Monday was a busy day for the #ToddlerinChief thread, with a whopping nine entries. The obvious conclusion to draw is that the president of the United States acts an awful lot like a toddler. But these recent entries also reveal some more subtle clues about how to manage this president for the rest of his time in office.
The first piece of data, from Axios’ Jonathan Swan, is that Trump has his special interests as president. In particular, the Space Force:
[Trump] would ask random questions about rocket ships and marvel to hear about satellites and the junk floating around in space. His questions were unfocused, like a student trying to learn about a new subject. “It was just one of those subjects that piqued his interest,” the source said.
Resistance from the secretary of Defense (and outside experts) is not the best sign that this idea makes any sense. Still, the proposed branch of the military has its proponents. I would chalk up this as an example of “stupid but mostly harmless.” It is also a rare case of Trump demonstrating interest in a policy idea, which is probably the kind of thing that should be encouraged.
Also, the whole Space Force idea made me rewatch this, which has to be a good thing:
More significant is Daniel Lippman’s story in Politico on the president’s undisciplined phone behavior with foreign leaders. Lippman provides a lot of embarrassing tidbits regarding Trump’s general cluelessness about international relations. The most disturbing thing, however, is that Trump could not stop dialing leaders he crushed on:
Trump’s love of talking on the phone has created special problems for his top national security officials, who say that he sometimes places calls that have no clear diplomatic purpose.
Trump has what one former Trump national security official calls a “bizarre” fascination with calling French President Emmanuel Macron. “He wanted to talk to him constantly. … Macron would be like: ‘Hey, what are we talking about?’ These are very busy people. You don’t just call to check in,” the official said. (The White House official said Macron has requested a majority of the calls.)….
While Trump’s aides have successfully prevented him from rousing Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe out of bed, Japanese officials — though eager for a close relationship with the president — have also been exhausted by him.
Abe has met with Trump one-on-one seven times, but a former NSC official from a prior administration said Japanese diplomats joke that “he’s had one meeting with Trump seven times because he’s got to go back over the same issues every time.” Abe and his aides have avoided telling Trump that he contacts them too often for fear of harming their friendly relationship, according to another former NSC official. The White House official said that trade and North Korea come up in every meeting between Trump and Abe and that the men have a strong relationship.
To be honest, given Trump’s manifest hostility to most allied leaders, it is a relief to find out that he still likes some treaty allies as much as he liked porn stars. This affection clearly requires some staffwork so as to constrain Trump’s worst impulses. Most of the burden, however, will be borne by the likes of Macron and Abe. Loyal Americans should be thankful that our allied leadership has more diplomatic training than our current commander-in-chief.
The most revealing #ToddlerinChief story, however, comes from Olivia Nuzzi’s New York magazine story on the relative bliss of a White House minus the president.
“There is a sense of calmness whenever he’s not physically in D.C.,” one former official in the Trump administration official told me. To some extent, this is true in any presidency — that the man himself heading out of town takes some of the edge off. But for as long as Trump has been self-imprisoned here, the occasions on which he sets himself free have felt nearly as freeing for everybody else, too — as though the whole town is awash in a big sigh…..
One former White House official told me that the difference is both physical and mental. “You totally feel a sense of relief, because it means he’s gonna be out of contact at least part of the time,” one former White House official told me. “When he’s actually in the building and sees something or wants something done, it has to be done immediately because he just throws a fit. You have to go off and do whatever dumb task he wants done. But when he’s on Air Force One or at his golf course, he can’t really do that because of logistical issues. There’s enough time between him and the people doing the work to slow that stuff down.”….
he former official said that “relief” was the wrong word to describe how it felt to be there when the president wasn’t, or to be in Washington now. Instead, this person described the sensation this way: “You can sort of take a breath. I don’t know if that makes sense. You can catch up, it’s a catch-up day or catch-up week where you can catch up on things you’ve been putting off. It resembles more of a traditional White House.”
And here we arrive at a more serious conundrum regarding the proper care and feeding of a toddler-like president. Nuzzi’s reporting suggests that Trump’s time at Bedminster is a good respite for the White House Staff. On the other hand, the AP’s Jill Colvin and Jonathan Lemire report on the downside of Trump’s visit there:
White House aides have always been leery of Trump’s visits to Bedminster where, as at Mar-a-Lago, he can mingle with members without staff “handlers” surrounding him. Also, there are fewer staff to try to keep him upbeat and, with some luck, away from the television….
While the Mar-a-Lago crowd has a reputation among White House staffers for being dominated by aging socialites with few real-world concerns, Bedminster regulars tend to be lower-key members of the tristate-area elite whom Trump likes and respects and to whom he may be more amendable to listening…..
In Bedminster, the members are more reserved, but when they do come up to Trump with ideas, they are usually more serious and Trump is more likely to direct staff to follow up, White House aides say.
Given the unprecedented access some Mar-a-Lago club members have over Trump’s executive branch, maybe Trump vacationing at Bedminster is not a great idea. Especially since it appears to also be another opportunity for rank political corruption within the Trump family. and Trump’s White House staff.
The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts has very little sympathy for the folk eager and willing to work in this White House. Everyone needs a small vacation away from their toddlers, however, so the policy costs of Trump being at Bedminster appear to be tolerable for one week in August.
In a perfect world, the White House staff would get him to go to Camp David more and his branded properties less. But if Trump really wants to go to summer camp, let the staff recharge their batteries. Because this toddler will remain a toddler until January 2021 at the earliest.