There was that odd spat from late 2017:
Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, on Sunday called the White House “an adult day care center” after President Trump attacked him in a morning Twitter tirade.
Setting off an extraordinary squabble between two leaders of the same party, Trump alleged in a trio of tweets that Corker “begged” him for his endorsement, did not receive it and decided to retire because he “didn’t have the guts” to run for reelection next year.
In response, Corker (Tenn.) tweeted, “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”
Corker did retire. Life is short and he’d had enough of this nonsense. There were better things to do. But his parting shot was prescient. They’re still trying to deal with that man-child over at the White House. Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report this:
In the six months since the deadly contagion was first reported in the United States, Trump has demanded the economy reopen and children return to school, all while scrambling to salvage his reelection campaign.
But allies and opponents agree he has failed at the one task that could help him achieve all his goals – confronting the pandemic with a clear strategy and consistent leadership.
Trump’s shortcomings have perplexed even some of his most loyal allies, who increasingly have wondered why the president has not at least pantomimed a sense of command over the crisis or conveyed compassion for the millions of Americans hurt by it.
He could at least pretend to be in command – some might buy that. He could at least pretend to be overtly compassionate about the woes of others. Okay, no one would ever buy that, but he has to do something new. And they know he cannot:
People close to Trump, many speaking on the condition of anonymity to share candid discussions and impressions, say the president’s inability to wholly address the crisis is due to his almost pathological unwillingness to admit error; a positive feedback loop of overly rosy assessments and data from advisers and Fox News; and a penchant for magical thinking that prevented him from fully engaging with the pandemic.
Those three things are ruining everything for him, but they’re working on getting him to do better:
In recent weeks, with more than 145,000 Americans now dead from the virus, the White House has attempted to overhaul – or at least rejigger – its approach. The administration has revived news briefings led by Trump and presented the president with projections showing how the virus is now decimating Republican states full of his voters. Officials have also set up a separate, smaller coronavirus working group led by Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, along with Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
He finds Birx comforting. He trusts Jared. This might work, if he completely reverses his thinking, which seems unlikely:
For many, however, the question is why Trump did not adjust sooner, realizing that the path to nearly all his goals – from an economic recovery to an electoral victory in November – runs directly through a healthy nation in control of the virus.
“The irony is that if he’d just performed with minimal competence and just mouthed words about national unity, he actually could be in a pretty strong position right now, where the economy is reopening, where jobs are coming back,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to former president Barack Obama. “And he just could not do it.”
And this isn’t rocket science:
“The best thing that we can do to set our economy up for success and rebounding from the last few months is making sure our outbreak is in a good place,” said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “People are not going to feel comfortable returning to activities in the community – even if it’s allowed from a policy perspective – if they don’t feel the outbreak is under control.”
But he’s not getting it:
Some aides and outside advisers have tried to stress to Trump and others in his orbit that before he could move on to reopening the economy and getting the country back to work – and life – he needed to grapple with the reality of the virus.
But until recently, the president was largely unreceptive to that message, they said, not fully grasping the magnitude of the pandemic – and overly preoccupied with his own sense of grievance, beginning many conversations casting himself as the blameless victim of the crisis.
But maybe he can get over that:
In the past weeks, senior advisers began presenting Trump with maps and data showing spikes in coronavirus cases among “our people” in Republican states, a senior administration official said. They also shared projections predicting that virus surges could soon hit politically important states in the Midwest – including Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the official said.
This new approach seemed to resonate, as he hewed closely to pre-scripted remarks in a trio of coronavirus briefings last week.
“This could have been stopped. It could have been stopped quickly and easily. But for some reason, it wasn’t, and we’ll figure out what that reason was,” Trump said Thursday, seeming to simultaneously acknowledge his predicament while trying to assign blame elsewhere.
So, he admits he blew it, and he’s going to get to bottom of who made him blow it. Perhaps that’s progress, but one must monitor such progress:
In addition to Birx and Kushner, the new coronavirus group guiding Trump includes Kushner advisers Adam Boehler and Brad Smith, according to two administration officials. Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Pence, also attends, along with Alyssa Farah, the White House director of strategic communications, and Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy adviser.
The working group’s goal is to meet every day, for no more than 30 minutes. It views its mission as half focused on the government’s response to the pandemic and half focused on the White House’s public message, the officials said.
