Donald Trump is no longer on “The Apprentice,” but on days like Thursday, the president of the United States produces, writes and stars in a White House-based reality show, “The Trump Show,” complete with a boss who undermines his senior staff and congressional allies, prompting them to explain away the antics or ignore them.
The commander in chief started the day by torpedoing with a tweet a key GOP talking point and saying, on his way into the Pentagon for a briefing, that a government shutdown “could very well be.”
That turbulence came as the White House communications shop and legislative affairs teams were helping congressional Republican leaders search for votes in each chamber to pass a stopgap spending measure that must be signed into law by 11:59 p.m. Friday night to avert a government shutdown.
About an hour before his Pentagon warning, a senior aide had to clean up a confusing presidential tweet. The aide told Roll Call the president supports a House GOP-crafted stopgap to avert a shutdown, even though the tweet appeared to undermine it, with Trump criticizing GOP leaders’ decision to include an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program in the measure as an enticement for Democrats to support it.
One senior congressional GOP aide groused in an exchange with Roll Call that leaders and staff on the Hill were not even certain Trump understood the CR contained the very kind of long-term extension (six years) of CHIP he called for in his tweet.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called it “amateur hour.”
The morning contradictions followed a telling remark on Wednesday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican told reporters about a slow-to-emerge immigration deal: “I’m looking for something that President Trump supports. And he’s not yet indicated what measure he’s willing to sign.”
But wait, there’s more. Also on Thursday, Trump contradicted his chief of staff by tweeting that his views on a southern border wall have not “evolved” — something John Kelly told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Wednesday.
Despite the appearance of a president zagging while everyone else was zigging, Trump looked fired up as he headed to Pennsylvania for either official government business or a campaign event — depending on which Republican was speaking.
As he deplaned Air Force One outside Pittsburgh, Trump pumped his fist, waved and clapped in the direction of supporters waiting on the tarmac.
He had arrived for a campaign-style event, tweeting earlier in the day that he had come to boost Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone, the party’s nominee in a special U.S. House race in the state’s 18th District.
The president wrote he was going to H&K Equipment “in order to give my total support to RICK SACCONE, running for Congress in a Special Election (March 13).”
“Rick is a great guy,” the president wrote. “We need more Republicans to continue our already successful agenda!”
One problem: Trump’s campaign organization has arranged and footed the bills for his other purely campaign rallies since he was sworn in nearly a year ago. The White House in recent days had said the trip was about touting the Republican tax plan signed into law Dec. 22.
In a statement issued as Trump left the Pentagon, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted it was all about official government business.
“While the President has made clear his support for Republican candidates throughout the country, including in Pennsylvania, the purpose of today’s visit is to promote the President’s successful agenda especially on taxes,” she said in a statement.
Yet, the event at times had the feel and substance of a pro-Saccone campaign rally.
The president lauded the performance of the stock market under his watch, and asked if those in the crowd who have 401(k) retirement accounts are happy. He dubbed them “brilliant investors.”
“We keep it like this, we’re going to win a lot of elections,” Trump told a friendly crowd there. “It’s the economy, stupid,” he said, borrowing a line coined by former Bill Clinton aide James Carville.
“Indeed, it is,” Trump said with a smile as the crowd applauded.
The president later touted his 2016 victory in the Keystone State, and also, without naming her, brought up Democratic foe Hillary Clinton.
“We’re all deplorables,” Trump said of her gaffe referring to his core supporters.
And while the White House line was it was not a campaign stop, Trump exited the stage to one of his favorite campaign songs, The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”