The Week on Planet Trump: The Revolution is Over but He’s Still Not ‘Presidential’

Monday: Stunts Aren’t Policy

No, we haven’t learned that Mr. Trump is an effective leader. Ordering the U.S. military to fire off some missiles is easy. Doing so in a way that actually serves American interests is the hard part, and we’ve seen no indication whatsoever that Mr. Trump and his advisers have figured that part out.

Actually, what we know of the decision-making process is anything but reassuring. Just days before the strike, the Trump administration seemed to be signaling lack of interest in Syrian regime change.

What changed? The images of poison-gas victims were horrible, but Syria has been an incredible horror story for years. Is Mr. Trump making life-and-death national security decisions based on TV coverage?

One thing is certain: The media reaction to the Syria strike showed that many pundits and news organizations have learned nothing from past failures.

Paul Krugman, The New York Times

Tuesday: Nothing Changes

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has absurdly tried to suggest that nothing has changed. He is wrong. Fifty-nine cruise missiles constitute a policy shift. So what is the administration's strategic vision? What is its desired outcome? How does it get there? And what happens next?

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Sunday that the administration cannot envision "a peaceful Syria" with dictator Bashar Assad still in power. Tillerson went on a different Sunday show to say that Assad's fate is up to "the Syrian people." Neither statement had much grounding in the reality of a heartbreakingly brutal war that has killed about 400,000 people and displaced half of Syria's population.

Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post

Wednesday: Trump Deserves Awful Spicer

Any right-thinking president would have fired Spicer a long time ago, as many are now calling on Trump to do. Spicer survives because he’s willing to toe any line Trump asks him to, and to improvisationally torch his own credibility in defense of the administration’s outrages.

That logic notwithstanding, this administration’s critics should be rooting for Spicer to stay. The White House press secretary plays the dual role of representing the U.S. and being an advocate for the press when reporters have grievances with this and other governments. Spicer may be the worst such press secretary in the history of the job, but he reflects the administration’s contempt for truth, decency, and the free press in both roles exquisitely, which is as it should be.

Brian Beutler, New Republic

Thursday: Still Not Presidential

It’s astonishing, isn’t it, how suddenly Donald J. Trump is being viewed, in certain precincts, as—what’s the word?—yes, “Presidential,” and all it took was for him to issue an order to launch fifty-nine cruise missiles against a Syrian airbase. It’s as if a national-amnesia button got pushed, one able to wipe out memories of the actual President: the former reality-show star, real-estate brander, double-talker, and serial distorter of reality. Although some Trump supporters seemed confused by this new tack (the talk-show host Laura Ingraham tweeted, “Missiles flying. Rubio’s happy. McCain ecstatic. Hillary’s on board. A complete policy change in 48 hrs.”), there was wide approval from the foreign-policy establishment.

Jeffrey Frank, The New Yorker

Friday: Trump Confront Reality

Reality is raining down like baseball-sized hail on the Trump administration, with the wind gusts twirling the president about as though he were a tumbleweed.

Indeed, the flips and flops have been so pronounced that a redefining moment has arrived in what might be dubbed, with apologies to Ernest Hemingway, the short unhappy life of frantic team blunder.

Once a firm noninterventionist when it comes to Syria, President Trump has now sent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a sharp military message, delivered via cruise missile. The president now smiles benevolently upon China, a country he has decided actually isn’t the conniving currency manipulator that Candidate Trump charged. No indeed. In fact, Chinese President Xi Jinping is a new Trump friend, a leader who “wants to do the right thing.” It’s Vladimir Putin, the authoritarian apple of candidate Trump’s eye, who currently draws baleful stares from the White House.

Scot Lehigh, The Boston Globe

Saturday: The Bannon-Kuchner Civil War

In this rotating cast of regulars, Steve Bannon has for months conventionally come first. Time put him on its cover as “The Great Manipulator.” In reality-TV terms, he would be the Man with the Dark Past. But Bannon’s recent fall from grace exemplifies just how little certainty there is for anyone in the West Wing. “He wears the negative press as a badge of honor, but Mr. Trump doesn’t subscribe to that,” a person close to Trump told me, using the honorific that you still frequently hear among loyalists. “[Trump] wants positive press. He wants positive press and he wants what he is doing to be viewed favorably by the media.”

Bannon had been viewed as one of the two (with Kushner) most powerful members of the West Wing team, and for a time was referred to (reportedly with his own tacit encouragement) as President Bannon—a joke that isn’t a joke. He keeps a personal publicist and is the self-appointed guardian of the issues that matter to the base that got Trump elected. But, according to a senior administration official, Bannon’s effort to put himself on the National Security Council, without Trump having been fully briefed, made Ivanka and Jared suspicious of his motives. “This was honestly a dark-of-night operation,” this official told me. Similarly, the bungled implementation of the travel ban didn’t win any points for Bannon. According to a senior official close to the president: “You could have told Homeland Security to really start doing their jobs. You didn’t have to sign an executive order and piss in everyone’s face.”

But Bannon’s real undoing in the eyes of his boss, according to three people familiar with the situation, involves his perceived attacks through the media against Kushner and Ivanka as liberal Democrats seeking to undermine a more conservative agenda. Bannon’s other big mistake has been taking credit for Trump’s own popularity, such as it is. Referring to the Time cover, a senior administration official told me, “He is very talented at making himself seem the hero of the conservatives who elected Donald Trump”—the implication being that if you lose Bannon, you lose them. “It’s a very smart thing to do on his part,” this official added, “but ultimately it’s not a sustainable strategy for him. The president sees through that kind of thing, and he’s aware of what’s happening.” The official went on: “The reality is, if he keeps this up he’s not going to be here.”

Sally Ellison, Vanity Fair

Sunday: Trump Revolution Over

In foreign policy, Trump once derided traditional alliances like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said he’d seek an alliance with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and promised to avoid entanglement in Syria’s civil war. In the last 10 days, Trump praised NATO, confronted Russia and ordered a missile strike against Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack.

On trade, Trump promised to declare China a currency manipulator, threatened to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement and suggested he’d abolish the Export-Import Bank; he’s walked away from all three positions.

On economics, Trump promised to cut middle-class taxes and protect Social Security and Medicare. But the first drafts of his tax plan awarded the biggest cuts to top-end earners — and last week, Trump’s budget director said he hopes to persuade the president to back changes to Social Security and Medicare too.

Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

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