By Jake Novak
Depending on your political leanings, President Donald Trump is either a superhero or a super villain.
Of course, the healthiest way to approach this or any president is to consider him or her to be neither and judge each action on a case by case basis.
But you know how it goes in today’s all-or-nothing, social-media-spiked political “discourse.” The public is urged to paint everything and everyone in absolute black or white.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t something the Trump haters and Trump lovers can agree on. So getting back to the comic book terminology, here’s the question: If President Trump were a superhero or a super villain, what would his superpower be?
Answer: He doesn’t fear “bad publicity.”
For those who note that President Trump seems to punch back at every negative headline about him, this might seem a bit counterintuitive. But there’s a difference between fearing public criticism and disliking it. And there’s an even further difference between fearing public attacks and being the kind of guy who revels in fighting back.
In case you haven’t guessed, President Trump is that kind of guy.
No, people like that aren’t what we’d call the best behaved and they’re certainly not circumspect. But the rare person in elected office who can act without being worried about what the news media or the chattering classes will say about him or her is powerful indeed.
President Trump has wielded that power with impunity. Here is a relatively short list of the things he has done that almost every other elected official would never do because of an aversion to “bad press.”
- Standing Firm on Illegal Immigration
Love or hate President Trump’s stand on illegal immigration, it’s true that no mainstream Republican or Democrat running for president was willing to talk tough on illegal immigration. Fears of being called racists or nativists cowed most Republicans, and Democrats had already become fully seduced by the possibility of federal amnesty suddenly boosting their potential voter base by the millions. All of this was despite the fact that Republicans and Democrats alike had been talking tough against illegal immigration just a few years before candidate Donald Trump descended those Trump Tower escalators in 2015.
For those who believe President Trump’s bluntness about immigration hasn’t helped him politically, please refer to the 2016 primary results where he obliterated 16 more experienced GOP presidential hopefuls whose overly moderate political correctness on issues from immigration to the environment disconnected them from the GOP base.
Since then, President Trump’s focus on immigration has turned it into the No. 1 issue for voters. It’s true that a lot of voters concerned about the border and immigration are no fans of this president. But the fact that President Trump has changed the conversation entirely to topics he favors is a major persuasive achievement for a politician in these days of so many other distractions. Even for a president, this is no easy feat. It’s all because Trump was not afraid of those who said the headlines would bury any modern candidate who made a stink about illegal immigration.
- Israel and Jerusalem
Why did so many presidents from both parties refuse to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy there despite promising to do so?
A few negative editorials in the New York Times and an Arab protest or two paralyzed president after president for about 50 years.
It’s a good argument that showing the Arab countries the U.S. feels strongly enough about its relationship with Israel to support peace in the Middle East. But only a president willing to take the brickbats in the press and from so-called “experts” on the region could pull it off. It’s hard to see any other contemporary American politician doing this.
- Trolling His Investigators
This aspect of President Trump’s bravado makes even a lot of his supporters nervous. But the fact is, it would be so out of character for him to stay silent in the course of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that it may make him look guiltier in the end.
No seasoned attorney would advise President Trump to talk so often about pending investigations and legal cases. But he does — because this president fears the silence more than anything else.
While his constant stream of attacks on the so-called Mueller “witch hunt” may do nothing to slow the investigators, it has provided talking points and some inspiration for President Trump’s supporters. The choir needs music, and President Trump’s Twitter feed provides it daily with no filter.
Even prominent people who don’t support the Trump agenda, such as Harvard Law Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz, have joined in the president’s pushback against the Russia collusion probe.
All of this means that if Mueller’s investigation ends with some kind of recommendation for charges against President Trump, the lines of defense will have long been drawn and his chances of political survival will be better than they were for President Richard Nixon in 1974 or President Bill Clinton in 1999.
These are just the top three examples, but the fact is that opponents of elected politicians have always had the threat of bad publicity as a great potential weapon to use at any time. That is, until now. President Trump is not invulnerable, but finding his kryptonite is a little harder than anyone who came before him.
Jake Novak has been a TV news producer and editorial columnist for more than 25 years, with expertise in political, economic, religious, and cultural issues. He has produced shows at CNBC, CNN, FOX, and several local stations across the country. Novak is a graduate of the Yeshivah of Flatbush, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University, and a master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny and watch out for future columns on 5TJT.com.