They have their duel mandate. Devise a way to get this pandemic under control, and keep the boss from saying stupid things every single day. Remind him, he had one job to do, damn it! Do it! That might save his presidency:
“This is a situation where if Trump did his job and put in the work to combat the health crisis, it would solve the economic crisis, and it’s an instance where the correct governing move is also the correct political move, and Trump is doing the opposite,” said Josh Schwerin, a senior strategist for Priorities USA, a super PAC supporting former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Other anti-Trump operatives agree, saying he could make up lost ground and make his race with Biden far more competitive with a simple course correction.
But he is who he is:
One of Trump’s biggest obstacles is his refusal to take responsibility and admit error. In mid-March, as many of the nation’s businesses were shuttering early in the pandemic, Trump proclaimed in the Rose Garden, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Those six words have neatly summed up Trump’s approach not only to the pandemic, but also his approach to many of the other crises he has faced during his presidency.
“His operating style is to double- and triple-down on positions and to never, ever admit he’s wrong about anything,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a longtime Trump associate who briefly served as White House communications director and is now a critic of the president. “His 50-year track record is to bulldog through whatever he’s doing, whether it’s Atlantic City, which was a failure, or the Plaza Hotel, which was a failure, or Eastern Airlines, which was a failure. He can never just say, ‘I got it wrong and let’s try over again.'”
And then there’s Fox News:
Another self-imposed hurdle for Trump has been his reliance on a positive feedback loop. Rather than sit for briefings by infectious-disease director Anthony S. Fauci and other medical experts, the president consumes much of his information about the virus from Fox News and other conservative media sources, where his on-air boosters put a positive spin on developments.
Consider one example from last week. About 6:15 a.m. that Tuesday on “Fox & Friends,” co-host Steve Doocy told viewers, “There is a lot of good news out there regarding the development of vaccines and therapeutics.” The president appears to have been watching because, 16 minutes later, he tweeted from his iPhone, “Tremendous progress being made on Vaccines and Therapeutics!!!”
Cool! Fauci never told him that! But there’s that third component too:
Trump is also predisposed to magical thinking – an unerring belief, at an almost elemental level, that he can will his goals into existence, through sheer force of personality, according to outside advisers and former White House officials.
The trait is one he shares with his late father and family patriarch, Fred Trump. In her best-selling memoir, “Too Much and Never Enough,” the president’s niece, Mary L. Trump, writes that Fred Trump was instantly taken by the “shallow message of self-sufficiency” he encountered in Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 bestseller, “The Power of Positive Thinking.”
Some close to the president say that when Trump claims, as he did twice last week, that the virus will simply “disappear,” there is a part of him that actually believes the assessment, making him more reluctant to take the practical steps required to combat the pandemic.
There may be no way to fix that, and it all adds up:
Until recently, Trump also refused to fully engage with the magnitude of the crisis. After appointing Pence head of the coronavirus task force, the president gradually stopped attending task force briefings and was lulled into a false sense of assurance that the group had the virus under control, according to one person familiar with the dynamic.
Trump also maintained such a sense of grievance – about how the virus was personally hurting him, his presidency and his reelection prospects – that aides recount spending valuable time listening to his gripes, rather than focusing on crafting a national strategy to fight the pandemic.
He’s the boss. You listen. And you hope for the best, against all hope:
Some advisers are still optimistic that if Trump – who trails Biden in national polls – can sustain at least a modicum of self-discipline and demonstrate real focus on the pandemic, he can still prevail on Election Day.
Others are less certain, including critics who say Trump squandered an obvious solution – good governance and leadership – as the simplest means of achieving his other goals.
“There is quite a high likelihood where people look back and think between February and April was when Trump burned down his own presidency, and he can’t recover from it,” Rhodes said. “The decisions he made then ensured he’d be in his endless cycle of covid spikes and economic disruption because he couldn’t exhibit any medium- or long-term thinking.”
These are dark times at the Adult Day Care Center on Pennsylvania Avenue, but Greg Sargent argues that there’s another factor here:
It would be a peculiarly apt form of poetic justice if the entity that has done so much to help President Trump run this country into the ground – Fox News – ends up playing an outsize role in helping destroy his chances at reelection. Yet that may be exactly what’s happening.
