On a day in which President Trump’s advisers wanted their boss to focus on an energy speech, his imperiled legislative agenda, and a sit-down with South Korea’s president to dissect how to halt North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, he surprised them.
Trump aimed a Twitter bomb at a female member of the media – a message coarse enough to blot out most of the policy-centered news coverage and public focus that Trump’s closest aides and members of Congress hoped to see on Thursday.
Famous for his morning tantrums on Twitter, Trump tweeted:
I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
…to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
The president’s personal (and MSNBC suggested factually false) put-down of “Morning Joe” co-anchor Mika Brzezinski, a frequent critic, forced some Republican lawmakers to tiptoe away from Trump, even as voters loyal to the president argued he was merely defending himself against a liberal foe.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican who challenged Trump in last year’s GOP primaries, tweeted a rebuke:
Mr. President, your tweet was beneath the office and represents what is wrong with American politics, not the greatness of America.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) June 29, 2017
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has an awkward alliance with the unpredictable Trump, had hoped to keep the House and Senate health care bills afloat Thursday with strategic communications. Instead, during a press conference, Ryan found himself criticizing the head of his party.
“I don’t see that as an appropriate comment,” the Wisconsin congressman said of Trump’s reactionary tweets about Brzezinski.
“It’s a sad day for America when the president spends his time bullying, lying and spewing petty personal attacks instead of doing his job,” an MSNBC spokesperson said in a statement.
Trump showed no second thoughts about criticizing a woman’s politics by aiming rhetorical razors at her physique – something he attempted as a candidate against Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton. Trump won only 42 percent of the women’s vote in November, but captured the lion’s share of support among non-college-educated white women who voted. As a businessman, Trump’s barbs about physical appearance included swats at Rosie O’Donnell and Venezuelan beauty contestant Alicia Machado.
Standing alongside Melania Trump, who chose online bullying as one of her issues as first lady, the president greeted President Moon Jae-in of South Korea to the White House Thursday evening. The president ignored a reporter’s shouted question asking if he regretted his morning tweets.
Trump castigated Brzezinski’s intelligence, mental stability, and facial features, a tweet trifecta many women (and men) of all political persuasions said they found offensive, unnecessary and counter to their expectations about mature presidential behavior.
Pete Wehner, who served in the administrations of Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and advised President George W. Bush in the White House, reacted on Twitter:
We’re watching a president devour himself, his presidency & civic norms/guardrails. Is this what the right/Republican Party want to defend?
— Peter Wehner (@Peter_Wehner) June 29, 2017
There are clear signs that Trump is wearing out his public welcome with his personal Twitter account, according to recent polls. Trump friends, personal attorneys and closest advisers have advised the president to let the White House staff do his tweeting, to little effect.
Sixty-one percent of Americans in a recent Quinnipiac survey conducted before the Brzezinski controversy said Trump should abandon his unsupervised tweeting, while 32 percent supported his personal observations on the social media platform.
Twitter is a communications tool that millions of Americans don’t use themselves but encounter during daily news coverage. Trump likes his random thoughts to run free via the 140-character messages, which he believes keep him in touch with his political base.
But the president has buried his governing messages with diversions on Twitter, from a falsehood that millions of fraudulent votes were cast in the presidential race, to suggestions that President Obama wiretapped Trump and campaign aides at Trump Tower, and that “tapes” of former FBI Director James Comey existed at the White House. Eleven weeks later, the president conceded via Twitter that he had no tapes of conversations with Comey.
As “Hail to the Chief” played at the Energy Department Thursday, the president veered from his prepared text to dive into a topic about which he broods from dawn until nightfall: the news media and daily coverage he finds harsh, inaccurate, or both.
While describing new ingredients in his administration’s agenda for coal, gas and nuclear power, Trump wandered off-message, hunting for affirmation from Vice President Pence, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and an audience of stakeholders who work in the energy sector.
“Don’t we love that term? Fake. What we’ve learned about fake over the last little while. Fake news. CNN. Fake,” he said, gazing toward the camera lenses in the room.
At the White House, Trump left it to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his deputy press secretary, to defend his actions during Thursday’s televised briefing.
“He’s not going to sit back and be attacked by the liberal media [or] Hollywood elites. And when they hit him, he’s going to hit back,” she said. “The American people elected a fighter. They didn’t elect somebody to sit back and do nothing. They knew what they were getting when they voted for Donald Trump, and he won.”