Not since Richard Nixon started talking to the portraits on the walls of the West Wing has a president seemed so alone against the world.
One source — who is a presidential ally — is worried, really worried. The source says this past week is “different,” that advisers are scared the President is spiraling, lashing out, just out of control. For example: Demanding to hold a public session where he made promises on trade tariffs before his staff was ready, not to mention willing. “This has real economic impact,” says the source, as the Dow dropped 420 points after the President’s news Thursday. “Something is very wrong.”
Even by Trumpian standards, the chaos and the unraveling at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are a stunning — and recurring — problem.
But there’s an up-against-the-wall quality to the past couple of weeks that is striking, and the crescendo is loud, clear, unhealthy, even dangerous.
A brief summary: The Rob Porter wife abuse scandal, and the resulting security clearance scandal, in which the President’s son-in-law gets his clearance downgraded.
Then the President (yet again) attacks his attorney general. The AG fights back; the President fumes. Meantime, he’s also fuming at the free-spending cabinet officials’ scandals, the unseemly expenditures brought to you by Trump’s version of the best and the brightest. (See: Ben Carson’s dining room set.)
Then consider these odd developments: Trump agrees with Democrats on gun control in a public session. Then he takes on Republicans and some of his own economic team by proposing steel and aluminum tariffs.
His career ambassador to Mexico quits after President Peña Nieto cancels a trip to the United States following a bad phone call (build the wall?) with the President.
His communications director, Hope Hicks — a loyal, longtime aide who provided his “emotional support,” according to one source — resigns. And one friend predicted to me this would likely send the President into a “tailspin.” (Consider that box checked.)
Oh, and the Russia probe continues — with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates flipping to cooperate with the special counsel, who is asking questions about Trump’s Russia connections, among other uncomfortable things.
And — in the midst of all of this tumult — the President announces the hiring of the man to run his 2020 re-election bid. Because, why not?
The President is stewing, according to one source with knowledge, blaming everyone but himself for the tumult: his chief of staff Gen. John Kelly for mishandling the clearance issue, Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, Republicans for being afraid of the NRA, Democrats for obstructing everything.
So the President has gone rogue, which is not a healthy development. “Morale is as bad as it’s ever been,” says another source familiar with the situation inside the White House, echoing the comments of Anthony Scaramucci in a CNN interview Thursday. What’s more, the source lamented, “The good people are being driven crazy.”
That almost goes without saying.
Multiple sources report an increasingly isolated Trump: cordoned off from old friends by Kelly, getting the cold shoulder from wife Melania (after Stormy Daniels and friends), increasing friction with his daughter and son-in-law over clearance, and home alone without longtime bodyguard/friend Keith Schiller and Hicks. His economic team is split over tariffs; his national security adviser, according to reports, will be replaced soon. No doubt the exodus will continue.
And the President — who has bullied Jeff Sessions regularly since the summer — is now furious that the attorney general has dared defend his department against a President who called it “disgraceful.” A man who prides himself on his instinct to counterpunch finds it shocking when someone punches back. Oh the irony of Trump!
“Some of these things don’t bother him like they do other people,” offers another old friend, trying to explain the chaos, or at least how Donald Trump regards it.
That may be true. Maybe this great unraveling doesn’t bother him.
But it should bother us.