It’s been another week crammed with President Donald Trump duking it out on Twitter. This week he sparred with Democratic congressional leaders, two national news organizations and even mixed it up with British Prime Minister Theresa May to a point that put a chill on the U.S.’s vaunted “special relationship” with the UK.
People who live in the bubble of Washington have theories about why Trump finds himself in so many feuds that he can appear at war with the world. Some believe it is a deliberate strategy. Others see a man who thrives on chaos and loves the fight. And still others see a president with little impulse control.
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has a simpler take. Asked if Trump thrives on chaos, Spicer replied, “I think he doesn’t back down from a fight.”
At an event this week honoring World War II heroes, Trump was chatting with Navajo Code Talkers when he referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as “Pocahontas,” a nickname he used during the 2016 presidential campaign to mock her claims about being part Native American.
Spicer said he thinks Trump figured Warren had attacked him, “and here are people who are bona fide Native Americans.” (The New England Historic Genealogical Society has no proof of Warren’s Native American heritage, but Warren says she is part Cherokee according to “family lore.”)
Sometimes Trump has a strategy, Spicer added. “It depends on what the circumstances are.”
“Clearly he thrives on chaos,” opined GOP strategist and CNN contributor Alice Stewart, a point that became clear during the 2016 campaign.
But when Trump retweets anti-Muslim videos as he did this week and calls out “fake news,” Stewart said, “that clearly resonates with his base, and it gets them ginned up and motivated, and it gets them to push their congressmen” at a time when Trump is pushing the Republican Congress to pass a tax cut package.
“But the reality is, his base is not going anywhere. They’re going to be with him no matter what,” said Stewart, who suggested that Trump work on reaching outside his base.
“He can’t restrain himself. He won’t restrain himself,” observed Henry Olsen, author of The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism.
“We’ve got a two-year pattern,” Olsen said. “Trump has to pick fights.” During the 2016 campaign and his first year in the Oval Office, Trump has exercised self-control and watched his poll numbers rise, and “it would last for maybe six weeks. “Then he would erupt again.
Some see a pattern — with the chief executive regularly building up to a point where his anger boils over and he lashes out at his critics, even if doing so sabotages his policy agenda.
In July, when Trump fired his first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and replaced him with John Kelly, then secretary of Homeland Security, conventional wisdom held that the former Marine general would instill discipline on Trump’s volatile Twitter feed.
Wrong. Kelly has made it clear that he sees his job as a gatekeeper who controls access and information that flow into the Oval Office. He does not see it as his job to police what flows out of Trump’s Twitter feed.
Clearly, Kelly understands what happens to aides who whisper to reporters about their efforts to control the man who has the most powerful perch on the planet.
Trump handily drove home that point in a speech Wednesday in St. Louis.
“Hey, look, I’m president, I don’t care. I don’t care anymore,” Trump told supporters.
Ostensibly he was referring to the GOP tax plan’s elimination of loopholes that benefit the wealthy — to the displeasure of his rich friends and his accountant. But really, that phrase applies in so many ways.
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