Two years ago today, I tweeted the following:
At the time, I was reacting to folks like CNN’s Van Jones, who said on camera that Donald Trump “became president of the United States in that moment, period,” after Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress. Or Fareed Zakaria, who said “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night,” after the president explained his decision to launch Tomahawk missiles into Syria. Let’s just say that I had my doubts.
At the time, I was not planning on maintaining a thread on this theme. But as story after story after story got reported in which Trump’s own staff talked to the press like they were babysitting a petulant child, it became too good a meme to give up. As I explained back in 2017, “what makes these stories stand out is that these descriptions are coming from fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill in the Cabinet or loyal treaty allies or — most often — from within Trump’s own White House staff. The point is, this is how Trump’s most trusted advisers view Trump.”
Since I started the #ToddlerinChief thread on April 25, 2017, I have curated 719 instances in which an ally or subordinate of Donald Trump has described the president like he is a toddler.
That rate is close to an average of one toddler event per day (11 more instances and it would have been exactly once a day). This seems like a lot.
In the two years I have curated the #ToddlerinChief thread, I have learned a few things. Here are my takeaways:
1) Twitter stinks. The functionality of the thread is ... not good, and I have no explanation for it. If you go to Twitter and start at the first tweet, it runs for about 200 tweets and then mysteriously ends on Oct. 30, 2017. Fortunately, this Spoiler Alerts entry archived the thread after that date, so you can start again with this Nov. 1, 2017, tweet. That thread then proceeds to run for another 200 tweets or so, ending with an entry from July 7, 2018. Then things get really strange for the next few months — the tweets exist, but you have to search for them individually by using the #ToddlerinChief hashtag and a number, like “450th.” Twitter acts like they are not part of a thread. If you go backward from the latest tweet, it only goes back to Feb. 2 of this year.
I have no explanation for any of this, and hereby demand a meeting with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. I think my complaint is a heck of a lot more mature than the actual Toddler in Chief:
2) Reporters are great. I reviewed all of the examples recently, and honestly, I do not know how the reporters covering Trump maintain their sanity. The stories in the “Trump mood” genre are unceasing. The thread relies on no single reporter for the thread, but some recur more than others: the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman, Annie Karni and Julie Hirschfield Davis; The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey; the Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng and Lachlan Markay; New York’s Olivia Nuzzi; and Axios’s Jonathan Swan. These are the journalists who get Trump’s friends and acolytes to talk about him in less than flattering ways, and I am in awe of their skills.
3) Have there been peak toddler periods? You betcha! Since I started the thread, I believe the longest I have gone without an entry is a week. On the other hand, there have been periods when the toddler behavior has been intense. Trump was very toddler-like in August 2017, during the stresses of his Charlottesville comments; in October 2017, when he seemed to be feuding with everyone; January 2018, when “Fire and Fury” was published; and March 2018, when half his national security team seemed to depart; and the government shutdown, which set him off on a regular basis.
Trump’s worst toddler tantrums by far, however, came in September 2018. The combined publication of Bob Woodward’s “Fear” and the anonymous New York Times op-ed clearly caused Trump to lose any semblance of control for a few weeks.
4) The toddler analogy explains a lot of how Trump’s staff handles him. Taking care of an ordinary toddler is hard work. Taking care of the Toddler in Chief might be next to impossible. Unlike other toddlers, Trump has all the constitutional and political power invested in the presidency. Crudely put, he has the power to say no to his caregivers. Without the disciplinary power that most parents and authority figures possess, White House staffers face limited options in keeping the Toddler in Chief out of trouble. The Mueller report showed that they can say no on occasion, but the more often they say “no,” the less likely they remain as Trump staffers.
White House staff have had to rely on more extreme carrots and sticks to get the president to do things expected of him. They scheduled a few days at Trump’s Turnberry golf resort in Scotland to entice him to attend the July 2018 NATO summit in Brussels. John Bolton rushed to lock in the policy document at that summit before Trump had a chance to tear it up, which contravened usual practice. Even then, Trump has continued to transgress in ways that embarrassed his staff.
5) He’s not going to grow up. Beginning this year, a person born on Trump’s Inauguration Day will be more emotionally mature than the Toddler in Chief.