The President of the United States is treated like a child. Daniel Drezner—a professor at the Fletcher School and columnist for The Washington Post—has a brilliant and depressing running thread on Twitter that began in April. He simply highlights quotes from Trump advisors and tweets “I’ll believe that Trump is growing into the presidency when his staff stops talking about him like a toddler.” It never stops, and after yesterday, Drezner has a whole new set of robust material to work with.
Because Trump doesn’t really listen to anyone but the “fake news media,” every so often, we go through this ritual where a bunch of stories magically appear out of nowhere with quotes attributed to advisors either on the record, or they are identified as those serving in more senior positions. Regardless, it’s clearly a tactic his people use to get his attention when they feel like he won’t listen in private. If you think that’s an absurd notion, remember, this is a man who prefers to get his intelligence briefings from Fox & Friends instead of the CIA.
Yesterday, three stories dropped in Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post that all look like a cry for help amongst those closest to The Donald. Another WaPo piece dropped today, detailing the struggle behind the scenes over the Iran deal. The Vanity Fair piece is the most shocking, not just because it contains a wealth of brutal quotes and anecdotes, but also because it was authored by Gabriel Sherman—who has been reporting on Fox News as long as anyone—meaning that he has pretty much all the conservative contacts one needs in order to accurately cover the Republican Party.
The WaPo piece from yesterday was instructive, as they ran an interview with longtime Trump confidant Tom Barrack. If someone Trump trusts most in the world is telling the Fake Amazon Washington Post that Trump is having problems, then that’s as sure a sign as anything that Trump isn’t listening to those around him. Here are the 15 clearest examples from these four articles that suggest the President of the United States really may be unraveling.
But now it’s clear that Bob Corker’s remarkable New York Times interview…was an inflection point in the Trump presidency. It brought into the open what several people close to the president have recently told me in private: that Trump is “unstable,” “losing a step,” and “unraveling.”
Trump’s ire is being fueled by his stalled legislative agenda and, to a surprising degree, by his decision last month to back the losing candidate Luther Strange in the Alabama Republican primary. “Alabama was a huge blow to his psyche,” a person close to Trump said. “He saw the cult of personality was broken.”
According to two sources familiar with the conversation, Trump vented to his longtime security chief, Keith Schiller, “I hate everyone in the White House! There are a few exceptions, but I hate them!” (A White House official denies this.)
One former official even speculated that Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have discussed what they would do in the event Trump ordered a nuclear first strike. “Would they tackle him?”
Quick note: “one former official even speculated” does not equal this happening. I’ve seen this quote thrown around irresponsibly, and you should be ashamed if you removed the context from this off-hand observation to make it seem like an actual report that the president and his chief of staff are wrestling over the nuclear football. Things are bad enough as is—there’s no need to embellish these reports.
And, according to two sources, Keith Schiller quit last month after Kelly told Schiller he needed permission to speak to the president and wanted written reports of their conversations.
The adviser said aides were relieved when Trump canceled his appearance on the season premiere of 60 Minutes last month. “He’s lost a step. They don’t want him doing adversarial TV interviews,” the adviser explained.
Several months ago, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversation, former chief strategist Steve Bannon told Trump that the risk to his presidency wasn’t impeachment, but the 25th Amendment—the provision by which a majority of the Cabinet can vote to remove the president. When Bannon mentioned the 25th Amendment, Trump said, “What’s that?” According to a source, Bannon has told people he thinks Trump has only a 30 percent chance of making it the full term.
Fox host Sean Hannity made clear in a phone call and on his show that Trump must draw a harder line on broader immigration enforcement as his price.
Trump sided with Hannity, according to a person close to the White House.
Allies see signs that Trump is frustrated with Kelly and increasingly unwilling to be managed, even just a little. The person close to the White House said the two men had engaged in “shouting matches” in recent days. (Hannity declined to comment about his role in advising the president on immigration policy.)
“The president has started to call people more on the weekends, from the cellphone, which he didn’t used to do,” the person said, noting that Trump often calls Hannity after the Fox News host’s nightly show. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to preserve relations with Trump.
“Every time it says on MSNBC or CNN, which you know he watches, ‘This is the adult.… Thank God they stopped him,’ it all gets to him.”
Barrack, in interviews with The Washington Post, said he has been “shocked” and “stunned” by some of the president’s rhetoric and inflammatory tweets.
“He thinks he has to be loyal to his base,” Barrack said. “I keep on saying, ‘But who is your base? You don’t have a natural base. Your base now is the world and America, so you have all these constituencies; show them who you really are.’ In my opinion, he’s better than this.”
“I tell him all the time: I don’t like the rhetoric,” Barrack, who runs a large real estate investment company, said at his Manhattan office.
Those who know and have worked with Trump say he is not averse to taking advice from Kelly or anyone else. But challenges to his authority can only go so far when people offer their critiques.
“My experience is he welcomes it. He just doesn’t like to be publicly criticized and he certainly doesn’t like to be personally criticized,” said Christopher Ruddy, a friend who publishes Newsmax, a conservative website.
Corker’s criticisms, including his suggestion last week that Kelly, Tillerson and Defense Secretary James N. Mattis are the “people that help separate our country from chaos,” were particularly galling to the president — the type of slight “that makes Trump go ballistic,” Ruddy said.
Those are, however, the type of comments Trump sees over and over on cable news outside business hours, when he has nothing official on his schedule to prevent him from calling friends or venting on Twitter. Associates say it is essential to reduce such down time.
“You’ve got to give him suggestions because you’ve got to fill the vacuum,” said Barry Bennett, a former campaign advisor.
He was incensed by the arguments of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and others that the landmark 2015 deal, while flawed, offered stability and other benefits. He did not want to certify to Congress that the agreement remained in the vital U.S. national security interest and that Iran was meeting its obligations. He did not think either was true.
“He threw a fit,” said one person familiar with the meeting. “He was furious. Really furious. It’s clear he felt jammed.”
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.