There’s no way to know for sure. We’ll never know definitively. But this morning, before the Flynn news broke, I was thinking that President Trump’s behavior has seemed more wild and erratic in recent days. Yes, the baseline standard is pretty high. But over the last week or so we’ve seen a number of reports of Trump saying wilder things in private to associates and advisors. He seemed to be gravitating back to the kinds of transgressive behaviors and assertions he makes when he’s under threat or pressure.
He’s denying the Access Hollywood tape is real. He’s back to saying Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Then publicly he retweeted those anti-Muslim hate group videos from the UK. Yesterday we heard he’s telling advisors a government shutdown would be good for him. He’s gotten more aggressive attacking other politicians accused of sexual misconduct while more aggressively backing Roy Moore, notwithstanding the copious list of accusations against him. All of it together amounts to acting out.
Trump is a man of drives and impulse. When he’s under threat, his need to assert himself, to show himself and others that he can’t be constrained or dominated, intensifies. For Trump, provocative behavior is a way to show he’s powerful. If these news reports are accurate, it’s not just that Trump seemed to have been getting edgier. People close to Trump had to talk to reporters about it for us to find out. This White House leaks a lot. But those people often leak stuff like this because it worries them or even as a way to indirectly influence or rein in Trump’s behavior.
As I said, no way to know. It may not matter. It seems clear the White House was not prepared for this news to drop this morning. But there’s been plenty of reporting over the last week or two signaling that Flynn was going to make a deal. Trump’s a voracious news consumer. I suspect the Flynn news, the hints of it we’ve been seeing, were a driver of Trump’s manic, more provocative turn.