On Christmas Day, a top story according to the media was that Trump was the first president since 2002 to fail to visit with troops at Christmas. It wasn’t just that a few outlets noticed it. It was a theme being flogged across the major media.
Yada yada yada.
Though he called military personnel on Tuesday, Trump did not visit a hospital or a military base. …
By staying home on Tuesday, Trump became the first president since 2002 who didn’t visit military personnel around Christmastime.
The immediate contrast, of course:
Based on a check of NBC logs, President Barack Obama visited troops at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, in Kaneohe Bay, every Christmas he was in office, from 2009 to 2016.
George W. Bush also visited troops every year starting in 2002.
In recent months, Trump has taken heat from critics for not visiting troops in an active combat zone, after canceling a trip to an American military burial ground outside of Paris last month due to weather and skipping the traditional Veterans Day visit to Arlington National Cemetery just two days later.
If you weren’t keeping score, don’t worry; NBC was.
Trump made the trip to Arlington several weeks later to lay a wreath as part of Wreaths Across America, but still has yet to visit an active combat zone.
For whatever reason, the Trumps hadn’t notified NBC of their plans for Wednesday. (Not even the president could make the Iraq trip happen only after the media criticism. This has been planned for a while.) On Wednesday 26 December, Donald and Melania Trump arrived in Iraq for an unannounced visit with the U.S. troops deployed there.
Many Americans remember that George W. Bush made an unannounced visit to Iraq for Thanksgiving of 2003 to visit with the troops. The Trumps’ visit has been carried out with the same prior secrecy. We don’t know if anyone in the mainstream media had the foresight to suspect something beforehand. But there was a scramble when it became apparent on Wednesday that the president must not be at the White House.
There were several tells that something was up.
First, Trump didn’t start the day with his normal flurry of tweets.
And the Marine officer wasn’t spotted at his West Wing post all morning, suggesting the president wasn’t in the White House.
The media were accorded another clue:
Around noon, the Reagan Battalion, a popular conservative Twitterfeed, had posted a photo of what looked to be Air Force One, flying over England.
Air Force One spotted over England just a few hours ago under different callsign, left Andrews at midnight. pic.twitter.com/7kRin3NYmQ
— The Reagan Battalion (@ReaganBattalion) December 26, 2018
The timing seems to line up with Trump’s arrival in Iraq. Air Force One was observed again closer to Turkey, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Of course, some had to go for the immediate snark, like New York State Assemblyman Cory Provost.
It appears the President may have been visiting family in Russia for the holidays. https://t.co/fLym1c1g4L
— cory provost (@coryprovost) December 26, 2018
And this guy.
Trump is seeking asylum in Turkey to escape the Mueller investigation.
— Walter B (@GatorCoder) December 26, 2018
There’s more. Knock yourselves out, dudes. The White House confirmed about three hours ago as of this writing that POTUS and FLOTUS were visiting the troops in Iraq.
President Trump and the First Lady traveled to Iraq late on Christmas night to visit with our troops and Senior Military leadership to thank them for their service, their success, and their sacrifice and to wish them a Merry Christmas. pic.twitter.com/s2hntnRwpw
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) December 26, 2018
— Dan Scavino Jr. (@Scavino45) December 26, 2018
In the last few minutes, the Reagan Battalion has posted another update on Twitter from Tara Palmeri, indicating that the presidential trip has been in the works for about six weeks.
Trump trip to Iraq was in the works for six weeks now, were supposed to take off from Florida, shutdown forced them to change plans.
HT. @tarapalmeri (Who is a phenomenal reporter)
— The Reagan Battalion (@ReaganBattalion) December 26, 2018
Trump tweeted out his satisfaction with the visit.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2018
National Security Adviser John Bolton accompanied the Trumps on the visit, reminiscent of the unannounced Bush 43 visit in 2003 on which he was accompanied by Condoleezza Rice.
Lindsey Graham took the opportunity to make a political point – if obliquely and politely – with a tweet of his own.
We must remember these troops are in Iraq to retake ground from ISIS after Obama’s ill-conceived withdrawal.
The worst thing for morale would be to give back to the enemy territory that was previously taken through blood and sacrifice.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 26, 2018
Although it’s doubtful that Graham will prevail on Trump to rethink the ground troops’ departure from Syria, he presumably knows that, and is thinking more about Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump hasn’t spoken directly and with unwavering intent about removing U.S. forces from Iraq, the way he has about Afghanistan and Syria. Perhaps there’s something to be read there. Perhaps not.
It appears the MSM don’t really care anymore if they are thought by their audience to be consistent and credible. But if they did care, they might spend less effort on finding ways to bash their political targets, and be readier to learn that their spot assumptions about Trump are wrong so often that it’s really cutting into their professional reputations.
Meanwhile, it’s crystal clear that Trump doesn’t cut everyone in on all his near-term, tactical plans, for precisely the reason that the media will simply snipe at them, no matter what. (In this case, there is another reason: operational secrecy and safety for the president flying into a hazardous zone, where Iran-backed Shia militias have vowed to kill Americans.)
Trump does signal what his big objectives are. All you have to do to know the big objectives is listen to what he says.