|President Donald Trump|
Not a good day in Donald Trump’s world as a string of stories from multiple sources describe a White House in daily turmoil.
First, a stunning report via Vanity Fair that describes the situation so tense insiders in the Trump administration have begun wondering if Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis might have to “tackle” the president if he ordered a nuclear strike.
At first it sounded like hyperbole, the escalation of a Twitter war. But now it’s clear that Bob Corker’s remarkable New York Times interview—in which the Republican senator described the White House as “adult day care” and warned Trump could start World War III—was an inflection point in the Trump presidency. It brought into the open what several people close to the president have recently told me in private: that Trump is “unstable,” “losing a step,” and “unraveling.”
In recent days, I spoke with a half dozen prominent Republicans and Trump advisers, and they all describe a White House in crisis as advisers struggle to contain a president who seems to be increasingly unfocused and consumed by dark moods. Trump’s ire is being fueled by his stalled legislative agenda and, to a surprising degree, by his decision last month to back the losing candidate Luther Strange in the Alabama Republican primary. “Alabama was a huge blow to his psyche,” a person close to Trump said. “He saw the cult of personality was broken.”
According to two sources familiar with the conversation, Trump vented to his longtime security chief, Keith Schiller, “I hate everyone in the White House! There are a few exceptions, but I hate them!” (A White House official denies this.) Two senior Republican officials said Chief of Staff John Kelly is miserable in his job and is remaining out of a sense of duty to keep Trump from making some sort of disastrous decision. Today, speculation about Kelly’s future increased after Politico reported that Kelly’s deputy Kirstjen Nielsen is likely to be named Homeland Security Secretary—the theory among some Republicans is that Kelly wanted to give her a soft landing before his departure.
One former official even speculated that Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have discussed what they would do in the event Trump ordered a nuclear first strike. “Would they tackle him?” the person said. Even Trump’s most loyal backers are sowing public doubts. This morning, The Washington Post quoted longtime Trump friend Tom Barrack saying he has been “shocked” and “stunned” by Trump’s behavior.
And this from today’s Los Angeles Times:
(John) Kelly, the retired Marine general who is Trump’s second chief of staff, has sought to tighten the flow of information and visitors to the president, to bring order to an unruly White House and to the way that Trump makes his decisions. But he is often thwarted by one man: Trump.
The president by many accounts has bristled at the restrictions and continues — usually alone on mornings, nights and weekends — to act on his own gut sense, using his own lines to contact allies outside the White House and, using Twitter, to reach those millions of supporters he calls “my people.”
After a wild weekend of attacks by Twitter and off-the-cuff comments, including against a senior Republican senator, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Trump kept it up on Tuesday. He tweeted a schoolyard taunt about Corker’s height — “Liddle’ Bob Corker — and said the senator “was made to sound like a fool” in a New York Times interview in which Corker warned that Trump could provoke World War III.
Trump challenged his own secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, to an IQ test, even as he dismissed as fake news last week’s reports that Tillerson had called him a moron. ”And I can tell you who is going to win,” Trump added, according to a Forbes interview published Tuesday.
Allies see signs that Trump is frustrated with Kelly and increasingly unwilling to be managed, even just a little. The person close to the White House said the two men had engaged in “shouting matches” in recent days.
And finally, things are definitely not going well when Fox News hosts like Neil Cavuto take to the airwaves to address Trump directly with a message like, “It’s not that some of your ideas aren’t sound, it’s that increasingly this erratic behavior is making me wonder whether you are.”
“Now I know that you say that Senator Corker started all this bad mouthing you, but last time I checked, you are the President of the United States, so tweeting out these tacky insults just seems beneath you,” Cavuto continued.
And then, “You are running out of friends faster than you are running out of time. You might not like Bob Corker, but a lot of senators do, and you need those senators, sir.”