As the nation was preparing to celebrate its storied independence from the British crown, the president secured his place as history’s greatest jester.
Or America’s first toddler president. Take your pick.
Trump did so by tweeting a doctored video clip of himself from several years ago in which he takes down wrestling magnate Vince McMahon and gives him a good pummeling. The new version superimposes the CNN logo on McMahon’s head. Get it? In the 28-second clip, Trump walks away from the fray unrumpled with nary a hair out of place.
Bizarre comes to mind. Absurd. Ridiculous. Funny, perhaps, to a certain sort. Embarrassing in the extreme to many Americans who would describe themselves as perpetually appalled. What’s next, Trump in his tighty whities atop Trump Tower punching an inflatable Vladimir Putin?
It is baffling to think that Trump is proud of himself and such high jinks, to put it charitably. We get that he’s at war with the media, hardly an original concept at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But no one has ever seen a U.S. president behave in such an idiotic manner. Most adults have a pause button in their brains that shields civilized society from impulsive, inappropriate behavior. For the president, every impulse is apparently irresistible.
For good reason, many in the journalism world have expressed deep concerns about the effect the video might have. CNN’s response said in part: “It is a sad day when the president of the United States encourages violence against reporters.”
We’ve already witnessed one such event this year when Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte, now a member of Congress, assaulted a reporter for the Guardian, breaking his glasses. In a comedy, the audience might applaud the tough guy punching the obnoxious reporter, but this isn’t a comedy. Please, someone tell the president.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), whose recent book laments the absence of people behaving like grown-ups in America, reacted to the video-tweet in strong language, suggesting that Trump is trying to “weaponize distrust” toward the media. It’s not as though the country’s media-haters need much encouragement to act out Trump’s looney-tunes dreamscape. It only takes one.
All is not glum, however. There have been some truly humorous moments in the aftermath of the video’s viral reception, principally from those defending Trump’s cartoon presidency. The ever-earnest Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president “in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence.” How’s that? Isn’t this the same Trump who offered to pay the legal fees of anyone who got in hot water for punching out a protester at one of his campaign rallies?
To Trump supporters who find the wrestling video unobjectionable or, I suspect, hilarious in some cases, I would ask that they try to imagine the same video showing Barack Obama superimposing Fox News on someone’s face, punching him repeatedly and then smugly strutting away.
Very likely these same folks would have stormed the Mall demanding the president’s impeachment.
As an opinion columnist who draws plenty of threatening hate mail, I fear less for my personal safety than for the integrity and security of our country. I’ve covered politics off and on for 40 years, including writing a thrice-weekly column for the now-defunct Charleston Evening Post in 1980 leading up to the first Republican presidential primary in South Carolina.
Never during that time or since have I ever worried that a president’s behavior would embarrass the country on the world stage. Trump’s most unpardonable offense isn’t his implied threat to members of the fourth estate but his minimizing of the nation’s stature in the world. Our allies must shudder while our enemies devise new ways to celebrate. Trump may crack himself up, but he also shatters any pretense of our seriousness as a nation. So much for that shining city on the hill, not to mention the president as leader of the free world.
We look like fools because our president so convincingly plays one.
Trump, naturally, begs to differ. To his mind, he’s acting perfectly presidential. His Twitter habit is simply a “modern day presidential” way of communicating. To this thought, homeland security adviser Thomas Bossert added that Trump is a “genuine president expressing himself genuinely.”
Well, there’s that.
But the act of a president using modern technology doesn’t necessarily convey “presidential,” as most define it.
And being genuine in Trump’s case simply means he’s a genuine fool.
For months, Trump watchers have wondered: What will it take?
Meaning: What would finally force Republicans to face the fact, so obvious to so many, that President Trump isn’t quite right? Not in the correct sense but in the head sense.
The answer, apparently, is Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“This is not normal,” people are finally saying in response to Trump’s latest Twitter attacks in which the president of the United States limboed under his own low bar and chastised Brzezinski and co-anchor/fiance Joe Scarborough with his usual knuckle-dragging flair. Applying his 140-character attention span, he squibbed:
“I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”
This probably isn’t the way Brzezinski would have preferred things to go, but in Trump’s vernacular, she’s been cruisin’ for a bruisin’ for a long time. That is, she’s been calling out The Donald with everything but an engraved invitation to duel at dawn.
And, high time, I might add. For months during the early part of Trump’s campaign, “MoJo,” as the show is nicknamed, was a welcome station for the celebrity firing squad. Around Washington, people had begun referring to the morning manfest, where Brzezinski gamely serves as reluctant den mother, as “Morning Trump.” This was also the period when then-candidate Trump constantly bragged that he hadn’t spent any money on advertising — and no one wondered why. He regularly called in to the show, essentially running his campaign from Trump Tower.