So, Trump did not burn down his own presidency all by himself. He had help:
For Trump, Fox News has two functions: With some exceptions, it largely functions as his “shameless propaganda outlet,” as Margaret Sullivan put it, aggressively inflating his successes and faithfully pushing his messages. When Fox occasionally departs from this role, Trump rages at it as a form of deep betrayal.
Yet for precisely this reason, Fox also functions as a kind of security blanket: It persuades Trump that he’s succeeding, which provides an effective reality distortion field against outside criticism.
He sends Fauci away. He watches Fox News. They tell him he’s right. He’s always right:
When the coronavirus death toll approached 100,000, this fact was largely absent from Fox prime-time programming. Now that it’s approaching 150,000, Fox personalities are claiming the original lockdowns were a plot to harm Trump and that things are actually going far better than expected thanks to his towering leadership.
Indeed, studies suggest misinformation from Fox and other right-wing media outlets might be making audiences more prone to believing coronavirus conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, even as too-rapid re-openings are a big reason the coronavirus is surging again his Fox “propagandists” continue to push the idea that hesitation to reopen schools is pure politics.
Thus Fox feeds Trump’s preexisting refusal to admit error in a way that makes him less likely to dramatically scale up federal testing now – which several governors demanded over the weekend – and more prone to continuing to push for a rapid reopening.
Yet according to Trump’s own advisers, these failures are now putting his reelection at risk.
Fox News doesn’t tell him that. They tell him the opposite, about everything:
Trump is mainlining from Fox a daily picture of the protests that is highly distorted and narcotically numbing. The New York Times reports that the rash of new protests over the weekend in cities such as Seattle and Oakland, Calif., were largely driven by reaction to Trump’s law enforcement invasion of Portland, Ore. The Seattle mayor claims this “escalated” matters across the country, and the Oakland mayor warns it will “incite more unrest.”
This is surely why Trump is sending in law enforcement in the first place – he believes inciting violent civil conflict will help his reelection. But the crucial point here is that what Trump sees on Fox is surely persuading him that he’s succeeding in doing just that.
Fox personalities are claiming that electing Joe Biden will make civil violence “a staple of American life everywhere.” They are relentlessly doctoring Biden quotes to paint him as anti-police. And they are suggesting that Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech, which conflated protests with “far-left fascism” to justify sending in more law enforcement, represented the greatest oratory since Cicero.
All this surely reinforces Trump’s belief that this messaging is working for him. After all, the imagery of violence, when hyped this way, does make for powerful television. And Trump knows powerful television when he sees it!
And then there’s that other world out there:
In the Fox narrative of the protests, there is no room for any acknowledgement that Trump is functioning as a primarily inciting and destructive force, or that this fact might be further alienating the educated white suburban voters who are supposed to find Trump’s authoritarian displays reassuring.
Yet a recent Post-ABC News poll found that college-educated whites trust Biden over Trump to handle crime and safety by 52 percent to 40 percent. Among college-educated white women, that’s a stunning 58 percent to 37 percent. Among suburbanites, it’s 48 percent to 44 percent. Trump is even losing on this among seniors.
And a recent Yahoo News-YouGov poll found that a larger percentage of suburban voters say the country will become less safe if Trump wins (48 percent) than say the same about Biden (37 percent). Among women, it’s even worse for Trump (50 percent and 33 percent, respectively).
And that means that Fox News is destroying Donald Trump, or as Sargent puts it:
Books will be written about Fox News’s role in exacerbating the national catastrophe that is this presidency. But, in persuading Trump that he is actually winning our great arguments about both those crises, Fox News may also be hastening its end.
But this man-child will have his way:
Under intense White House pressure, Senate Republicans agreed Monday to allocate $1.75 billion in their coronavirus relief bill toward the construction of a new D.C. headquarters for the FBI.
But top Senate Republicans immediately began distancing themselves from the provision after it was made public, saying they weren’t sure why the White House repeatedly insisted on putting it in the bill.
In calling for a new “Washington, DC headquarters facility,” the provision reflects President Trump’s ongoing interest in building a new headquarters for the FBI downtown, rather than a secure campus in the suburbs that was envisioned before he took office.
