WASHINGTON -- Nikki Haley thought she knew what President Donald Trump was going to do. Now she looks like a dupe.
What makes Republicans in Congress think their trust in Trump will work out any better for them?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he won’t take up legislation blocking Trump from firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Why? “I don’t think he’s going to” sack Mueller, McConnell told Fox News.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan expressed similar faith that Trump wouldn’t sack Mueller: “I have no reason to believe that that’s going to happen” because “I have assurances that it’s not.”
Courting disaster because of what they “think” and “believe” the erratic president will do? You may think your toddler won’t wander into traffic. You may even have her assurances. But that doesn’t mean you leave her in the front yard unattended.
When I followed the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations, it was often possible to predict presidential actions based on patterns: Clinton’s split-the-difference style, Bush’s verbal signaling, Obama’s caution. But here’s a handy rule of thumb for this administration: Those who claim to know what Trump is going to do are making it up. Nobody truly knows, because Trump himself often doesn’t know what he’s going to do before the moment he does it. Decisions are impulsive, the product not of reason but of the brain’s cortisol levels. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
This is some of what we have learned lately from the Trump administration:
We are imposing new sanctions on Russia. We are not imposing new sanctions on Russia.
China isn’t manipulating its currency. China is manipulating its currency.
We’re getting out of Syria. We aren’t getting out of Syria.
We’ll decide about bombing Syria in 24 to 48 hours. We might not bomb Syria for a long time. We bombed Syria.
Trump will be talking to Kim Jong Un. Trump may not be talking to Kim.
We are leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We may rejoin the TPP. We are not rejoining the TPP.
Poor Haley had no reason to think the president would change his mind. Yet Trump made the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations look like a fool.
After a meeting on Friday about Russia sanctions, Haley went on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and said the treasury secretary “will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn’t already.”
This was consistent with talking points distributed on Saturday by the Republican National Committee, saying America intends “to impose specific additional sanctions against Russia.”
But some synapse misfired in the presidential amygdala, and what Haley thought she knew was no longer the case. Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Haley had “some momentary confusion.”
Retorted Haley: “I don’t get confused.”
But she was confused: She believed assurances that Trump would do as expected.
Last Friday, Trump’s Treasury Department put out a report saying, “The Chinese currency generally moved against the dollar in a direction that should, all else equal, help reduce China’s trade surplus with the United States.” This is true: The dollar has fallen nearly 10 percent against the yuan since Trump took office.
But on Monday, Trump took the opposite position. “Russia and China are playing the Currency Devaluation game as the U.S. keeps raising interest rates. Not acceptable!” he tweeted.
Last month, Trump announced, “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.” Now the White House was back to saying there was no timetable for an American withdrawal.
Last week, Trump signaled an imminent missile attack in Syria, saying via Twitter that Russia should “get ready” to shoot down “nice and new and ‘smart’” missiles. Criticized for telegraphing the strike, he then said the attack might be “not so soon at all” -- a day before the attack. He said he was “prepared to sustain this response,” but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said it was a “one-time shot.”
The president has similarly reversed or contradicted himself this week on quitting the TPP trade pact and his justification for firing former FBI Director James Comey. On North Korea, he said he would meet with Kim and raised the possibility he wouldn’t -- in the same passage.
Now, Republicans in Congress are risking a constitutional crisis because of their “belief” that Trump won’t fire Mueller:
Sen. Joni Ernst (Iowa): “I don’t think he would.”
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (Utah): “I do not believe the president would.”
Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.): “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
They think they know Trump’s mind, huh? So did Nikki Haley.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.