Trump had ample coverage elsewhere as well. When your strength is branding and your name is the brand, there’s little challenge to getting airtime. Cable television anchors and producers not only became Trump’s unpaid marketers but also bear some of the responsibility/blame for Trump’s election. Then, things got strange. Trump won. Then Trump became even odder than usual, even according to his friends and others inclined to like him. Always fiercely competitive, obviously, as well as flawed, Trump nevertheless was able to control his worst impulses before becoming president, Scarborough and Brzezinski co-wrote in a Post op-ed Friday.
Or, perhaps, something is actually wrong with the guy. Plenty of physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists think so and have written me volumes in off-the-record diagnoses. A group of them have joined forces to co-write a book due out this fall.
It isn’t so much that The Donald always hits back, and harder, as his flacks boast. It’s that he’s so thin-skinned, such a political amateur — and so utterly lacking in the fine art of disregard — that he can’t let anything pass. This is the single greatest concern for the witted, not his idiotic tweets in the night. Impulsivity combined with narcissistic injury is a red flag to many for the man with access to the nuclear codes.
And so, as more and more Americans embrace “This is not normal” as the bumper sticker du jour, many are wondering again: Will this be it? Will the final straw be Brzezinski’s alleged badly bleeding face-lift, which she needlessly denied in the op-ed? She only tweaked some skin beneath the chin, she said. CNN’s Brian Stelter, meanwhile, has posted a photo of Brzezinski on the day in question and she shows no evidence of surgery and certainly not blood. What woman has a face-lift and goes bleeding to a famous club where tout le beau monde are partying?
To the point, is this it? My friends, don’t count on it.
Nothing will happen until GOP constituents start shouting and, remember, these are the same people Trump has taught to hate the media. Also, this is hardly the worst example of Trump’s errant charm. Yet, suddenly, his insulting Brzezinski, widely characterized as evidence of misogyny (what about “Psycho Joe”?), is supposed to send congressional Republicans into paroxysms of penitential rebuke-and-replace?
Brzezinski is wonder woman — smart, strong, wealthy — and engaged to marry her best friend. I seriously doubt she has been wounded by Trump’s pathetic second-grader taunts. But I get it. The most one can hope for these days is that enough Republican men can be shamed into defending Brzezinski, a woman many of them know personally — and who has thumbs-down power over potential guests on the show everybody in Washington watches.
Nearly 150 days into the Trump era, no non-delusional conservative can be happy with the direction of events or pleased with the options going forward.
President Trump is remarkably unpopular, particularly with the young (among whom his approval is underwater by a remarkable 48 percentage points in one poll). And the reasons have little to do with elitism or media bias.
Trump has been ruled by compulsions, obsessions and vindictiveness, expressed nearly daily on Twitter. He has demonstrated an egotism that borders on solipsism. His political skills as president have been close to nonexistent. His White House is divided, incompetent and chaotic, and key administration jobs remain unfilled. His legislative agenda has gone nowhere. He has told constant, childish, refuted, uncorrected lies, and demanded and habituated deception among his underlings. He has humiliated and undercut his staff while requiring and rewarding flattery. He has promoted self-serving conspiracy theories. He has displayed pathetic, even frightening, ignorance on policy matters foreign and domestic. He has inflicted his ethically challenged associates on the nation. He is dead to the poetry of language and to the nobility of the political enterprise, viewing politics as conquest rather than as service.
Trump has made consistent appeals to prejudice based on religion and ethnicity, and associated the Republican Party with bias. He has stoked tribal hostilities. He has carelessly fractured our national unity. He has attempted to undermine respect for any institution that opposes or limits him — be it the responsible press, the courts or the intelligence community. He has invited criminal investigation through his secrecy and carelessness. He has publicly attempted to intimidate law enforcement. He has systematically alarmed our allies and given comfort to authoritarians. He promised to emancipate the world from American moral leadership — and has kept that pledge.
For many Republicans and conservatives, there is apparently no last straw, with offenses mounting bale by bale. The argument goes: Trump is still superior to Democratic rule — which would deliver apocalyptic harm — and thus anything that hurts Trump is bad for the republic. He is the general, so shut up and salute. What, after all, is the conservative endgame other than Trump’s success?
This is the recommendation of sycophancy based on hysteria. At some point, hope for a new and improved Trump deteriorates into unreason. The idea that an alliance with Trump will end anywhere but disaster is a delusion. Both individuals and parties have long-term interests that are served by integrity, honor and sanity. Both individuals and the Republican Party are being corrupted and stained by their embrace of Trump. The endgame of accommodation is to be morally and politically discredited. Those committed to this approach warn of national decline — and are practically assisting it. They warn of decadence — and provide refreshments at the orgy.
