Everyone observing our politics, or serving in it, still has the sense that anything could happen at the White House at any time. But neither the most hopeful nor the most fearful prognostications about the effects of Trump’s presidency on our political system have been confirmed.
.. It would be hard now to claim that the surface appearance of reckless incompetence at the White House is just a mask for deep strategic genius.
.. Both begin from the assumption that Trump ran for president in order to use the presidency to achieve a set of relatively conventional political or policy objectives, and each approach formed its expectations around some sense of what those might have been. Ten months into his presidency, it does not look as if this was the nature of Trump’s ambition.
.. Instead, his ambition seems to have been something like a desire to put himself at the center of our national consciousness and attention. This looks to be what Trump wants most, and what some of his most peculiar choices and actions are directed toward achieving. Everything else — from policy priorities to political alliances — is always subject to change in pursuit of that goal. This could also be a key to understanding the effects Trump might ultimately have on our constitutional system.
.. Trump’s ambition that most resembles the ambitions of many other politicians.
.. But they also, of course, run to do something.
.. Trump’s exertions in office have mostly been of a different sort altogether. They have generally been neither channeled through the constitutional framework nor directed against it
.. The ideal of the president as project manager was especially prominent in how Trump spoke about his ambitions at the very beginning of his campaign. In August 2015, for instance, asked by George Stephanopoulos how he would carry out his immigration proposals, Trump responded, “These people don’t know what they’re doing, George. They’re politicians. They don’t know management. I get the best people and we will do it properly and we will do it humanely.” Asked three months later to respond to criticism from his primary opponents about his proposal for a registry of Muslims, he responded, “It would be just good management.” Pressed for more details, he said, “It’s all about management, our country has no management.” We have grown so accustomed to this sort of vague, brash talk from Trump over the past two years that we barely stop to ask what it actually conveys.
.. Trump still seems to believe that he has unique management abilities to offer the country and that this job is like his last one. Perhaps ironically, given his now-infamous lack of discipline, his sense of the president’s core administrative function remains exceptionally managerial — and not, in this sense, quite political or constitutional. He instinctively treats members of Congress like incompetent subcontractors.
.. Trump’s sense of the president’s broader functions, meanwhile, has turned out to be fundamentally theatrical. In just about every setting, he is performing for an audience. Thus his obsession with ratings and audience size, his running commentary on Twitter (often calling for actions that he could instead just undertake as chief executive), and his peculiar tendency even to comment on his own speeches as he delivers them.
.. his intense desire to please the room at every moment — which has led him incessantly to shift course and change positions. He seems to want different things at different times in front of different audiences. But he actually always wants the same thing: He wants to be acclaimed a winner.
When he isn’t depicted as successful, whether it’s on morning television or in a meeting with congressional leaders, he says and does whatever seems required to change the story in his favor. He can’t resist such provocations because he is always on the stage, needing to please or save face before the crowd.
.. This has left President Trump open to shameless attempts at manipulation by members of Congress and his own administration who think they can push him in their direction on key policy questions by portraying their preferred approach as a way for him to look stronger.
.. Trump’s capacity to disrupt our exhausted political order and force other politicians into at least modestly more populist directions could well prove a boon.
.. the presence of an undisciplined, aggressive performance artist at the heart of our government — a figure whose excesses are not structurally counterbalanced by others in the system because they are not strictly speaking excesses of presidential power — could alter the public’s expectations of government and politics in ways that are decidedly unhelpful to American constitutionalism and would not be easy to reverse. Viewing politics as entertainment could be a hard habit to break.
.. Washington has experienced the Trump presidency so far as an exhausting, intense, and unproductive circus.
.. Both seem to have been incapacitated by concerns that anything meaningful they do could be undercut by an erratic presidential tweet at any moment.
.. The appointment of judges might be the one presidential function that does not require perseverance — once nominated, they are confirmed by another branch of government and then perform their work without dependence on the president
.. it is frankly hard to say just what the president actually aims to achieve except for being on everyone’s mind all the time.
.. For many decades now, American progressives have advanced an ideal of the presidency in great tension with the logic of our broader constitutional architecture. Trump now offers a far less coherent model of the presidency that is downright unaware of that broader architecture and so stands as a kind of histrionic alternative to constitutional politics. If we are to hold out any hope for a constitutional restoration, these cannot be the only options before the public.
