Trump and The Surprise Doctrine

The Boston Globe’s Ideas section on Sunday offered a look at Donald Trump’s America. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot to it because Trump is so adept at talking in an entertaining way without saying much of substance.

The Globe’s Alex Kingsbury, in a letter to his editor, said he had been unable to complete his assignment, to articulate what a Trump administration would look like. He said it was impossible to pin Trump down on his specific plans for the nation and the world. “Apparently, this is by design,” Kingsbury wrote.

Kingsbury dubbed Trump’s lack of specificity The Surprise Doctrine, a reference to the candidate’s belief that laying out the details of a policy position could undermine his ability to carry it out. For example, Trump told a crowd in Lowell that he was going to destroy ISIS, but he declined to say how he would do it. “I don’t want to tell people. I want to surprise them,” he said.

Similarly, he vowed to build a fence along the border between the United States and Mexico and have Mexico pay for it. How he would accomplish that will be a surprise. He promises tax relief for the middle class, but how he would do that in a deficit-neutral way will be a surprise.

Dave Shiflett, who wrote Trump’s first campaign book back in 2000, said Trump’s campaign positions are not the reason why he is riding high in the polls. Shiflett said Trump is leading because he is entertaining. “The current political season would be a snoozefest without him,” said Shiflett. “Who wakes up wondering what Marco Rubio, Jeb!, or Bernie Sanders will say today?”

Shiflett says a debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton would be the political equivalent of a battle of the bands between Black Sabbath and Adele.

With the Globe’s Trump analysis in hand, I reviewed what the GOP frontrunner had to say over the last few days. On Monday, the thrice-divorced Trump was in Virginia courting evangelicals at Liberty University. He promised to “protect Christianity.” He said “the Bible is the best.” And he promised that if he is elected president “you’re going to see ‘Merry Christmas’ in department stores.” (No details provided on how he would protect Christianity.)

On Saturday, he followed the same approach in a speech to New Hampshire voters at an event hosted by former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown. Trump welcomed the prisoner exchange between Iran and the United States, but said it was a disgrace that the Americans had been held so long in Iran and that seven Iranians were swapped for four Americans. It was his way of suggesting that America has lost standing in the world and needs a stronger leader. (No mention of what he would do differently.)

Trump also managed to charm Brown when someone in the crowd suggested that he’d make a great vice president. “He’s central casting,” Trump said of Brown. “Look at that guy! He’s central casting. A great guy and a beautiful wife and a great family. So important!”

Optics, apparently, are everything.




Former House Speaker Sal DiMasi’s lawyers will argue next month before the Supreme Judicial Court that he is entitled to $127,000 in pension payments, despite his felony conviction on corruption charges. (Boston Herald)


Mayor Marty Walsh plans to focus on the Boston public schools in tonight’s State of the City address. He’ll hear from parents and others outside Symphony Hall who plan a demonstration protesting $50 million in planned cuts to the system. (Boston Globe)

Public pressure is forcing the Mashpee School Committee to undergo a reorganization after the chairman refused to release a report from an investigation into the superintendent, who is facing charges after allegedly barging into a student’s home. (Cape Cod Times)

Property taxes are up about $200 per year on the average single family home in Massachusetts. (Boston Globe)


Suffolk Construction has landed the $1 billion contract to build the Wynn Resorts casino in Everett. (Boston Globe)


John McDonough dissects the health care faceoff that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton had in Sunday night’s Democratic debate — and concludes that Clinton’s position is more grounded in current realities. (CommonWealth) Globe columnist Michael Cohen sounds a similar theme, writing that Sanders gets “praised for being authentic” when he proposes unrealistic plans that have little chance of being passed even by Democrats in Congress.  Perhaps also related: Sanders has become an unlikely star among college students. (Boston Globe)

Donald Trump has leased out a theater in Iowa so voters there can see the film 13 Hours for free in hopes of injecting memories of Benghazi and GOP claims of Hillary Clinton’s role in the deaths of four Americans into the middle of the caucus. (U.S. News & World Report).

GOP asks whether Trump has fans or voters. (Associated Press)

A Republican opponent for US Rep. Seth Moulton is hard to find. (Salem News)


Evan Falchuk, of the United Independent Party, applauds General Electric’s move to Boston — but questions why public tax dollars have to be spent to lure one of the country’s biggest companies. (CommonWealth)

Gin Dumcius looks at the longstanding issue of GE’s contamination of the Housatonic River from its former plant in Pittsfield, a matter still not resolved decades after the factory closed. (MassLive)  GE is remembered in Pittsfield — for good and for ill, writes Shira Schoenberg.

A Boston Herald editorial rolls its eyes at the “Fight for 15” campaign to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.


The Registry of Motor Vehicles immediately suspended the license of a Quincy cab driver who was arrested Friday while transporting three students to Brockton schools and charged with child endangerment, operating under the influence and having an open container in the taxi after he hit another car. (The Enterprise)


The Globe raises new questions about a New Jersey company that owns 11 nursing homes in Massachusetts after a patient falls and dies two later after being improperly moved using a mechanical lift.

Health insurers step up to help stem the opioid crisis in Massachusetts. (WBUR)


Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack says one of the biggest reasons the MBTA seems to be failing more often isn’t because there are more problems but because there is more communication from officials telling riders about the problems so they’re hearing it more often. (Keller@Large)


The state Department of Environmental Protection has issued updated guidelines and a new mapping tool to show cities and towns where to dispose of snow without impacting wetlands or other environmentally sensitive areas. (The Enterprise)


The Metrowest Daily News takes a look at the infamous Neil Entwhistle murders on the 10-year anniversary of the gruesome slayings, including a look at the daily life behind bars of the British citizen who killed his wife and baby daughter in Hopkinton and a take by an author who says there are holes in the investigation and conviction of Entwhistle.

More than half of those stopped by Boston police for field interrogations from 2011 through April 2015 were black males. (

One of the biggest advocates for legalizing marijuana in the state is facing criminal marijuana charges. (Boston Globe)


Univision acquires a controlling stake in the satirical news site The Onion. (NPR)

At least four national news organizations had prior knowledge of the American-Iranian prisoner swap but withheld stories until after the exchange. (New York Times)

OMG, ppl mayB forced to talk 2 each other: Twitter was experiencing unexplained worldwide service shutdowns Tuesday morning, preventing about 300 million users from accessing their accounts. (New York Times)


2016 is not off to a good start for music fans: Glenn Frey, one of the founders of legendary rock group the Eagles, died Monday. He was 67. (New York Times)