So what is the proper objective for Republicans and conservatives? It is the defeat of Trumpism, preferably without the destruction of the GOP itself. And how does that happen?
Creating a conservative third party — as some have proposed — would have the effect of delivering national victories to a uniformly liberal and unreformed Democratic Party. A bad idea.
A primary challenge to Trump in the 2020 presidential election is more attractive, but very much an outside shot. An unlikely idea.
It is possible — if Democrats take the House in 2018 — that impeachment will ripen into a serious movement, which thoughtful Republicans might join (as they eventually did against Richard Nixon). But this depends on matters of fact and law that are currently hidden from view. A theoretical idea.
A Democratic victory in the 2020 election would represent the defeat of Trumpism and might be a prelude to Republican reform. But Democrats seem to be viewing Trump’s troubles as an opportunity to plunge leftward with a more frankly socialistic and culturally liberal message. That is hardly attractive to Republican reformers. A heretical idea.
Or Republicans and conservatives could just try to outlast Trump — closing the shutters and waiting for the hurricane to pass — while rooting for the success of a strong bench of rising 40-something leaders (Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Nikki Haley, Tom Cotton, Ben Sasse). This may be the most practical approach but risks eight years of ideological entrenchment by Trumpism, along with massive damage to the Republican brand. A complacent idea.
Whatever option is chosen, it will not be easy or pretty. And any comfort for Republicans will be cold because they brought this fate on themselves and the country.
So much for the notion that the second 100 days would be calmer or more reassuring.
As April drew to a close, and with it the artificial marker of the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, it was possible to conjure a relatively comforting scenario: It could have been worse.
After all, President Trump launched his administration with the dangerous duo of Michael Flynn as national security adviser and Stephen K. Bannon ascendant. The 100-day period ended with Flynn fired, Bannon diminished and the new national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, joining forces with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to provide a protective buffer against presidential impulsiveness.
Meantime, notwithstanding atrocities such as the immigration orders and the House health-care plan, Trump backed away from some of his most jarring and irresponsible campaign-trail promises and rhetoric, from declaring NATO “obsolete” to labeling China a currency manipulator to moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
A 70-year-old man does not change his character or basic approach. Still, the immense responsibility of the presidency molds its inhabitant. Thus, it was possible to detect some glimmers of maturation and even learning. Health care turned out to be more complicated than anyone knew. Heartbreaking photos of dead Syrian children killed by chemical weapons managed to evoke previously unseen empathy.
Not that the first 100 days had been even in the exurbs of normal, with the inaugural invocation of “American carnage”; the flood of ego-boosting untruths, from the inflated crowd size to the purportedly fraudulent popular vote; and the reflexive assault on enemies, including a “so-called judge” and the Obama administration for its supposed wiretapping plot.
Still, in resolutely optimistic moments, you could imagine a White House whose learning curve would continue an upward climb, however gradual and episodic, in which the New York moderates — Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, et al. — would elbow aside the America Firsters.
True, the institutions of U.S. government and society have proved relatively robust. The courts and the media have risen to the constitutional occasion; Congress not so much, and intramural GOP dysfunction has so far prevented the worst from being legislated.
But Trump himself is turning out to be the full-fledged disaster of our worst fears. He understands nothing and is uninterested in learning anything — not just the dreary substance of things such as tax reform but constitutional values, governing norms and the United States’ unique role in the world.
He sees things only through the distorting prism of an all-consuming ego. There is only one Trump instinct — “fight, fight, fight,” he said at the Coast Guard Academy — and one Trumpian dichotomy: friend or foe. He is impervious to embarrassment, no matter how blatant his falsehood. The stain of his behavior spreads to taint anyone within range.
The past few weeks have presented an alarming parade of proof. Authoritarianism? Trump summarily fired his FBI director over “this Russia thing” — after, according to reports, James B. Comey resisted Trump’s demand that he pledge loyalty and declined Trump’s importunings to drop the Flynn probe.
Trump met unapologetically with yet another dictatorial thug, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and remained shamefully silent as Erdogan’s security goons beat up protesters on U.S. soil. No surprise there, from the candidate who urged his crowds to “knock the crap out of” protesters and as president reportedly pressed Comey to jail reporters for obtaining leaks.
Overweening egotism laced with self-pity? Trump used the occasion of the Coast Guard graduation to lament his treatment — “No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”
Similarly, in the Trumpiverse, the Russia inquiry and the newly named special counsel represent “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” In fact, Trump has only himself to blame — Comey’s firing made the appointment inevitable, and the episode demonstrates the justice system working to allay public fears of political interference.
