.. more important he was constrained institutionally, in roughly the ways that Republican politicians had promised that he would be — surrounded by a conventional Republican cabinet and (after a while) a conventional White House that essentially governed for him, letting him play the authoritarian on Twitter while the business of the presidency was conducted elsewhere.
.. Donald Trump: a septuagenarian cable-TV addict ill-suited for the responsibilities of his office but still fully capable of attempting to exercise its powers. Which meant that the containment game had to last, not weeks or months, but three more long years to work.
.. And it may not last that long. From his exciting new steel tariffs to his promised summit meeting with Kim Jong-un, Trump has been acting lately like a man less inclined to listen to his handlers — and now those handlers have begun to disappear.
.. it seems less like something happening to Trump and more like chaos orchestrated from the Oval Office: “The narrative of Trump unglued is not totally wrong but misses the reason why — he was terrified of the job the first six months, and now feels like he has a command of it. So now he is basically saying, ‘I’ve got this, I can make the changes I want.’”
.. What would Trump becoming a real president mean in practice? In terms of personnel, it might mean that instead of easing out the hacks and cranks and TV personalities, as his staff managed to do during the year of constraint, Trump will begin to usher out his more qualified personnel and replace them with, well, TV personalities — Cohn with Larry Kudlow, perhaps, or H. R. McMaster with John Bolton.
.. But it also promises to further multiply the number of important vacancies within the government
.. will encourage Trump to take more counsel from the shadow Trumpland of his campaign, where his more misfit-toy advisers tend to congregate.
.. the main Trumpian qualities that have been constrained to date are his impulsiveness and anger and impatience with rules and norms and limits.
.. if he actually begins to exercise the full powers of his office, it’s not so much that the odds of any particular policy course go up as that it becomes more likely that we get more extreme and destabilizing outcomes, somewhere.
That could mean war with North Korea, or it could mean some sort of unexpected and possibly disastrous treaty with Kim Jong-un’s regime; both become more likely the more Trump alone takes responsibility for our peninsular diplomacy.
.. It could mean the real détente with Russia that Trump’s harshest critics think he’s obliged by some corrupt bargain to seek out … or it could mean the kind of military conflict with Moscow that we sometimes seem to be stumbling toward in Ukraine and Syria.
.. different coterie of advisers find new ways to contain and soothe their boss.
.. Maybe Mike Pompeo .. and some combination of TV personalities can do better at managing the president in the long run than the Cohns and Tillersons and McMasters, because Trump will feel that he picked them all by himself.
.. Maybe this president will spend his administration going through periodic frenzies of “I’m in charge” activity, before subsiding back into the virtual presidency of his Twitter feed and Fox injections.
.. if the first year of Trump’s presidency vindicated Republicans who argued that he could be contained, it didn’t tell us anything definitive about whether he will be.
.. a week like this one, with a president chafing against his bonds and snapping some of them, is how a descent from farce to tragedy might begin.