Starting in the final year of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, President Donald Trump would periodically repeat to his personal lawyer and political advocate Rudy Giuliani a key, three-word phrase. “Control the agenda,” he’d privately tell his attorney, according to three people who’ve heard the president say this.
Trump would deploy the phrase specifically when commenting on, and attaboying, Giuliani’s latest television appearances, media hits that would at times turn comically combative, careen off the rails, and seem to create bigger public-relations headaches than they were worth. No matter, the president typically advised. So often, the point wasn’t to keep the peace but to kick up dust, take the fight to the media, and to try to force news outlets to cover and discuss topics on Trump’s terms, all in the hopes of swaying, or muddying, public opinion.
It’s one strategy that has served this president well on and off, with perhaps the biggest payoff the outcome of the 2016 election. But the president’s preferred media strategy of omnipresence doesn’t always pay off. It didn’t stop the House from falling to the Democrats in the 2018 midterms, and Trump and Giuliani’s devotion to the tactic arguably triggered the chain reaction that led to the president getting impeached.
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