In comments to reporters at the White House on Friday, Donald J. Trump stirred controversy by lavishing an alleged wife beater with praise that he historically has reserved for child molesters and Nazis.
Reporters who heard the President’s comments were taken aback since, in the past, the President had given no indication that he held wife beaters in the same high esteem in which he holds supporters of child abuse and white supremacy.
“We knew that President Trump considered child molesters and Nazis very fine people, but this was the first time he had put wife beaters up there, too,”
.. “Donald Trump has made it very clear that he can be the champion of wife beaters, child molesters, and Nazis at the same time,” Kelly said. “He doesn’t play favorites.”
Trump’s first definition, in the person of Reince Priebus, was as an executive who preferred to surround himself with toadies constitutionally incapable of standing up to him and prepared to pay the price of slathering him with praise. The most vivid illustration came during Trump’s first full Cabinet meeting, in June, when Priebus gushed, “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.”
Just as Priebus revealed Trump’s insatiable desire for stroking, Kelly illustrated his unsettling attraction to strongmen.
.. The problem, as it turned out, was that Kelly not only reinforced some of Trump’s worst instincts — he displayed them himself. Where Trump resisted condemning white separatists protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville last summer, Kelly followed a few months later with a paean to Lee as “an honorable man” and asserting that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.”
.. Kelly seems to share Trump’s inclination to escalate and allergy to apology. After Kelly attacked Florida Democrat Rep. Frederica S. Wilson as an “empty barrel” and a video showed that he had misrepresented her comments, Kelly vowed he would “never” apologize... He cared more about keeping one of the few capable people inside the West Wing at his side than about having an accused abuser on the staff... When the Porter story broke, Kelly’s response was classic, Trumpian bravado: to urge Porter to fight on and issue a statement praising him as “a man of true integrity and honor.”
Kelly told staff Friday to say he had decided to fire Porter within 40 minutes of learning allegations Porter abused two ex-wives were credible. Some staffers who were at the meeting left feeling that Kelly had effectively asked them to lie on his behalf.
.. It is extremely difficult to square that statement with everything we know. Kelly issued an initial statement Tuesday featuring effusive praise for Porter
.. More important, though, that this leaked out so quickly suggests Kelly has lost the confidence of his staff.
.. White House aides probably could have tried to sell the version of events Kelly told them to — it hinges upon how you define “credible,” after all, and is refuted only by anonymously sourced reporting at this point — but they are apparently unwilling to front for him and make themselves vulnerable professionally.
.. Kelly’s luster has slowly eroded during his roughly six months as Trump’s top staffer — and some White House aides worry it may be acutely painful, considering he takes personal pride in his honor as a lifelong public servant. . . .
The perception of Kelly as above politics has been critical to his success in the West Wing. Publicly, he has come to Trump’s aid at moments of crisis, while privately he has been used to kill damaging news stories, or put a positive spin on them.
But the irony for Kelly may be that the credibility that makes him a singular asset in this White House may have been irreparably damaged by his work in it... It harks to an episode in the summer in which White House staff leaked word Trump had personally involved himself in the misleading explanations of Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer. In both cases, the aides seemed to be worried such misleading actions could do irreparable damage — for Trump with the Russia investigation and for Kelly with his and the White House’s credibility... In both cases, they apparently felt their only recourse was to put out word that the most powerful men in the White House were trying to mislead the American people.
But the Democrats, with their childish protests, took the bait. Symbolic dissent is fine, but this was a cacophony of causes: black clothing (for #MeToo), kente ties and sashes (because of Trump’s Africa insult), butterfly stickers (for the “dreamers”), red buttons (for a victim of racial crime) and the more bipartisan purple ribbons (for the opioid epidemic).
During the campaign, when President Trump’s advisers wanted him to stop talking about an issue — such as when he attacked a Gold Star military family — they sometimes presented him with polls demonstrating how the controversy was harming his candidacy.
During the transition, when aides needed Trump to decide on a looming issue or appointment, they often limited him to a shortlist of two or three options and urged him to choose one.
And now in the White House, when advisers hope to prevent Trump from making what they think is an unwise decision, they frequently try to delay his final verdict — hoping he may reconsider after having time to calm down.
.. The president is often impulsive, mercurial and difficult to manage, leading those around him to find creative ways to channel his energies.
.. Some Trump aides spend a significant part of their time devising ways to rein in and control the impetuous president, angling to avoid outbursts that might work against him, according to interviews with 18 aides, confidants
.. “I restrict no one, by the way, from going in to see him. But when we go in to see him now, rather than onesies and twosies, we go in and help him collectively understand what he needs to understand to make these vital decisions.”
.. Trump’s penchant for Twitter feuds, name-calling and temperamental outbursts presents a unique challenge.
.. One defining feature of managing Trump is frequent praise, which can leave his team in what seems to be a state of perpetual compliments. The White House pushes out news releases overflowing with top officials heaping flattery on Trump
.. One regular practitioner is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who praised Trump’s controversial statements after white supremacists had a violent rally in Charlottesville and also said he agreed with Trump that professional football players should stand during the national anthem.
.. Former treasury secretary Larry Summers wrote in a Twitter post, “Mnuchin may be the greatest sycophant in Cabinet history.”
.. Especially in the early days of his presidency, aides delivered the president daily packages of news stories filled with positive coverage
.. Some aides and outside advisers hoping to push their allies and friends for top postings, such as ambassadorships, made sure their candidates appeared speaking favorably about Trump in conservative news outlets — and that those news clippings ended up on the president’s desk.