Dangerous ignorance and lack of preparedness for his post? Without evident forethought, heedless of consideration of the consequences, classically boastful, Trump blurted out code-word information about the Islamic State to the Russians at his Oval Office yuk-fest — and, according to the New York Times, derided Comey as a “nut job” whose firing relieved “great pressure” on him.
The national security and diplomatic establishment shudders at the thought of this man at loose abroad.
It is impossible to know how this disastrous episode in our history will conclude, or how grave the damage will be. But an adage from conservative economist Herb Stein comes to mind: If something cannot go on forever, it will stop. This situation does not feel sustainable for a full four years.
John Wagner, reporting for the Washington Post:
As a cascade of controversies consumes the White House, anxiety is rising among Republicans well beyond the Beltway that President Trump’s troubles could take a severe toll on the party heading into next year’s midterm elections and beyond.
With a near-daily string of new scandals and unfavorable headlines — including this week’s news of a special counsel to examine possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia — a growing number of Republicans across the country are watching dispiritedly as Democrats become further energized to turn out their voters in 2018, potentially tipping not only congressional contests but state and local races down the ballot.
“There were a lot of things that were promised to be done, and we’re just getting a lot of noise out of Washington,” said Marc Rotterman, a longtime Republican consultant in North Carolina who was a Trump supporter ahead of last year’s election. “It seems it’s Russia 24-7. When you’re reacting and defending, you’re not moving on your agenda. You’re not fixing day-to-day problems for average Americans.”
Rotterman said that “there still could be a course correction” but that if Trump and Republicans don’t make good on their promises, they risk losing support — particularly from the blue-collar voters who helped propel Trump to victory last fall. “They’re counting on him,” Rotterman said.
Trump arrived in Washington in an uneasy alliance with establishment Republicans, many of whom were willing to overlook his eccentricities if they still were able to make good on shared legislative priorities, including repeal of the Affordable Care Act and tax cuts.
While Trump has issued a flurry of executive orders and delivered on one key conservative agenda item — the confirmation of a successor to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — there is mounting fear that other marquee campaign promises will not be realized, making it harder for Republicans to win elections.
Since Trump’s controversial firing of FBI Director James B. Comey last week, the White House has been in full crisis mode.
“We cannot sustain this level of chaos from the White House and expect it will be anything less than a tragic outcome on Election Day,” said Jennifer Horn, a former chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.
Horn, who was accused of anti-Trump bias during her tenure as chairwoman, said she has noticed “a significant increase in the level of anxiety about the president and his behavior” from party leaders around the country over the past two weeks.
Some Trump boosters offer a more measured take on what has transpired, suggesting the drama in Washington will not be foremost on the minds of voters.
“The next election will have a lot more to do with jobs numbers than Russia,” said Barry Bennett, a Trump political adviser during last year’s election campaign. If the economy “keeps perking along,” he said, Republicans could do just fine.
While many Republicans are frustrated by what is going on in Washington, polls have shown that Trump remains popular with most members of the party and continues to be viewed positively by his base.
Trump also could try to energize his voters next year by blaming Washington’s problems on the hostile establishment he says he is fighting.
However, it remains an open question how many of the blue-collar and other nontraditional GOP voters who backed Trump will turn out for other Republicans when he is not on the ballot. At the same time, Democratic voters tend not to turn out as strongly in nonpresidential years.
The Trump factor already is being tested in several special congressional elections this year to replace members plucked from the House to join Trump’s Cabinet. All have shaped up to be closer than expected, and Trump’s troubles are a particular factor in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District — an affluent, Republican-leaning jurisdiction in suburban Atlanta.
“It’s a close race that shouldn’t be close,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who is working for GOP candidate Karen Handel, said of the June 20 election.
Ayres said that Trump’s troubles are clearly a factor in Handel’s race against Democrat Jon Ossoff, as well as in other upcoming contests.
“It certainly doesn’t make it any easier for Republican candidates in highly educated districts,” Ayres said. “The atmosphere in Washington and attitudes toward the president create a far more energized Democratic base than you’d otherwise have.”
Much more here.
Ashley Parker, reporting for the Washington Post:
President Trump appeared to acknowledge Tuesday that he revealed highly classified information to Russia — a stunning confirmation of a Washington Post story and a move that contradicted his own White House team after it scrambled to deny the report.
Trump’s tweets tried to explain away the news, which emerged late Monday, that he had shared sensitive, “code-word” information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a White House meeting last week, a disclosure that intelligence officials warned could jeopardize a crucial intelligence source on the Islamic State.
“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” Trump wrote Tuesday morning. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”
As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining….
…to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017
Trump’s tweets undercut his administration’s frantic effort Monday night to contain the damaging report. The White House trotted out three senior administration officials — National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — to attack the reports.
The president’s admission also follows a familiar pattern. Last week, after firing FBI director James B. Comey, the White House originally claimed that the president was acting in response to a memo provided by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.
