So on Friday morning, we asked a simple question:
“Trump’s Veto Threat: Political Gambit Or Imbecile On Parade?”
Then, about four hours later, we were able to provide an answer:
As you’re aware, Trump inexplicably decided to threaten a veto on the $1.3 trillion government funding bill Congress had worked all week to pass, ostensibly because it didn’t mention DACA and didn’t fully fund that goddamn “see-through” monument to xenophobia he wants to build along the southern border.
Of course Trump doesn’t care about DACA recipients, but what he does care about is being able to blame someone else when those DACA recipients get fucked, so that Friday morning tweet basically puts him on record as being the President who threatened to shutdown the government in defense of DACA, a truly absurd proposition considering he’s the one who put their future in jeopardy in the first place.
So there’s a sense in which that tweet was a just an effort to give himself some cover on the DACA issue, even if that effort was just as transparent as he imagines his anti-immigrant fence should be.
But beyond that, the tweet was a reflection of the President’s disconcerting propensity to throw caution to the wind every, single morning in what’s either a deliberate effort to inject more chaos into an already fraught political process or else just further evidence that he’s hopelessly incompetent and dangerously unpredictable.
While it’s impossible to feel sorry for Mick Mulvaney (because he’s a truly detestable human), on Friday Mick was just like the rest of us – hung out to dry by Trump (for the full story on that, see “Mick Mulvaney Probably Thought He Had Nothing To Lose Reputation Wise – Enter Donald Trump“).
As we noted in our weekly market wrap, the Friday spending bill tweet boondoggle and the laughably unhinged press conference that unfolded just four hours later marked a fitting end to a characteristically insane week. In five days, Trump:
- announced new tariffs on China eliciting an immediate response from Beijing and tanking markets from New York to London to Hong Kong as trade war “threat” morphed into trade war “reality”
- lost the lead lawyer on the Mueller investigation
- lost his National Security adviser
- suggested he was willing to fight Joe Biden
- threatened to veto a spending bill ahead of a government shutdown only to take it back hours later
Well courtesy of new articles from The New York Times and Politico, we have a window into how Trump’s inner circle is feeling. Essentially, they think the President is a lunatic. Just read this summary from the Times and try to wrap your head around of how insane it is:
Inside the West Wing, aides described an atmosphere of bewildered resignation as they grappled with the all-too-familiar task of predicting and reacting in real time to Mr. Trump’s shifting moods.
Aides said there was no grand strategy to the president’s actions, and that he got up each morning this week not knowing what he would do. Much as he did as a New York businessman at Trump Tower, Mr. Trump watched television, reacted to what he saw on television and then reacted to the reaction.
Aides said he was still testing his limits as president while also feeling embattled by incoming fire — from Congress, the Russia investigation, foreign entanglements, a potential trade war and a pornographic film actress and a Playboy model who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump and were paid to keep quiet.
Note the “no grand strategy” bit. For months on end, commentators and pundits have suggested that maybe – just maybe – Trump is playing some kind of “art of the deal”-esque game with allies, rivals and ultimately, with the American people. As we’ve argued on too many occasions to count, the time has long since passed for giving up on that notion. Trump has no idea what he’s doing and everyone around him knows it.
Here’s the Times describing what happened in the “frantic” hours after Trump’s Friday morning veto threat:
In the frantic hours before the signing, two senior officials said they were uncertain whether the president would veto the measure and prompt a shutdown or ultimately relent. White House officials raced to schedule an afternoon briefing for the news media, although they had no idea what they would end up telling reporters.
John F. Kelly, the chief of staff, in the meantime swung into action to pull the president back from the brink of a veto. Mr. Kelly summoned Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to the White House, aides said, to make the case for the military funding included in the bill.
In the Oval Office, Mr. Mattis; the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen; and Vice President Mike Pence — who had postponed a trip to Atlanta because of the president’s veto threat — told Mr. Trump that the military spending level in the bill was historic and urged him to sign. Mr. Trump finally agreed. He then tweeted that he would hold a “news conference” on the subject himself.
What followed was a bizarre spectacle that was part-signing ceremony and part venting session as Mr. Trump presented his audiences with his dilemma in real time.
Right. And calling it “a bizarre spectacle” is an understatement. That press conference was batshit crazy. Particularly unnerving was the part where he went line by line through the military spending and mused about “invisible” fighter jets and America’s nuclear arsenal.
Now consider these excerpts from the above-linked Politico piece:
The president’s surprise Friday morning tweet threatening to veto a $1.3 trillion government funding bill — and subsequent reversal in a matter of hours — capped another week in which Trump’s impulsive decisions undermined his exasperated staff.
Tensions were running high in the White House on Friday, especially on the communications team, as staff scrambled to figure out whether the president really intended to veto the bill or was just blustering. There is growing concern in the West Wing that the president’s unpredictable behavior is undercutting staffers’ credibility, according to two people who have spoken to White House officials in recent days.
“The press and comms team, more than others, are at their wits’ end,” a former White House official told POLITICO. “I don’t blame them for being frustrated, because they’re on the front lines of this and are directly responsible for dealing with the blowback of the president’s un-planned tweets.
In the run-up to Trump’s announcement [to sign the bill], White House aides privately acknowledged it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that the president would double-down on his opposition to the legislation, plunging Washington into chaos.
Asked earlier Friday whether Trump was serious about vetoing the bill, one White House official said simply, “Who knows.”
Yes, “who knows.”
And that applies to anything and everything Trump says and does on a daily basis. The only thing we know for sure is that he seems to be unduly influenced by whatever he’s heard most recently, which explains why almost everything he says from 6 a.m. to roughly 9:30 a.m. on Twitter seems to come directly from Fox News.
As if that weren’t worrying enough, he’s surrounding himself with hardliners like Navarro and now Bolton and ousting the likes of Tillerson, McMaster, and Cohn. This shift is already showing up in the sudden lurch towards protectionist trade policy and one wonders how long it’s going to be before it starts showing up in foreign policy as well.
To be sure, it’s entertaining. And maybe that’s the point.
But it will only be funny until it’s not.