At first it sounded like hyperbole, the escalation of a Twitter war. But now it’s clear that Bob Corker’s remarkable New York Times interview—in which the Republican senator described the White House as “adult day care” and warned Trump could start World War III—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.”
The conversation among some of the president’s longtime confidantes, along with the character of some of the leaks emerging from the White House has shifted. There’s a new level of concern. NBC News published a report that Trump shocked his national security team when he called for a nearly tenfold increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal during a briefing this summer. One Trump adviser confirmed to me it was after this meeting disbanded that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron.”
In recent days, I spoke with a half dozen prominent Republicans and Trump advisers, and they all describe a White House in crisis as advisers struggle to contain a president who seems to be increasingly unfocused and consumed by dark moods. 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.”Josh Dawsey at Politico:
Trump, several advisers and aides said, sometimes comes into the Oval Office worked into a lather from talking to friends or watching TV coverage in the morning.
Sometimes, a side conversation with an aide like Stephen Miller on immigration or a TV host like Sean Hannity would set him off.
Then, staffers would step in to avert a rash decision by calming him down. At times, new information would be shared, like charts on how farmers might feel about ending NAFTA — or how his base might react negatively to an idea, like the verbal deal he struck with Democrats on immigration last month.
In the first stretches of the administration, aides would ask outside figures to intervene with Trump.
Sometimes, advisers and people who know Trump well deliberately engage the media. Corker has told others on Capitol Hill that Trump doesn’t listen unless he hears the criticism on TV or reads it in the paper.
The Priebus strategy was largely to delay. Instead of ousting Sessions, as Trump wanted, Priebus, Bannon and others had outside advisers close to Trump call him and explain the ramifications. They tried to remind him what a dedicated campaign supporter Sessions had been — and that his firing could set off unpredictable dominoes.