But in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump later admitted that he had made the decision to fire Comey well before Rosenstein’s memo, in part because he was frustrated by the director’s investigation into possible collusion between his presidential campaign and the Russian government.
At the time, Trump was surprised by the almost universal bipartisan backlash to his decision, and raged at his staff, threatening to shake-up his already tumultuous West Wing. His communications team — Communications Director Mike Dubke and press secretary Sean Spicer — bore the brunt of the president’s ire.
On Monday night, following The Washington Post story, the president again was frustrated with Dubke and Spicer, according to someone with knowledge of the situation.
But his decision Tuesday to undermine his own West Wing staff in a series of tweets is unlikely to help him bring stability to his chaotic administration, just days before he departs on a 10-day trip abroad.
Because the president has broad authority to declassify information, it is unlikely his disclosures to the Russians were illegal — as they would have been had just about anyone else in government shared the same secrets. But the classified information he shared with a geopolitical foe was nonetheless explosive, having been provided by a critical U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so delicate that some details were withheld even from top allies and other government officials.
I love my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier. I thought it was more of a … I’m a details-oriented person. I think you’d say that, but I do miss my old life. I like to work so that’s not a problem but this is actually more work.
Rush Limbaugh and listeners of his conservative radio show were not happy with reports this week that President Trump was, as Limbaugh put it, “caving on his demand for a measly $1 billion in the budget for his wall on the border with Mexico.”
Tim from Detroit called in to say he’s worried Trump will “kick this can down the road” like any other politician. Ray from Chattanooga, Tenn., wished he could tell Trump: “Be the man we elected you to be.”
And John from Polk City, Fla., added: “Number one, build the wall. Every time he spoke: Build a wall. I’m afraid he’s starting to dip his foot into the swamp. And, boy, I just don’t want to see that happen.”
In his bumpy first three months in office, Trump has reversed himself on campaign promises now seen as impractical or unnecessary, from repealing and replacing Obamacare in a single day to labeling China as a currency manipulator.
But Trump’s promise to build an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall” paid for by Mexico was special. It was his most vivid campaign promise, and its proposed height grew with every obstacle thrown in Trump’s way, from naysayers saying it wasn’t possible to the Mexican government saying it wouldn’t foot the bill. The most popular chant at campaign rallies became “Build that wall!”
Failing to quickly follow through on a wall carries real political risks for Trump, whose success is due in large part to his embrace of hard-line positions on immigration. There is also peril for fellow Republicans — who have been split for years on how the United States should reform its immigration system — in not taking the idea of the wall seriously enough.
But now that the wall has taken on a life of its own, Krikorian said that Trump and Republicans have to make some sort of progress in securing a chunk of the border with a wall or heavy-duty fence — or else blow the opportunity to show Americans the party is ready to take action to crack down on illegal immigration.
“Following through on wall construction is one of the ways that the political class can win back trust on this topic,” Krikorian said. “It’s a tangible thing. You can take pictures of it and imagine it in your head.”
He added: “Even if the border wall did no good at all to control immigration, it would be important to build . . . Even if it did nothing, even if it was completely ineffective, it’s important politically.”
To Trump, the wall is a concrete symbol of his commitment to cracking down on illegal immigration. To many lawmakers, it’s a fantastical joke that they have to carefully navigate.
Since Trump took office, many lawmakers have been trying to steer him toward more practical solutions for the border involving fencing, increased border patrols and technology. They argue that constructing a wall would cost tens of billions, still wouldn’t solve many of the country’s border problems and could create whole new challenges as well.
“I think we’re all recognizing that his message is one that he wants a secure border. I think at one point that he may have very well thought that that was the best way to do it,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).
Even at the White House, aides have been shifting their messaging to the broad topic of “border security,” with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus using the phrase six times on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday while only saying the word “wall” twice. The next day, Trump softened his demand to include wall funding in a must-pass spending bill — a comment widely viewed as caving to pressure from the same lawmakers that Trump once bragged he could outsmart.
Jenna McGregor, reporting for the Washington Post:
A new poll from Gallup released early Monday finds that a majority of Americans no longer view Trump as keeping his promises, with poll numbers on that question falling from 62 percent in February to 45 percent in early April, a stunning tumble of 17 percentage points. The drop was seen across every demographic group: women, men, millennials, baby boomers and people with political leanings of all kinds. While numbers sank the furthest among respondents who identified as a Democrat or liberal, independents who said they thought Trump kept his promises fell from 59 percent to 43 percent; even among Republicans, the numbers fell, from 92 percent to 81 percent.
