And if they want to push that narrative, they’re going to have to make it as tough and difficult as possible for the president to do so.
In recent days, Trump has been using Twitter to repeatedly demand that Russia pay a $1.5 billion fine to end its attack on a Syrian air base, and the White House has issued statements urging Russia to “get its act together.”
But those tweets were in response to an op-ed by Trump that accused the Obama administration of failing to do enough to end the war in Syria, and said he had asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to “take the lead” in ending the crisis.
The White’s push for the sanctions has been less aggressive, but it’s certainly been more aggressive in its rhetoric, particularly in its use of Twitter, to draw attention to what it says are Russian violations of the ceasefire in Syria.
In a tweet on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the administration was “calling on Russia to end attacks on Syrian air bases and take immediate steps to end violence and allow humanitarian access.”
“Russia has been providing air support to our troops and civilians in Syria for years and has consistently failed to do its part to ensure their safety,” Sanders wrote.
In response to the tweets, Sanders called out Russia for what she said was its “repeated violations of ceasefire agreements.”
And a White House official on Thursday said Trump and Biden would also be pushing for sanctions on Russia in coming days.
In the short term, Trump’s approach to the crisis could mean that the president can get a lot of mileage out of his Twitter attacks on Russia.
But in the long term, he could find it more difficult to make inroads with his base, who are frustrated with his handling of the crisis and have been less enthusiastic about his ability to make policy.
Trump has spent much of the past two months ranting about Russia and its alleged interference in the 2016 election and accusing Democrats of wanting to get him impeached.
But he also has used his social media platform to push his own narrative.
The White House is clearly willing to use Twitter as a tool to further that narrative.
But Trump has also tried to use the media as a means to rally his supporters and to draw them to rallies, but this strategy seems to be coming back to bite him.
He is already under pressure in the polls, particularly among white working-class voters, and has struggled to attract white voters.
He has also struggled to make gains among women and minority voters, as well as among white evangelical Christians.
The president’s tweets on Thursday were part of a series of tweets that have used social media to promote the administration’s case for further sanctions against Russia.
In his tweet on Wednesday, Trump said that “Russia will have to pay a price” if it continues its attack against Syria, which has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions.
And in a tweet of his own, Trump warned that if Russia “wants to destroy ISIS, the time is now,” and warned that “any action taken against Russia will be met with retaliation.”
Trump has also been using social media as an alternative way to drum up support for his policies, but the White, as a matter of policy, prefers to avoid the use of such platforms for political messaging.
A White House spokesperson said that Trump and the administration are not currently using Twitter, though the spokesperson declined to offer specifics on the reasons behind the move.
“We are not using social networks as an outlet for political messages and we have a very strict policy of not using them as a way to promote our policies,” the spokesperson said.
“We have been using the media more in the past than we’ve ever done before.
This is a way of communicating directly with our supporters about our policies and the progress we’re making on our goals.”
The administration has also begun using Twitter as an extension of its messaging in recent days.
The administration on Wednesday tweeted out a message from the White HOUSE Press Secretary that said, “We are proud of our #pivot strategy that has been making our country stronger.”
The message continued, “With this new approach, we are able to take on challenges that have been out of our control for too long, like the attacks on the White Helmets, the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the humanitarian response to Hurricane Harvey.”
But as Trump’s Twitter strategy has evolved, it’s also become more difficult for him to maintain that message in the face of growing criticism from his base.
The president’s approval ratings have been in free fall