.. H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser, has frequently resorted to diversionary tactics to manage Trump.
.. he will volunteer to have his staff study Trump’s more unorthodox ideas
.. When Trump wanted to make South Korea pay for the entire cost of a shared missile defense system, McMaster and top aides huddled to come up with arguments that the money spent defending South Korea and Japan also benefited the U.S. economy in the form of manufacturing jobs
.. If [Trump] wanted to do something that I thought could be problematic for him, I would simply, respectfully, ask him if we could possibly wait on it and then reconsider,” Nunberg
.. During the campaign, after reading a story in the New York Times that said Trump’s advisers went on television to talk directly to him, the candidate exploded at his then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, chastising his top aide for treating him like “a baby,”
.. The president appreciates how Mattis, a four-star Marine general, speaks to him candidly but respectfully and often plays down disagreements in public.
.. Mattis’s focus has been on informing the president when they disagree — before the disagreements go public — and maintaining a quiet influence.
.. Mattis has also gone out of his way not to suck up to the president
.. Mattis has also worked to get on Trump’s good side by criticizing the media for putting too much emphasis on his disagreements with Trump
.. When he has broken with the president, Mattis has done it as subtly possible.
.. Several people who have met with Trump in recent weeks said he mocks other officials in Washington, especially fellow Republicans.
.. Trump upset Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) by cutting a deal with Democrats. In subsequent days behind closed doors, the president mocked the reactions of McConnell and Ryan from the meeting with an exaggerated crossing of his arms and theatrical frowns.
.. “They have an on-the-record ‘Dear Leader’ culture, and an on-background ‘This-guy-is-a-joke’ culture,”
Nine months into his first term, President Trump is perfecting a style of leadership commensurate with his campaign promise to disrupt business as usual in Washington. Call it governing by cattle prod.
.. In the face of his own unhappiness, the president is trying to raise the pain level wherever he can.
.. He cares about ratings, praise and success. Absent demonstrable achievements, he reverts to what worked during the campaign, which is to depend on his own instincts and to touch the hot buttons that roused his voters in 2016. As president, he has never tried seriously to reach beyond that base.
.. Trump has managed to turn an issue that once was about police violence in minority communities into a cultural battle about patriotism, the flag and pride in the military. His critics are now on the defensive.
.. There’s little doubt that part of the president’s motivation is to undo what former president Barack Obama did. He campaigned against Obamacare, although his prescriptions for what should replace it lacked consistency or, for that matter, clear alternatives
.. he has decided to force Congress to act on whether to fund the insurance subsidies that help lower-income Americans purchase health insurance. That’s another way he’s trying to bring the Democrats to the table,
.. Trump is trying to ratchet up attention to those problems but by threatening to walk away from the nuclear agreement has created a rift with U.S. partners
.. Foreign policy experts worry that by opening up a new confrontation with Iran, the administration may be stretching its capacity to handle both matters with the patience, skill and delicacy they require.
.. The president has proved himself capable and willing to start controversies and policy confrontations. That’s what being a disrupter is all about. But there is more to the presidency than initiating conflict, and on that measure, Trump has much to prove.
President Trump prepared for the pivotal meeting with congressional leaders by huddling with his senior team — his chief of staff, his legislative director and the heads of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget — to game out various scenarios on how to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling and provide Hurricane Harvey relief.
But one option they never considered was the that one the president ultimately chose: cutting a deal with Democratic lawmakers, to the shock and ire of his own party.
.. The president was an unpredictable — and, some would say, untrustworthy — negotiating partner with not only congressional Republicans but also with his Cabinet members and top aides.
.. His dealings are frequently defined by freewheeling spontaneity, impulsive decisions and a desire to keep everyone guessing — especially those who assume they can control him.
.. He also repeatedly demonstrates that, while he demands absolute loyalty from others, he is ultimately loyal to no one but himself.
.. “It makes all of their normalizing and ‘Trumpsplaining’ look silly and hollow,”
.. “Trump betrays everyone:
- business associates,
- bankers and now,
- the leaders of the House and Senate in his own party.
They can’t explain this away as [a] 15-dimensional Trump chess game. It’s a dishonest person behaving according to his long-established pattern.”
.. he relished the opportunity for a bipartisan agreement and the praise he anticipated it would bring
.. On Thursday morning, he called Pelosi and Schumer to crow about coverage of the deal — “The press has been incredible,” he told Pelosi
.. The treasury secretary presented himself as a Wall Street insider, arguing that the stability of the markets required an 18-month extension.
At one point, Schumer intervened with a skeptical question: “So the markets dictate one month past the 2018 election?” he asked, rhetorically, according to someone with knowledge of his comment. “I doubt that.”
.. The Republican leaders and Mnuchin slowly began moderating their demands, moving from their initial pitch down to 12 months and then six months. At one point, when Mnuchin was in the middle of yet another explanation, the president cut him off, making it clear that he disagreed.
.. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) ..
.. “I support the president, I want him to be successful, I want our country to be successful,” Zeldin said in an interview afterward. “But I personally believe the president had more leverage than he may have realized. He had more Democratic votes than he realized, and could have and would have certainly gotten a better deal.”
.. Trump is a fickle ally and partner, liable to turn on them much in the same way he has turned on his business associates and foreign allies.
.. “Looking to the long term, trust and reliability have been essential ingredients in productive relationships between the president and Congress,” said Phil Schiliro, who served as director of legislative affairs under Obama. “Without them, trying to move a legislative agenda is like juggling on quicksand. It usually doesn’t end well.”