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‘Who Knows’: Staffers, Aides At ‘Wit’s End’ With Trump After ‘Head-Spinning’ Week

"...he got up each morning this week not knowing what he would do."

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:

“Update: Both”

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:

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.

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10 comments on “‘Who Knows’: Staffers, Aides At ‘Wit’s End’ With Trump After ‘Head-Spinning’ Week

  1. This isn’t quite right. Trump wants emphasis to have no idea what he is going to do. Apparently his method – and it is a method – is to “let the day come to him”. He wants chaos. He thinks it’s good for him, as it unsettles everyone especially his opposition; when they are rattled, he can exploit their hesitation as “what is he going to do now?”

    Trump does have a rough ideology. It’s nonsense, but it’s an ideology. To defeat it requires endless return to its basic premises, as you do. The main this is to deny him wriggle room. This is less easy than it may seem.

    Fortunately, the American people are not the idiots he thinks he is exploiting. His time is drawing to a close. The danger is that he will realise this just as much as others may, and take the kind of action that causes millions of people to suffer even more than they are already.

    • it’s funny how people from New York who have actually been around him in the business world all say the same thing. something like this: “stop pretending like there is a method to this and stop buying into his contention that ‘chaos’ is a strategy. Trump is, was, and always will be a complete moron.”

      • This is as blatant as it is obvious to anyone with a tenth of a brain cell. The part that troubles me deeply is that a metric fuckton of people back in November 2016 thought the opposite somehow AND despite overwhelming evidence to its contrary continue to think it.

  2. …and I will drink to that.

  3. Mr. Trump (honorific of elected office omitted) appears to be a comically ineffective executive; his mismanagement of complex and nuanced relationships is killing my net worth!

    However, regarding the 301 sanctions, what ARE we supposed to do about Chinese IP transfer policy? I’ve watched closely as my older brother’s company has been eviscerated by patent theft from Chinese engineers, the pricing power created by their hard-earned innovations cut by up to 90% by clever knock-offs made in China. I have spent approximately 3 months of my life in various Chinese cities, and encountered thriving markets for counterfeit goods in all of them. “Copy? You wan’t copy?” the salesgirls would whisper. The counterfeit goods come with certificates of authenticity, UUID control numbers, registration numbers, RFID tags, every type and method of origination control that any Western designer or OEM can imagine…

    So, yes, I am certain that Mr. Trump’s trade pivot will end in disaster and despair for many (most). But at what point do we decide that the pain of the enduring this rigged game is greater than the pain of trying to change it.

  4. Big Stevie

    Was Trump’s threat to veto the $1.3T spending bill a political gambit or an imbecile on parade? Maybe both.

    Then again, look at what he’s dealing with: 435 swamp rats — I mean “congressmen” — in the House of Representatives and another 100 in the Senate. Sitting across the table from lowlifes like McConnell, Pelosi, Ryan and Schumer, he should use every gambit in the book to create opportunities for negotiation. At least that’s what he’s good at.

    Having said that, I don’t trust The Donald and have no idea what he’s up to. He has probably become what he beheld.

    His veto threat might have been a way to get one of his own pet projects stuffed into the bill at the last minute. At +2K pages, the thing is a massive pork barrel of earmarks and cronyism. We’re already getting blitzed with a media campaign about the jobs it’s creating in everyone’s neck of the woods, the projects it’s funding, the $ it’s pumping into your “local economy” etc. Of course they’ll leave out the part about how it will wreck the U.S. economy. It’s funny how that works…

    Gotta love the DC sausage machine! God knows we keep paying for it; and they’re still just getting warmed up.

    • Big Stevie: from your posting — “We’re already getting blitzed with a media campaign about the jobs it’s creating in everyone’s neck of the woods, the projects it’s funding, the $ it’s pumping into your “local economy” etc.”

      hahaha! that must be the crap commercials I have seen recently – his grand self-promo’s for his re-election campaign in 2020! How sick-o is that??!!

      YOU HAVE THE POWER. GO VOTE.

    • What evidence have you seen that Trump has successfully negotiated ANYTHING, other than the tax cuts. I have yet to see some fantastic unilateral trade deal, solving the DACA problem, Mideast peace, or even his ridiculous wall. Mostly I see tons of Executive Orders, most of those just cancelling previous EO’s from prior administrations. Get over it….he’s a fraud.

  5. George C Scott “ten, twenty million dead tops, Mr president” (Dr. Strangelove 1964)

  6. Anonymous

    If you listened carefully , he once alluded to DACA being tied to funding for THE WALL. The average Trump supporter would not be able to pick up that fact.

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