WASHINGTON – The president has gone rogue.
Not one-eighth of the way through his term, Donald Trump has each day become more isolated: from his own appointees and staff (whom he routinely contradicts and undermines); from world leaders (whom he regularly offends); from the courts (whose integrity he has repeatedly assaulted); from his current director of the National Security Agency and his past director of the FBI (who are both expected to give damaging testimony this week on the Russia scandal); and even from his most ardent supporters (whose enthusiasm has softened markedly in polls).
In the space of a few hours on Monday, Trump managed to attack not just Democrats (“OBSTRUCTIONISTS!”) and the mayor of London (“pathetic”) but also the judicial system (“slow and political!”) and even his own Justice Department (for submitting a “watered down, politically correct” measure to the Supreme Court). He undermined his own administration officials and lawyers, who for legal reasons had painstakingly argued that Trump’s ban on travel from several Muslim-majority countries was not a “travel ban.” Tweeted Trump: “I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!”
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On top of all this Twitter madness, Politico’s Susan Glasser reported that Trump blindsided his secretary of state, defense secretary and national security adviser, who had made sure that his speech to NATO reaffirmed the alliance’s collective-defense clause. Trump removed the language – the cornerstone of the military alliance – at the last minute without even telling the advisers.
Trump reacted Monday to all the chaos he created by hunkering down further, canceling without notice a scheduled “pool spray” with reporters at which he was expected to answer questions.
It has become cliche to observe that Trump’s behavior is both unprecedented and unpresidential. Perhaps we should combine the two and simply accept that Trump, to borrow one of his Twitter misspellings, is “unpresidented.”
So isolated is Trump that he accidentally hits send on a tweet with gibberish and there’s nobody who can get him to delete the errant missive for hours. CNN’s Gloria Borger last week quoted a Trump confidant describing a lost man: “He now lives within himself, which is a dangerous place for Donald Trump to be. I see him emotionally withdrawing. He’s gained weight. He doesn’t have anybody whom he trusts.”
This is indeed dangerous. Though Trump’s ineffectiveness comes as a relief, his isolation is no cause for celebration. Whenever his back is to the wall, he becomes even more aggressive. The further he falls, and the more alienated he grows, the greater the danger that he will do something desperate – and there is much that a desperate commander in chief can do.
There’s no telling when that might happen. Perhaps if the Supreme Court strikes down his travel ban, as lower courts have done? Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s appointee to the high court, said Friday night that he is confident “government can lose in its own courts and accept the judgment of those courts without an army to back it up.” I hope he’s right. But, as if by way of reply, Trump attacked the courts again Monday with the sort of language Gorsuch had in the past called disheartening.
Trump even seems to be alienating some of his base, that 35 to 40 percent of the country that seems to back him no matter what he does. Numbers cruncher Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight observed recently that while Trump’s overall floor of support remains about the same – 36 percent approve of the job he’s doing in the latest Gallup poll – the number of Americans who strongly approve of Trump has declined sharply, from 30 percent in February to 21 or 22 percent now – a falloff of nearly a third.
Is there nobody outside of Trump’s family who is in sync with Trump? Actually, there is.
“I haven’t seen, even once, any direct proof of Russian interference in the presidential election in the United States,” Vladimir Putin told Megyn Kelly for her NBC debut Sunday night.
The Russian president said hackers can make it appear “as if your 3-year-old daughter carried out the attack.” He went on to say “there were no meetings” between the Russian ambassador and officials affiliated with the Trump campaign, and, invoking the Kennedy assassination, floated a conspiracy theory that U.S. intelligence was trying to frame Russia.
These were curiously similar to Trump’s responses – casting doubt on Russia’s involvement, suggesting the hacking could have been done by a 400-pound man in his bed, decrying facts as “fake news” and planting conspiracy theories.
At least somebody is on the same page as Trump. Unfortunately, the words are in Cyrillic.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.