President Donald Trump was excited, beaming behind the storied Resolute Desk three days before Christmas. He joked with reporters and offered camera operators presidential ink pens. And he boasted that, after a year with more downs than ups, he was starting to figure out how to be president.
“So, you know, it’s been a process,” he said after securing his first major legislative win by signing a GOP tax bill into law — and terminating the Obama-era health law’s individual mandate at the same time. “It’s been a great process. Really beautiful.” In the days that followed, he assured members of his Mar-a-Lago club in South Florida his administration was about to have a “great” second year.
Trump and his team were riding high. The president continued to be in high spirits on Christmas Eve, boasting about his first-year achievements and predicting more in 2018. He even tracked Santa Claus with NORAD and called children, a symbolic victory lap in his self-proclaimed win in the so-called “War on Christmas.”
But as so often has happened during Trump’s first 11 months in office, things soon began to unravel.
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‘A Lot Richer’
The president, his senior staff and GOP lawmakers spent the fall selling the tax bill as a middle class tax cut.
“All of this — everything in here — is really tremendous things for businesses, for people, for the middle class, for workers,” Trump said on Dec. 22, gesturing toward the tax bill he had just signed.
That night, Trump stumbled off message. “You all just got a lot richer,” he told friends and members of his club, where up-front dues cost $200,000 and annual fees $14,000, CBS News reported. It went viral.
‘Back To Work’
Trump mostly stayed off the radar on Christmas Day at Mar-a-Lago.
He tweeted “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” at 8:36 a.m. Ten hours later, he followed that up wishing “everyone” a “great Christmas” and “tomorrow it’s back to work.”
I hope everyone is having a great Christmas, then tomorrow it’s back to work in order to Make America Great Again (which is happening faster than anyone anticipated)!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 25, 2017
Back to work meant more golf.
The next morning came this from a member of the day’s traveling press: “Your pooler can confirm that President Trump is golfing today.”
He kept playing golf in the coming days and senior aides have struggled to explain what work he got done on the course.
On Tuesday, Trump’s first full day back in Washington, the day started off quiet. When a reporter asked Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders during her first press briefing of 2018 just what the president was doing all day, she replied,“He’s had a number of meetings today. We’ll keep you guys posted on that.”
The president also was tweeting. A lot.
It started with a post blaming former President Barack Obama for the struggles of the people of Iran.
Later came a three-in-one tweet attacking Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, former FBI Director James Comey and the “Deep State” Justice Department.
He touted sanctions on North Korea.
He raised eyebrows by claiming to have orchestrated the safest year ever in the skies. The numbers were identical to previous years.
Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news - it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
Crooked Hillary Clinton’s top aid, Huma Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols. She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must finally act? Also on Comey & others— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
He used one tweet to hit Democrats for “doing nothing for DACA” and being “just interested in politics,” even as he dispatched top aides the next day for talks with their leadership.
In another post, he foreshadowed a move he made Thursday when he suspended U.S. military aid to Pakistan.
In the evening, he announced he will award something he dubbed “THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR on Monday at 5:00 o’clock.”
The night ended with a tweet and retweet about Fox News Channel shows, which a new book alleges Trump watches in bed while munching on cheeseburgers.
Sixteen tweets in all.
I will be announcing THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR on Monday at 5:00 o’clock. Subjects will cover Dishonesty & Bad Reporting in various categories from the Fake News Media. Stay tuned!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
One tweet on Tuesday stood out more than the other 15, though.
In it, he warned North Korea’s Kim Jong-un to cease bragging — as he did in a New Year’s message — about the “nuclear button” that is “always” on his desk. Trump countered that his is “much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
White House aides have a full 2018 legislative agenda: immigration, restructuring entitlements, infrastructure, judicial nominations, appropriations.
Instead, Sanders was asked this less than 24 hours after Trump bragged about the size of his atomic button: “Should Americans be concerned about the president’s mental fitness that he appears to be speaking so lightly about threats regarding a nuclear button?”
When he left for Florida, the focus was on the president scoring two big wins in one signature. By Thursday, the White House was in crisis mode.
Part of that was dealing with the fallout from a new book, “Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff, which questions whether the president is in the midst of a mental deterioration.
Trump’s response to the book served only as lighter fluid on the topic.
He declared that former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who criticizes Trump and his inner circle in the book, “lost his mind” when he was fired over the summer, following that up by saying he no longer speaks to Bannon.
Sanders told reporters the duo were never close, even though Trump called Bannon a “friend” during an impromptu mid-October Rose Garden press conference.
In the midst of the White House’s attempts to discredit the book’s author, reports surfaced that eight lawmakers, including one GOP senator, met with a prominent psychiatrist recently about Trump’s mental health.
On Thursday, a day the White House wanted focused on Trump’s meeting with GOP lawmakers about his 2018 legislative goals, Sanders instead was waylaid with questions about the Bannon feud and whether he has the mental stability to serve as the leader of the free world.
She called such suggestions “disgraceful and laughable,” then said Trump was the reason 2017 was such a successful year.
The latter part of her answer was the initial talking point the White House wanted to push.
Those plans were undone by a 71-year-old president who Wolff described on Friday as a mental “pinball” darting wildly from subject to subject.
“They say he’s a moron, an idiot. Actually, there’s a competition to sort of get to the bottom line here of who this man is,” Wolff told NBC’s “Today” program on Friday, referring to Trump’s closest aides. “Let’s remember, this man does not read, does not listen. So, he’s like a pinball, just shooting off the sides. … To quote Steve Bannon, ‘He's lost it.’”
That might be a question for the military doctor who will examine Trump next Friday.
More clear is that the White House lost a messaging battle, at least when it comes to its legislative accomplishments and agenda.