Basically, it goes like this: Trump is accused of something, and he uses essentially the same attack on his political opponents. Here's how I explained it a while back:
Trump does this often. He'll be attacked for one thing or another and look to muddy the waters by arguing the same thing applies to someone else — usually [Hillary] Clinton. It's completely transparent in its simplicity and brazenness.For example, poll after poll has shown that the vast majority of Americans don't view Trump as being qualified to be president. Trump's response? Argue that Clinton isn't qualified.In fact, the morning after Clinton herself said Trump isn't qualified, on May 19, Trump basically said (to borrow another playground quote), “I am rubber and you are glue; whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”And he has kept up the attack ever since.
Trump did the same thing with accusations that he's a “bigot,” that he was mentally unbalanced and that he had a bad temperament. He did it when some suggested he shouldn't get national security briefings. All of these things were soon reapplied to Clinton, generally using Trump's preferred medium, Twitter. (An alternative name for this: The I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I strategy.)
Hillary Clinton should not be given national security briefings in that she is a lose cannon with extraordinarily bad judgement & insticts.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2016
And sometimes, it happens in pretty short order. In fact, just hours before Trump accused Obama of inflammatory rhetoric on Wednesday morning, the New York Times posted an article about Trump's use of overseas labor. It used that same word — “inflammatory” — to describe Trump's own statements no fewer than three times.
“Last year, Macy’s dropped Mr. Trump’s clothing line over inflammatory comments he made about Mexican immigrants,” the article notes.
Later on: “Consumers offended by [Ivanka Trump's] father’s inflammatory comments about minorities continue to boycott her line.”
And in a caption: “Ms. Trump, whose public persona is at the heart of her brand, is already facing some blowback for her father’s inflammatory comments about minorities and potential conflicts of interest.”
Was Trump's tweet a direct response to that story? It's hard to know.
But as we've noted before, Trump's missives do seem to follow shortly on the heels of criticisms he has received in the media. Shortly after the Chicago Tribune posted a story featuring pointed comments about free trade from Boeing's chief executive, for example, Trump took to Twitter to suggest he might cancel Boeing's contract to build the new Air Force One. The tweet briefly tanked Boeing's stock. (Trump's team denied he'd seen the story, which would make the coincidence pretty remarkable.)
While that tendency is well-documented, Trump's tendency to unite his hair-trigger responses with his rubber-and-glue strategy is less so. But it's still going strong. In another telling example last week, he took Bill Clinton's comment that Trump “doesn't know much” and turned it back on Clinton himself.
Bill Clinton stated that I called him after the election. Wrong, he called me (with a very nice congratulations). He "doesn't know much" ...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2016
Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of Trump's “Art of the Deal” who has become a Trump critic, described Trump's tendency back in July.
Something I saw early on w/ Trump: most negative things he says about others are actually describing him. Read his tweets with that in mind— Tony Schwartz (@tonyschwartz) July 27, 2016
And it made sense as a campaign strategy. When you've got a liability, sometimes the best way to mitigate it is to try to argue that your opponent is no better when it comes to that same liability. It's much easier to drag your opponent down than to improve your own well-earned political problem.
But as with most everything on Trump Twitter, it seems it wasn't just a feature of his campaign; it's also an operating principle of the new Trump administration.