To develop this analogy further, I’m proud to announce that a University of Chicago Press book will be coming out in the spring on this topic. There’s a jacket cover and everything!
In the process of curating the #ToddlerinChief thread, I have benefited from the assistance of many people who catch possible stories containing toddler-like descriptions. On Wednesday, I got pinged about the possibility of another one in a story by my Post colleagues Lisa Rein and Josh Dawsey. The first version of the story suggested that Trump had given up on eliminating the Office of Personnel Management because “Trump soured on continuing the fight after seeing an obscure Washington-area television program about government, according to White House officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.”
There are a lot of #ToddlerinChief entries that involve Trump having too much screen time, so this was definitely a candidate for inclusion. Was he watching “Schoolhouse Rock”?
In an updated version of the story, however, Rein and Dawsey revealed that the program was actually WJLA’s “Government Matters.” This seems pretty … mature? During a week in which Trump finally secured bipartisan agreement on a trade deal, it also raises a question: Are examples like these evidence that, dare I say it, Donald Trump is finally growing into the presidency?
Let’s not leave this reader in suspense: The answer is no. As Aaron Rupar explains in Vox, Trump continues to behave in an unhinged, unconstrained manner. The president’s behavior has not changed one iota, which is why, until this month, the quarterly #ToddlerinChief count had shown a steady increase.
What has changed, however, is something akin to what I warned about back in January: “Shifts in the political balance of power in Washington are altering the incentives for who deploys the analogy.” In particular, two ongoing dynamics have slowed down the toddler mentions: the purging of the executive branch and the impeachment of Trump in Congress.
Within the executive branch, Trump has continued to force out subordinates who have resisted his more toddler-like impulses. The most obvious recent example was the departure of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, who was fired because of his disagreement with Trump’s decision to intervene in the military justice system. Spencer later wrote an op-ed for The Post in which he stated, “the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.” An even more recent example came this week when FBI Director Christopher A. Wray defended the FBI from baseless conspiracy theories. In response, Trump swatted at him on Twitter.
The population ecology here is simple: The more Trump makes life miserable for mature people serving under him, the more likely those people will leave the government and stop being a source of good toddler analogies. Over time, Trump’s staff is becoming as immature as he is.
Impeachment is having the same effect on another reliable source of toddler episodes: Republican members of Congress. The GOP has closed ranks and refused to defect from Trump, which means things like Ben Sasse being Ben Sasse again. Oh, sure, folks like former GOP congressman Charlie Dent will say that his colleagues are “absolutely disgusted and exhausted” by Trump, but that is weak beer.
There will still be regular additions to the #ToddlerinChief thread. Former staffers still spill a lot of beans. Treaty allies are a good source of fodder for this as well. But Trump has succeeded in weeding out all but the most indulgent caregivers. And they will be less likely to tattle.