Observers say shock and awe of U.S. President Trump is unsustainable
Will President Donald Trump tell his most politically sensitive justice department official: “You’re fired!” Will Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee Trump calls “unblemished,” save himself from mounting allegations of sexual assault?
In the wild West Wing of Trump’s White House, no one knows—and those are just this week’s questions.
Again and again since his surprise 2016 election, the Republican businessman and former reality TV star has proved capable of upping the shock factor, sowing what pundits and White House insiders alike describe as chaos through Washington. This week is proving particularly unhinged.
On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee meets for the politically explosive hearing over sex assault allegations against Kavanaugh. At around the same time, Trump had been expected to receive his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, for a chat on his job future—not a good future, it seems, following a newspaper report that Rosenstein once secretly discussed wearing a wire to record Trump.
Now it appears that the dramatic meeting might not happen after all, as Trump said he doesn’t want “to do anything that gets in the way” of the Kavanaugh crisis, and a Rosenstein meeting did not appear on the president’s Thursday schedule. Not that this will make the Rosenstein issue disappear.
The number two justice department official is reported to have been considering gathering recordings to campaign for Trump’s removal under the constitutional provision for incompetent presidents. He strenuously denies that. But Trump already mistrusts him: Rosenstein oversees the investigation into whether the president colluded with Russia during his election.
“Chaos,” said Michael Genovese, a politics professor at Loyola Marymount University in California, “is the norm for the president. That’s his operating style.”
Defenders say that Trump is only doing what he was elected to do—to end politics as usual and disrupt the capital elite. But November midterm congressional elections are six weeks away and with Republicans at risk of losing the lower house, and possibly also the Senate, questions are mounting over how to prevent the mayhem from turning to meltdown.
“It’s like the U.S. government has a shiny new sports car and we elected someone to drive it who doesn’t know how to drive and doesn’t have a map and he’s decided to go 95 miles an hour,” Genovese said. “It’s an incredibly frenetic pace but that pace is unsustainable,” he said.
Republican leaders have pleaded for their unpredictable standard bearer to keep to one message ahead of the midterms: the roaring economy.
Earlier this month, Trump seemed to play along. His often incendiary Twitter feed instead focused on cheering reports about falling unemployment, rising salaries and the success, as he sees it, of his aggressive “America first” trade war against China and other rivals.
As Hurricane Florence battered the U.S. Atlantic coast, Trump embraced his role of overseeing the emergency services. But then came the Kavanaugh nomination scandal.
Once seen as cruising to an easy vote—fulfilling Trump’s key promise to stack the Supreme Court with conservative justices—a string of sexual assault allegations turned the Kavanaugh decision into all-out political war.
Again, Trump initially stayed on message, supporting Kavanaugh but calling for his first accuser to be given a respectful hearing. By the eve of Thursday’s hearing, though, he had long since thrown caution to the wind. “Low life,” he branded the lawyer behind Kavanaugh’s latest accuser. “Con game,” he said to describe the scandal.
Supporters say Team Trump simply doesn’t get the credit it deserves. “I don’t think it’s chaos at all. I don’t think it’s ill discipline and I don’t think it’s unstructured,” said James Carafano, a national security and foreign policy expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Carafano accused the media of zooming in on individual moments of outrage then deducing “that’s the umbrella over everything being done, when it’s not—it’s just a piece.” He said Trump is “very unconventional,” reveling in his persona of the tough-talking, impassioned New Yorker. “But if you look at it holistically…, if you actually look at national security, virtually everything they’re doing is consistent.”
One man who saw the government from the inside, however, paints a quite different picture of what he saw during his short-lived term as Trump’s chief of staff. “High ranking natural killers” and “a band of chaos creators,” Reince Priebus is quoted as saying in journalist Bob Woodward’s blockbuster book Fear: Trump in the White House.