The poll, which was taken between April 5 and April 9, showed that Trump’s ratings fell on all six presidential leadership characteristics that Gallup measures. The percentage who think he is a “strong and decisive leader” also took a big hit, falling from 59 percent to 52 percent. So did the share of people who think he can “bring about changes this country needs,” which fell seven percentage points, too, to 46 percent. Just 36 percent see him as “honest and trustworthy,” compared with 42 percent in February.
On two other measures, whether Trump “cares about the needs of people like you” and “can manage the government effectively,” the president’s numbers also fell, although Gallup noted those declines were not statistically significant.
The ratings dive was most stark when it came to women who think Trump keeps his promises — just 40 percent now say he does, compared with 65 percent in February, a striking 25 percentage-point plunge. In a write-up of the results, Gallup explained that the numbers came after Trump’s defeat over repealing the Affordable Care Act, as supporters have become unhappy he hasn’t done more on taxes and immigration while detractors are upset he hasn’t protected middle- and working-class Americans.
What may be most remarkable is that the poll was performed before Trump dramatically flipped his positions on multiple other stances in the days that followed, as The Post’s Fact Checker column recounted last week. After saying he’d move on to tax reform after the GOP‘s stinging defeat on its health-care bill, Trump said in a Fox Business Network interview on April 11 that he would “do health care first.” And in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said guidelines on rewriting the tax code would come only after a new health-care bill passes, although his budget director later said the two were “on parallel tracks.”
* * *
“Strong and decisive leadership” is the only characteristic in the Gallup survey for which a majority of U.S. adults (52 percent) still give Trump positive grades. But even that majority is slim, dropping seven percentage points from February. It followed other polls that have shown a similar trend. For the past three weeks, the Economist/YouGov poll has found that just 50 or 51 percent of U.S. adults said Trump was either a “very strong” or “somewhat strong” leader in a question about leadership qualities, down from 61 percent in the results after his inauguration.
That attribute — a leadership style that’s “strong and decisive” — was said to be extremely important to voters in at least one poll after the last election. A Morning Consult/Politico exit poll from November showed that voters said being a strong leader was the most important characteristic they used when choosing a president, with 36 percent saying it mattered most, compared with just 18 percent who said the same in 2012.
Former Obama national security adviser Susan E. Rice said Tuesday that she “absolutely” never sought to uncover “for political purposes” the names of Trump campaign or transition officials concealed in intelligence intercepts, and she called suggestions that she leaked those identities “completely false.”
“I leaked nothing, to nobody, and never have and never would,” Rice said in response to the latest charges and countercharges flowing from politically charged investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election.
Since they first surfaced over the weekend, the Rice reports have quickly overtaken the steady drumbeat of revelations about connections to Moscow that have dogged President Trump for months. On Tuesday, the subject dominated cable news and flooded Twitter.
“RICE ORDERED SPY DOCS ON TRUMP?” the president retweeted, with a link to the Daily Caller and a Drudge Report headlined “Boiled Rice.”
A number of Republican lawmakers said that Rice should be called to testify before congressional inquiries into what U.S. intelligence has said were Russian efforts not only to roil the presidential race, but also to tip the scales in Trump’s favor.
“If the reports are right, then she will be of interest to us,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which, along with its House counterpart and the FBI, is investigating the matter.
“When it comes to Susan E. Rice, you need to verify, not trust,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in an interview with Fox News. “I think every American should know whether or not the national security adviser to President Obama was involved in unmasking Trump transition figures for political purposes.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), called Rice the “Typhoid Mary of the Obama administration.”
Beyond Trump’s tweets, however, the White House was uncharacteristically restrained on the subject, as its media and Capitol Hill allies expressed outrage on its behalf. “It’s not for me to decide who should testify or how they should do it,” press secretary Sean Spicer said.
* * *
Asked Tuesday whether she was willing to testify, Rice told MSNBC, “Let’s see what comes.” Investigations on “Russian involvement in our electoral process are very important, they’re very serious, and every American ought to have an interest in those investigations going wherever the evidence indicates they should,” she said.
“I have an interest as an American citizen, as a former official,” Rice said. “I would want to be helpful in that process if I could.”
The focus on Rice comes as lawmakers are trying to iron out why Nunes went to the White House two weeks ago to view documents that he later said suggested that the names of Trump transition team members had been improperly “unmasked.” Top officials can ask intelligence agencies to reveal the names to them for national security or other reasons.
The term refers to revealing a name that has been blacked out in an intelligence surveillance report. The law does not permit surveillance of U.S. people without a warrant; if one shows up in authorized surveillance of a foreign person, it is “masked.”
News media reports on contacts between Russia and Trump associates, including in The Washington Post, have included names said to have appeared in intelligence reports — either persons named in conversations between foreigners, or conversations directly between foreigners and U.S. persons.
