You needn’t believe the hype about President Donald Trump being a 21st-century media wizard to concede he has a special talent for powershifting through the gears of the news cycle to blow past whatever current event might threaten his presidency. Whether it’s a function of Trump’s volatility or a measure of his craft, he has a knack for freezing out damaging news by creating his own news storms that transfix the press. He fires members of his Cabinet and staff, over-reaches with executive orders, picks fights with a Gold Star mother and football players, engages in ad hominem, and insults entire friendly countries.
In recent days as bad news has swelled around him, Trump has taken to screaming “treason” and “coup” at full volume to divert the news flow. But this time Trump’s hydraulics don’t seem to be working. Instead of Trump flooding the news cycle, the news cycle has begun to flood Trump. His special talents—if they really exist—have begun to fail him, and he seems to know it. In two recent press sprays, with the Finnish president and on the White House lawn, Trump’s peach complexion has gone scarlet with rage as he dodged and parried all the bad publicity.
You’d go scarlet, too, if you were Trump. Democratic members of the House of Representatives have begun marshaling evidence to prove Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors as part of the House’s formal impeachment inquiry against the president. Two whistleblowers have come forward to allege abuse of power by Trump in his dealings with Ukraine’s president. An IRS whistleblower has filed a complaint alleging that a political appointee at the Treasury Department attempted to interfere with the annual audit of the president or vice president’s tax returns. A federal judge has ordered Trump to turn over his tax returns to the Manhattan district attorney. In recent days, three Republican senators (Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska) have broken ranks with their cowardly colleagues to directly criticize Trump for urging China to investigate Joe Biden and Hunter Biden.
Even the president’s closest ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has turned on him. On Monday, Graham phoned into “Fox & Friends” to denounce Trump’s decision to dump the Kurds and embrace the Turks. The move is “shortsighted and irresponsible” as well as “unnerving,” Graham said, and his anger was shared by other Republican legislators. Inside the Pentagon, the brass also appeared to favor Graham’s position over Trump’s.
At the rate all this bad news is surging, Trump must be pining for the good old days when a new development in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation was his greatest source of grief, and a nasty blast from his Twitter feed was potent enough to repel bad tidings. But suddenly Trump’s best-defense-is-a-good-offense talents are no longer sufficient to fend off the damage. In recent days, Trump has sought and failed to stall the impeachment express with tweets attacking Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., but the press has largely ignored these pathetic lines of defense. In the old days, journalists would have rushed to their keyboards to dissect the Pelosi and Schiff tweets and placed under their magnifying glass Trump’s Monday tweet about the Kurds and Turks in which he referred to his own “great and unmatched wisdom.”
But as the Smiths once sang, that joke isn’t funny anymore. These days, the press seems more interested in charting the course of impeachment and the accumulating evidence than playing “go fetch” with Trump’s tweets. Not even Pat Robertson, a Trump stalwart if ever there was one, wants to follow the president on this one. Trump “is in great danger of losing the mandate of Heaven” if he spurns the Kurds, Robertson said.
Trump’s old techniques are failing—and not just due to the volume of the bad news. What’s unique about this phase of his presidency is that he’s being attacked with so much damning information from so many directions and so many different power centers that he can’t keep up. Not even a street fighter with Bruce Lee’s skills could repulse this sort of pile-on.
As somebody who has never counted Trump out, I believe he could restore his good fortune with some self-discipline. Midway through the first year of Trump’s presidency, columnist (and doctor of psychiatry) Charles Krauthammer took to calling the “general hysteria” the press and the political classes expressed for the president “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” According to Krauthammer and others, this reflexive, partisan hatred for Trump crippled people’s judgment of the man. Krauthammer urged us to stop listening to Trump’s id and pay more attention to what Trump was doing and what he had done. Finally, it appears, the press and Democrats have independently taken Krauthammer’s advice. As we enter impeachment autumn, the only principal still acting deranged is Trump himself.