As the curator of the Trump-as-toddler Twitter thread, I was dubious that John F. Kelly would be able to make President Trump act like a big boy while he was in power. But after Stephen K. Bannon was no longer inside the White House to rile up the president, the hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts did start to wonder whether some degree of normality could be achieved.
The past week definitively revealed the mirage of a maturing president. The first thing that set off the president was the spectacle of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson trying to swat down well-sourced stories that he had called Trump a “f***ing moron.” Alas, Dexter Filkins’s New Yorker profile of Tillerson just made both the secretary of state and the president look worse.
Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”….
All but inviting his colleagues to join him in speaking out about the president, Mr. Corker said his concerns about Mr. Trump were shared by nearly every Senate Republican.
“Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” he said, adding that “of course they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”
The aftershocks of Corker’s claim about the vast majority of other Republicans feeling the way he did probably will be felt for as long as reporters can ask other members of Congress. But it also triggered a raft of stories about how other key political actors have had a similar reaction to the president.
For example, there’s the diplomatic corps, as my Washington Post colleagues Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe report:
After nearly nine months of the Trump administration, many of America’s closest allies have concluded that a hoped-for “learning curve” they thought would make President Trump a reliable partner is not going to happen.
“The idea that he would inform himself, and things would change, that is no longer operative,” said a top diplomat here.
Instead, they see an administration in which lines of authority and decision-making are unclear, where tweets become policy and hard-won international accords on trade and climate are discarded. The result has been a special kind of challenge for those whose jobs are to advocate for their countries and explain the president and his unconventional ways at home.
Senior diplomats and officials from nearly a dozen countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia expressed a remarkable coincidence of views in interviews over the past several weeks. Asked to describe their thoughts about and relations with the president and his team as the end of Trump’s first year approaches, many described a whirlwind journey beginning with tentative optimism, followed by alarm and finally reaching acceptance that the situation is unlikely to improve.
And then there’s Trump’s White House staff, as Politico’s Josh Dawsey reports:
Interviews with ten current and former administration officials, advisers, longtime business associates and others close to Trump describe a process where they try to install guardrails for a president who goes on gut feeling – and many days are spent managing the president, just as Corker said.
“You either had to just convince him something better was his idea or ignore what he said to do and hoped he forgot about it the next day,” said Barbara Res, a former executive in the Trump Organization.
Trump, several advisers and aides said, sometimes comes into the Oval Office worked into a lather from talking to friends or watching TV coverage in the morning. Sometimes, a side conversation with an aide like Stephen Miller on immigration or a TV host like Sean Hannity would set him off.
Then, staffers would step in to avert a rash decision by calming him down.
My Post colleagues Robert Costa, Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker note that the Tillerson and Corker kerfuffles seem to be driving Trump to distraction, and not in a good way:
Frustrated by his Cabinet and angry that he has not received enough credit for his handling of three successive hurricanes, President Trump is now lashing out, rupturing alliances and imperiling his legislative agenda, numerous White House officials and outside advisers said Monday….
Trump in recent days has shown flashes of fury and left his aides, including White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, scrambling to manage his outbursts. He has been frustrated in particular with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was reported last week to have earlier called the president a “moron.” Trump’s Sunday morning Twitter tirade against Corker caught staffers by surprise, although the president had been brooding over the senator’s comment a few days earlier about Trump’s “chaos” endangering the nation.
One Trump confidant likened the president to a whistling teapot, saying that when he does not blow off steam, he can turn into a pressure cooker and explode. “I think we are in pressure cooker territory,” said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.
And there is the focal point between Trump’s raw emotions and the rest of the world: Kelly. The chief of staff will also have to cope with the new distractions that Trump’s sojourns to Mar-a-Lago might create, according to Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair:
When his staff has tried to manage him, he has seemed to take it as a point of pride to thwart them. So it’s only natural that his relationship with Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who is attempting to impose discipline on Trump’s freewheeling West Wing by starkly curtailing access to Trump, would be fraught. But now there are signs that the rift between Kelly and his boss may be irreparable. The beginning of the fall season at Mar-a-Lago, later this month, is liable to be a crucial period in the relationship. The White House declined to comment on the record, but privately an official disputed these characterizations.
According to conversations with four prominent Republicans close to the White House, Trump has grown frustrated with Kelly in recent weeks at what he sees as Kelly’s highhandedness….
The next few weeks will surely test Trump and Kelly’s relationship. As Kelly seeks to revive Trump’s stalled tax plan, prevent the Iran nuclear deal from falling apart, and avoid war with North Korea, he’ll also face the challenge of having to manage Trump at Mar-a-Lago. According to two sources, Kelly has developed a Mar-a-Lago strategy to prevent Trump from soliciting advice from members and friends. (In February, Trump turned his dinner table into an open-air Situation Room when North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile.) Sources briefed on Kelly’s plans said he will attempt to keep Trump “out of the dining room.”
Finally, Trump’s interview with Forbes’ Randall Lane came out, and it contains gems like this one:
Over the course of a nearly one-hour interview in the Oval Office, President Trump stays true to the same Citizen Trump form that Forbes has seen for 35 years.
He boasts, with a dose of hyperbole that any student of FDR or even Barack Obama could undercut: “I’ve had just about the most legislation passed of any president, in a nine-month period, that’s ever served. [He hasn’t — Spoiler Alerts] We had over 50 bills passed. I’m not talking about executive orders only, which are very important. I’m talking about bills.”
He counterpunches, in this case firing a shot at Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who reportedly called his boss a moron: “I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”
Let me stress that each of the excerpted stories above broke in the past 48 hours. The pace is quickening.
What’s next? Ordinary toddlers eventually tire out after throwing a tantrum. But this is when the analogy breaks down. Full disclosure: Trump is not really a toddler, but an overindulged plutocrat who has never had to cope with political failure. With each negative shock or story he faces, his behavior worsens, and that just leads to a new cycle of negative press and disaffected GOP officials. The political effects of this is to weaken his historically weak presidency, making it harder for him to do anything that would counteract this trend. This doom loop means that his behavior is only going to get worse.
That is great for my Twitter thread. It is awful for America.