Trump’s Remarks Rattle His Staff, Threaten Agenda

Top advisers are said to be frustrated over the president’s comments about the violence in Virginia

Gary Cohn, was upset by the remarks and the trajectory of a news conference Tuesday that was supposed to showcase the White House’s infrastructure plans, aides said. Instead, the event was dominated by Mr. Trump’s fiery commentary about the violence in Charlottesville that left one person dead… John Kelly, the newly minted White House chief of staff who was brought in last month to impose discipline in a fractious West Wing, was also frustrated to see Mr. Trump equate the white nationalists who had chanted “Jews won’t replace us” with the actions of counterprotesters, an administration aide said.

.. Some of the GOP president’s allies said Mr. Trump’s foray into the combustible politics of race will make things tougher as Congress confronts a series of difficult legislative challenges, including lifting the nation’s debt ceiling, passing a budget and changing the tax code.

.. Mr. Trump’s relationship with important congressional allies has already soured. He recently attacked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) in tweets for the collapse of the GOP health-care legislation.

.. Blackstone Group LP Chief Executive Stephen A. Schwarzman, who led the Strategic and Policy Forum, called the president on Wednesday to inform him the group was being disbanded, according to people familiar with the call.

.. Various U.S. military leaders at the Pentagon issued their own statements denouncing bigotry, while the Navy said it may consider changing the crest of a ship commemorating one of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s victories.

.. Mr. Kelly doesn’t have the same command over White House communications. On Wednesday, the administration installed Hope Hicks, a longtime press adviser to the president, as interim communications director while it searches for a permanent replacement.

Speaking to staff at one point earlier this month, Mr. Kelly told the White House team that the best job he ever had was as a sergeant in the Marine Corps. After one week at the White House, he joked with them, that hadn’t changed—yet.

Trump Defends Initial Remarks on Charlottesville; Again Blames ‘Both Sides’

Even members of Mr. Trump’s own military appeared to take quick offense to their commander’s words. The Marine Corps commandant, General Robert B. Neller, said hours after the president spoke that racial hatred and extremism had no place in the Marines, citing its code of courage, honor and commitment.

He did not name Mr. Trump, but in a tweet wrote that there is “no place for racial hatred or extremism in @USMC. Our core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment frame the way Marines live and act.”

.. What he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.”

But he refused to explicitly say that the killing of the young woman was a case of domestic terrorism, saying only that “you get into legal semantics.”

.. The president’s raw and emotional eruption during a news conference about infrastructure was a near-complete rejection of the more measured language about the unrest that Mr. Trump offered in his brief statement on Monday from the White House.

.. Again and again, Mr. Trump said that the portrayal of nationalist protesters in the city were not all neo-Nazis or white supremacists, and he said it was unfair to suggest that they were.

.. He said it should be “up to a local town, community” to say whether the statue of Robert E. Lee should remain in place.

Will the Blowhard Blow Us Up?

Administration officials have been trying to reassure journalists that James Mattis, John Kelly and Rex Tillerson have a pact designed to ensure that one of them is always in the country to watch over Trump in case he goes off the deep end.

.. a Nixon defense secretary, James Schlesinger, got so worried about a cratering Nixon — who was drinking and telling congressmen, “I can go in my office and pick up a telephone, and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead” — that he told military commanders to check with him or Henry Kissinger if the president ordered up nukes.

.. In all my interviews of Trump over the years, he never seemed very chesty about foreign intervention. “If only we could have Saddam back, as bad as he was, rather than $2 trillion spent, thousands of lives lost and all these wounded warriors,” he told me during the campaign.

.. His pitch was mostly about turning inward, so America could shore up its economy, security and infrastructure. “Unlike other candidates, war and aggression will not be my first instinct,” he said in his maiden foreign policy speech on the trail.

.. Now, in case North Korea is too far away, Trump is threatening “a possible military option” closer to home, in Venezuela.

.. Watching Trump, 71, and Kim, 33, trade taunts is particularly disturbing because they mirror each other in so many unhinged ways. Trump is a democratically elected strongman and Kim is a fratricidal despot, but they both live in bizarro fantasy worlds where lying and cheating is the norm.

They’re both spoiled scions who surpassed less ruthless older brothers to join their authoritarian fathers in the family business. They both make strange fashion statements with their hair and enjoy bullying and hyperbole. They both love military parades, expect “Dear Leader” displays of fawning and favor McDonald’s and Madonna.

They both demand allegiance. When Trump feels he isn’t getting it or paranoia takes over, he publicly mocks his lieutenants or jettisons them. Kim simply gets out his antiaircraft machine guns and calls up his nerve-agent assassins. He had his uncle killed for, among the reasons, clapping halfheartedly, The Times reported.

“Kim understands Trump better than Trump understands himself,” Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio told me. “He is only comfortable dominating and forcing others into submission. When that’s not happening, he experiences an almost physical discomfort because he feels unsafe. He doesn’t know any other way to achieve status.”

.. Proving there’s no method to his madness, Trump went after Mitch McConnell, who is literally the most important person to Trump in pushing his agenda through Congress and who, as Carl Hulse wrote in The Times, secured the president “the signature accomplishment of his young presidency” by getting Neil Gorsuch confirmed

Trump Tweets Tough

He differentiated between bad leaks “coming out of intelligence and various departments” and good leaks from the White House staff, which just involve people who “want to love me and they’re all fighting for love.”

.. When a reporter asked about Vladimir Putin’s recent decision to expel 755 workers from the American Embassy, Trump demonstrated once again that there is absolutely nothing Putin can do that will make our president criticize him. (“No, I want to thank him, because we’re trying to cut down on payroll. … We’ll save a lot of money.”) What do you think he’d have said if Putin had jailed our diplomats? Expressed gratitude for the free room and board?

.. On Friday he claimed he was just being sarcastic. Still, he couldn’t resist adding, “But we have reduced payroll very substantially.”

There’s certainly something about Putin that makes Trump go gaga. Maybe the North Korean craziness is his attempt to impress Putin with his own manly manhood.

.. Speaking of Venezuela, Trump spoke vaguely about “a possible military option” there, too.

.. Trump tends to talk big and act, um, minimally. Try counting the moments of real change, drama or even strong reaction over the last six months that go beyond verbal, and before you’ve gotten through the fingers on one hand, you’ll probably already be down to the firing of the Mooch.

.. People who’ve dealt with the private Trump often say they found him less crazy than the public version.

Of course, he’s definitely a lazy thinker who doesn’t like to confront a memo longer than a page. But nobody’s perfect.