He wants a kind of Trump Tower thing, with a running track on the roof and all the goodies. The pandemic rages on, the dead bodies pile up, the economy is in ruins, and he must have this, now. This was just embarrassing:
At a news conference Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) initially denied that the FBI money was in the bill, but then was notified by reporters that the language was in fact included.
“You’ll have to ask them why they insisted that be included,” he told reporters, referring to the White House.
Although the provision says the money would enable the bureau to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally,” the request did not appear to be related to the economic fallout of the pandemic, which lawmakers are rushing to address before expanded jobless aid expires later this week.
Asked Monday what a new FBI building had to do with the novel coronavirus, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), a key negotiator of the stimulus package, paused and said, “Good question.”
They have to deal with this man-child too, but they’re not all that different:
Senate Republicans and the White House on Monday threw their support behind a substantial cut in jobless aid for tens of millions of Americans laid off amid the pandemic, proposing a weekly reduction of $400 to a benefit that has cushioned the nation’s economy even as coronavirus cases continue to rise across the country.
The proposal was part of a $1 trillion opening bid that would have to be reconciled with Democrats, who were pushing a recovery package that would spend three times as much and extend the $600 per week in extra unemployment aid through the end of the year.
Economists say that the money, slated to expire this week, has provided a crucial economic buffer for the unemployed, and that lowering the payments could have a cascade of damaging effects across the economy. But Republicans contend that it is too generous, discouraging Americans from returning to work and hampering a recovery.
It’s that magical thinking. Take away the money and they’ll have to go back to work, right now, to keep from being evicted and living in the streets. They’ll have to show up for work next Monday. They have no choice. Yeah, yeah, there’s no work. There’s no job to show up for. But it’s the principle of the thing:
The Senate Republicans’ decision to embrace the decrease reflects the predicament in which they find themselves during a worsening pandemic and continued economic recession, little more than three months before Election Day. With a small but vital bloc of conservative senators opposed to providing any more federal coronavirus aid, the Republican Party has struggled to agree on how to stabilize the battered economy, leaving Democrats with crucial leverage for an intense set of negotiations over the relief package.
That’s a nice way of saying they now look like fools, or they look like their president:
Republicans had hoped to avoid this situation altogether, knowing that many in their ranks had grown exhausted with the torrent of federal spending – nearly $3 trillion – that Congress approved in rapid succession in early spring. They resisted passing another package, gambling that if they waited, the virus would dissipate and the economy would rebound, and that they could push through a bare-bones package.
Instead, they are now staring down the beginning of the school year with skyrocketing cases and record unemployment levels, with many in their ranks unwilling to pour any more money into the economy.
Trump said this virus would just disappear. He still says that. No one knows why. But they believed the petulant man-child. That describes them too, and Kevin Drum sees this:
The $600 bonus unemployment payments put in place in March expire today, and let’s get this out of the way up front: the main reason for extending them is because there are millions of Americans who are out of work and they desperately need the money. There’s no reason to add to the anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic itself by making them wonder if they’ll keep getting these payments.
That said, there’s another reason to extend the UI payments. I’m not the first to say this, or probably even the millionth, but if the payments are cut off it will devastate an already ravaged economy.
He runs the numbers. Stop the payments. Thirty million Americans can now buy almost nothing. The economy stalls. GDP drops almost four percent. This would guarantee not a recession but an actual depression. Republicans would take the blame, just Republicans. Trump would be toast. The Republican Party would be dead. What were they thinking? They weren’t thinking:
The president is a Republican. He’s already in trouble, and if the economy is in shambles in November he’ll obviously have no chance of winning no matter how many federal troops he sends into American cities to gin up riots. From a purely selfish perspective, Republicans ought to be in favor of doing anything they can to keep the economy in decent shape through the election.
They’re not, and Paul Krugman adds this:
It’s striking how emotional many Republicans get in their opposition to the temporary rise in unemployment benefits; for example, Senator Lindsey Graham declared that these benefits would be extended “over our dead bodies.” Why such hatred?
It’s not because the benefits are making workers unwilling to take jobs. There’s no evidence that this is happening – it’s just something Republicans want to believe. And in any case, economic arguments can’t explain the rage.
What can? Perhaps the White House had become an adult day care center in 2016, and someone obviously missed their shift, again and again in the years since. But that was a cheap joke long ago. That’s not funny now. That’s too true to be funny any longer. Too many have died. Too many will die.