Most prominent among them is former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, whose December phone conversations with Russia’s ambassador in Washington included references to U.S. sanctions imposed under President Barack Obama. After a Post report on the conversations, Trump ousted Flynn for mischaracterizing them to Vice President Pence.
Philip Bump, reporting for The Washington Post:
We’ll start with the bad news for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.
A new Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday shows that the American Health Care Act, the Republican bill championed by Ryan and due for a vote any minute now, is severely unpopular. Stunningly unpopular.
It is, amazingly enough, less popular than Congress itself.
According to Quinnipiac, only 17 percent of Americans approve of the bill — and only 6 percent of the country supports it strongly. (Congress is approved of by 21 percent of the country.) By contrast, well over half of Americans disapprove of it, 43 percent of them strongly. In other words, more than twice as many people have strongly negative views of the bill than have any positive feelings for it.
Broken down by demographic, the data are grim for Ryan and Republican leaders — including President Trump, who has embraced the plan.
Some things to note:
• A lot of people aren’t very familiar with the legislation, as indicated by those gray bars. But those who are familiar with it are heavily stacked against it, by a 3-to-1 margin.
• Among no demographic group does a majority approve of the bill.
• Among only three groups — Republicans, older Americans and whites without college degrees — does less than half of the population disapprove.
• Only among Republicans and those 65 and older does more than 10 percent of the population approve of the bill strongly.
• In every group except Republicans, more than a third of the population views the legislation strongly negatively.
The three groups that are below 50 percent disapproval are, as you likely noticed, groups that backed Trump strongly in the 2016 election. Across the board, Trump’s approval rating from each demographic group was much higher than the legislation’s approval rating — generally about twice as high.
Robert Costa and Philip Rucker, reporting for The Washington Post:
A simmering rebellion of conservative populists loyal to President Trump is further endangering the GOP health-care push, with a chorus of influential voices suspicious of the proposal warning the president to abandon it.
From headlines at Breitbart to chatter on Fox News Channel and right-wing talk radio, as well as among friends who have Trump’s ear, the message has been blunt: The plan being advanced by congressional Republican leaders is deeply flawed — and, at worst, a political trap.
Trump’s allies worry that he is jeopardizing his presidency by promoting the bill spearheaded by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), arguing that it would fracture Trump’s coalition of working- and middle-class voters, many of them older and subsisting on federal aid.
Vice President Pence and administration officials scrambled Tuesday to salvage the plan amid widespread dissatisfaction in both the Senate and House over the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate that 24 million fewer people would be insured in a decade under the Ryan proposal, titled the American Health Care Act.
Trump — who has not yet fully used the bully pulpit of the presidency to rally support for the plan — spoke privately with Ryan on Tuesday afternoon. They discussed the various factions, the opinions of several key lawmakers and developing a closing strategy, according to two people with knowledge of the call.
Trump loyalists warned that the president was at risk of violating some of his biggest campaign promises — such as providing broad health coverage for all Americans and preserving Medicaid and other entitlement programs — in service to an ideological project championed for years by Ryan and other establishment Republicans.
“Trump figures things out pretty quickly, and I think he’s figuring out this situation, how the House Republicans did him a disservice,” said Christopher Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend. “President Trump is a big-picture, pragmatic Republican, and unfortunately the Ryan Republican plan doesn’t capture his worldview.”
Inside the White House, senior officials said they are taking note of the mounting opposition. “You can’t be so blind that you’re not seeing the outside noise,” said one adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the adviser was not authorized to speak publicly.
A second adviser, who also requested anonymity to speak candidly, said, “We take their views seriously and we’re listening, but we do appreciate when those concerns are shared privately and with a smaller megaphone.”
Much more here.
Catherine Rampell, reporting in the Washington Post:
Time to trade in those red #MAGA caps, Trumpkins. If you want your headgear to fit in with the latest White House fashions, invest in some tinfoil.
From top to bottom, this administration has been infested with conspiracy theorists. Most appear to be true believers. Take Stephen K. Bannon and his anxieties about the “deep state,” or the recently ousted Michael Flynn and his propagation of suggestions that Hillary Clinton was tied to a child sex ring run out of a D.C. pizza parlor.
Others, such as Kellyanne Conway, appear to just be paranoiacs for pay.
Conway seems convinced that the best way to stay in her boss’s good graces is to spread parody-defying crackpot theories, or at least add a dash of color to President Trump’s own crackpottery.
You may recall that Trump, with zero evidence, accused President Barack Obama of having the “wires tapped” at Trump Tower. Trump then called for a congressional witch hunt to find proof that the unfounded allegation is true. Over the weekend, Bergen Record columnist Mike Kelly asked Conway point blank, “Do you know whether Trump Tower was wiretapped?”
Conway’s response: “What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other now, unfortunately. . . . There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, through their — certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways. And microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera.”
