A week ago there was a raft of articles suggesting that President Trump was somehow coming undone. Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman had prominent Republicans speculating about the ex-generals having to wrestle the nuclear ‘football’ away from the President. Quotes had him “unstable”, “losing step”, “unraveling.” Retiring Senator Bob Corker said: “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him.”
I’ve been skeptical of these reports. Not doubting but skeptical that there’s something really new. Adam Smith said there is a “great deal of ruin in a nation”. Similarly, there’s a lot of crazy in Donald Trump. What that means in this case is that yes, he’s erratic, unstable, completely unsuited to any office of public trust, let alone the presidency. But is he getting worse? Weirder? Are we really hitting some breaking point or unraveling? That’s where I’m skeptical. Or where I was skeptical.
Yesterday’s public statements from the President made me a little less skeptical. The President said a number of things. He lied about former Presidents and military families, in a pretty transparent aim to deflect from his failure to address the military deaths in Niger, let alone make contact with the families of the dead. He bounced back and forth between allying himself with the GOP Senate ‘establishment’ and the Bannon warriors. He flexed his muscles on Obamacare sabotage, bragged about forcing Democrats and Republicans into emergency mode while also claiming everything was the Democrats fault. He had that febrile set of demands about Obamacare that recall movie mobster dialog: “Obamacare is finished. It’s dead. It’s gone. You shouldn’t even mention it. It’s gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore.”
Note the body language behind those words …
Listen to this disturbed man talk like a gangster and pride himself on the carnage and calls for emergency measures he’s created. pic.twitter.com/CIzNTpyDnv
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) October 16, 2017
Beyond these specific words, something seemed more hot and out of control than I’ve seen so far, even from Trump. The standard is high. Over the last week or so Trump has made a number of unilateral moves focused on reinforcing the support of his political faction and (critically) trying to take the initiative, show power in situations where he’s proved largely powerless – particularly on Obamacare repeal. For someone like Trump that feeling of powerlessness is volatile and dangerous. I picked this up particularly in the satisfaction he claimed in being able to force an “emergency” in the national insurance markets. That’s Trump’s I win and you lose negotiating style. The drive is always to escalate in response to fear, shame, feelings of powerlessness, impotence.
I don’t have more concrete specifics to note here. This is more observational and intuitive. But yesterday did not strike me as just another Trump sound off. He seemed angrier and more brittle than he has to date. I’m not expecting some 25th Amendment solution. I think we’re in this for the long haul. I don’t know if he’s deteriorating. But he is escalating. That is not good.