Trump’s supporters and opponents alike are decent and patriotic. If only he lived up to their standard.
.. If his two former wives are speaking truthfully, he betrayed the classic pattern of the abuser: He roughs you up, is contrite, vows to change, roughs you up.
.. You can’t really blackmail Donald Trump on personal conduct because nothing said about him would surprise or shock. Mr. Porter, however, was blackmailable.
.. Why did they let him stay on? Maybe because they were desperate: He was a respected establishment pro who could do the job. The administration struggled to attract such people.
.. I would add the big secret everyone knows both here and abroad and that occasionally springs to the forefront of the mind: A fundamental is unsound. Compared with other countries we look good, but compared with ourselves we do not. Our ratio of total debt to gross domestic product has grown to more than 100% and can’t keep growing forever.
Many are unmoved by incidents such as the ill-timed “Pocahontas” crack or even the anti-Muslim retweets, because they see the anger over these incidents as an expression of either political correctness or a desire on the part of the media and the Left to silence worries about Islamist extremism.
.. most in the GOP to treat the president’s faults as an acceptable price to pay for putting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, along with the reversal of many Obama policies and victory over ISIS.
.. Nor has he been able to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to establish an aura of competence or a sense that the country is in good hands. To the contrary, the tweets and the gaffes have fed a narrative that Trump is out of control.
.. With each such absurdity, Trump chips away not only at his own stature but also at the ability of his party to unite Republicans or to win independents and centrist Democrats.
.. The assumption that a Trump presidency could consolidate or expand Republican control of Congress — the necessary predicate for any of the policies or changes that conservatives claim to want to implement — is being undermined primarily by Trump, not the criticisms of his opponents. Each episode of Trump behaving poorly and demonstrating bad judgment — such as the tweets that can be interpreted as an embrace of a conflict with all Muslims rather than just Islamists — obscures his achievements and reinforces the image of his administration as a circus.
.. Trump is providing an otherwise leaderless and intellectually bankrupt Democratic party with exactly what it lacked in 2016: the ability to mobilize its base of minorities and educated whites by giving them a reason to turn out in the kind of numbers they failed to do for Hillary Clinton.
.. If Trump continues to be Trump, and there’s no sign he can be reined in, Republicans are bound to pay a price for it.
White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci was brought in purportedly to grease the wheels of the WH comms operation and to put the president’s agenda and achievements into the spotlight. Instead, a series of outbursts — including an unhinged late-night rant to a liberal reporter — means the only thing he has put into the spotlight so far is himself.
.. However by Thursday night, the words “calm” and “in control” were on no-one’s list of phrases to describe “Mooch.”
.. Mooch deleted a bunch of tweets after journalists quickly skimmed through his past tweets and statements and found a series of awkward comments, including when he called Trump a “hack politician” making “anti-American” statements
.. “You’re an inherited money dude from Queens County. Bring it, Donald. Bring it,” he said on Fox Business in 2015. Just two years later, he would be drooling over that same “money dude from Queens County” tweeting: “I serve @POTUS agenda & that’s all that matters.”
.. Scaramucci’s first major mistake was to overreact to a piece in Politico Wednesday night that reported on his financial filings and said that he still stands to profit from an ownership stake in his investment firm SkyBridge Capital. Despite the story mentioning in the third paragraph that the record was “publicly available upon request,” it triggered a meltdown from the new comms director, who suddenly believed he was the victim of a leak.
.. But Scaramucci wasn’t done. On Thursday morning he called into CNN’s “New Day” in which he engaged in a rambling interview replete with macho, tough guy filibustering as well as a few wild swings at Priebus.
.. Scaramucci dominated the day’s news cycle, turning his boss and his agenda into a sideshow to the Scaramucci Show. What did Trump do late Wednesday and Thursday? The public could be forgiven for remaining uninformed as the media was understandably drawn to Mooch’s Machiavellian maneuverings.
.. On Thursday night, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza dropped the news that Mooch had called him late Wednesday and unleashed a verbal tirade at his colleagues of the kind that would be a sacking offence for most American workers.
.. Scaramucci has already become arguably the worst White House communications director in modern American history — and he’s only been in the job a week.
.. Trump has long admired Scaramucci’s performance on cable news, but as his own agenda and achievements get drowned out by his scatterbrained comms man, Trump may be wondering if being a tough guy on cable news is a strong enough qualification to lead the White House communications office.