Yup, Conway suggested that Team Trump may have been surveilled via microwaves and televisions. To be fair, though, if one were to spy on Trump, through the TV would be a good place to start.
* * *
It’s hardly just coincidence that the Trump executive branch is rife with beliefs that are wholly disconnected from reality. Such beliefs were a foundation of his campaign. Of course this would be the talent he attracts. Not scientists, experts or others who believe in weighing evidence, but people who heard Trump’s many malicious lies and reckless insinuations — that vaccines cause autism, that Ted Cruz’s dad was connected to the JFK assassination, that Mexicans are flooding over the border to rape and kill, that Antonin Scalia and Vince Foster may have been murdered, that 3 million people voted illegally, that our first black president was born in Kenya — and said: “Sign me up!”
That includes people such as Curtis Ellis, a Labor Department appointee who previously argued that Democrats were engaged in “ethnic cleansing” of working-class whites. Or Sid Bowdidge, the massage therapist with no relevant experience who landed a job as a political appointee at the Energy Department, despite tweeting that Muslims ought to be exterminated and Obama was related to radical Islamist terrorists.
As Conway has demonstrated, the darker and more sensational your conspiracy theories, the better. For this administration, only one political premise is beyond the pale: that the Russians maybe, just maybe, intervened in the 2016 election to help put Trump in the White House.
Whoa, let’s not get carried away.
Abby Phillip, reporting in the Washington Post:
A day after President Trump alleged — without offering any evidence — that President Barack Obama had ordered the wiretapping of the Republican’s campaign headquarters, the White House said it won’t comment further until congressional oversight committees investigate the matter.
In a statement, White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited unknown “reports” of “potentially politically motivated investigations” during the 2016 campaign, calling them “troubling.”
“Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling,” Spicer said. “President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.”
* * *
Speaking on NBC News on Sunday morning, former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., who served in that post in the Obama administration, flatly denied that a wiretap was authorized against Trump or his campaign during his tenure.
“There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time as a candidate or against his campaign,” Clapper said on “Meet the Press.”
He added that he would “absolutely” have been informed if the FBI had sought or received a warrant to wiretap Trump or his campaign.
“I can deny it,” Clapper continued.
The White House’s escalation of Trump’s claims were kept at arm’s length by congressional Republicans appearing on Sunday morning news broadcasts.
“Whether that’s a FISA court application or denial of that application or a re-submission of that application, that doesn’t mean that none of these things happened. It just means we haven’t seen that yet,” Cotton added, speaking on Fox News Sunday.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he is not aware of evidence to back up the president’s claim.
“I have no insight into exactly what he’s referring to,” Rubio said on “Meet the Press.” “The president put that out there, and now the White House will have to answer for exactly what he was referring to.”
Obama’s allies were more blunt, denying flatly that the former president had ordered a wiretap of Trump’s campaign.
President Trump’s Russia problems just got a whole lot worse.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kisylak twice in 2016, according to The Washington Post, conversations that run directly counter to Sessions’s assertions during his confirmation hearing to be the nation’s top cop.
In that Judiciary Committee hearing Jan. 1o, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Sessions whether he was aware of any contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence officials. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions replied.
It does not take a political genius to understand how big a problem this is for Sessions, Trump and congressional Republicans more broadly. (Sessions’s response — I talked to a lot people! — isn’t going to cut it.)
Before this report, most congressional Republicans were resistant to the idea of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the contacts between Russia and Trump campaign officials and surrogates — insisting that the ongoing FBI investigation and congressional committees looking into the issue were more than enough.
That’s going to become an untenable position for Republicans — starting with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — in light of this new information about Sessions. Not only is there a very serious question about whether Sessions misled — purposely or accidentally — his colleagues while under oath, but this is only the latest incident involving unanswered questions about the ties among Trump, his top advisers and Russia.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn lost his job last month after lying to Vice President Pence — and lots of other people — about the nature of his conversations with Kisylak. Trump has repeatedly refused to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin while insisting that stories about his ties to Russia are “fake news.”
In short: Where there’s smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke, most reasonable people will assume there is fire — or that there should be an independent investigation to determine whether there is fire. Arguing that “there’s nothing to see here” is simply not a tenable position for Republicans at this point.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R), who has been outspoken in raising doubts about Trump and Russia, was blunt about what needs to happen if Sessions spoke to Kisylak.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) March 2, 2017
I suspect lots of Republicans will follow Graham’s lead over the next 24 or 48 hours. The details here — particularly given the Flynn resignation — almost certainly will force an act of political triage from GOPers. They need to find a way to wall themselves off from what, with each passing day, is becoming more and more toxic. Otherwise, the spillage could leak all over them.