President Donald Trump is not himself. And by “not himself” I mean he seems to have lost his swagger. Ever since the midterm elections, he’s been churlish and petulant. His brazen braggadocio is suddenly dull and off-key. The question is what exactly has him brooding and upset.
Sure, he held a press conference the morning after the election at which he ludicrously asserted, “I’ll be honest: I think it was a great victory. And actually, some of the news this morning was that it was, in fact, a great victory.” The news that morning was nothing of the kind, of course. And even he couldn’t pull it off. He rapidly devolved into his patented media-bashing to change the subject and ended up looking like the worst sore loser in presidential history.
That same day he fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with someone he believed would protect him from the Mueller investigation — a man described by George Conway — Kellyanne Conway’s husband — as a “constitutional nobody.” And that wasn’t his worst day last week.
On Friday, the Wall Street Journal published a big scoop revealing that the feds have unearthed plenty of evidence that Trump had personally broken campaign finance laws. More troubling for him is that the three people given immunity — lawyer Michael Cohen, National Enquirer publisher David Pecker and Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg — know where a lot of other metaphorical bodies are buried. (We hope there are no real bodies involved.)
Luckily Trump had a chance to de-stress over the weekend on a nice trip to France for some military pageants, which he loves more than anything. Sadly, this got off to a bad start when he watched a Fox News show that misinterpreted a comment from French President Emmanuel Macron, who has suggested that Europe needs to create its own army to defend itself against Russia, China and the U.S., and took to Twitter to lash out. The Washington Post reports that British Prime Minister Theresa May called Air Force One during the trip to congratulate Trump on his electoral “victory” and he inexplicably exploded at her over Iran.
So the trip didn’t start off well and only got worse as Trump acted like a sullen child at the ceremonies he deigned to attend. He didn’t even bother to go to the one to commemorate the American dead of World War I — which ended 100 years ago this week — instead staying inside and tweeting threats at California as it suffered from catastrophic wildfires. He finally roused himself to attend the big final ceremony, although he couldn’t bring himself to walk with the other leaders. He greeted his only real friend, Vladimir Putin, as enthusiastically as one of those dogs who throw themselves at their masters returning from a deployment to Iraq. He didn’t care for his former buddy Macron chiding him by suggesting that nationalism wasn’t really all that great considering the wars it precipitated, including the horrifying meat-grinder they were all there to memorialize.
He’s been pouting ever since his return. He’s holed up in the White House furiously posting hysterical tweets about stopping the vote count in Florida and making irresponsible declarations about Democratic fraud and cheating. The Los Angeles Times reports that Trump has “retreated into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment, according to multiple administration sources.” The chaos in the White House on Monday and Tuesday was so intense that one former staffer called it, “like an episode of ‘Maury’ … the only thing that’s missing is a paternity test,” according to Politico. Rumors of firings and resignations are flying around so fast that they are bumping into each other.
In one of the weirdest Trump administration episodes yet, it was reported on Tuesday that Mira Ricardel, John Bolton’s second in command at the National Security Council, had abruptly been fired. Then that was taken back, and nobody really knew what was going on until First Lady Melania Trump’s office announced that Ricardel “no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.” Melania had apparently demanded Ricardel’s ouster because of some issues over airplane seats during her Africa trip and the president reportedly gave the OK to fire her, saying “I don’t need this s**t.” (Perhaps that Wall Street Journal exposé about the hush money added a little stress in the private residence as well?)
This is all a far cry from those giddy early days of the administration when Trump went on a Victory Tour to celebrate with his adoring fans, isn’t it? He had barely eked out a tiny win, not all that different from last week’s GOP victory in the Senate (where Democratic candidates got 14 million more votes, at last count), but he was able to sell it as a result of his brilliance because it was so unexpected. It’s likely he thought that was going to happen again — but the “Red Wave” didn’t materialize and reality is starting to bite, and bite hard.
Trump feels betrayed by all those Republicans who failed to win and made him look like a loser. He’s been stabbed in the back by Emmanuel Macron, his little buddy, who hasn’t found that flattering Trump got him anywhere and has stopped trying. Kim Jong-un, the man who sends him “beautiful letters” after the two of them “fell in in love,” is making a fool of him by continuing to build missile sites after Trump announced to the world that North Korea’s nuclear threat was over. Then there’s the latest in a long line of former intimates who’ve turned state’s evidence, possibly including his old pal Roger Stone, who appears to be on the verge of indictment. Firing Sessions, the man who committed the original sin of following the rules instead of being his “Roy Cohn,” hasn’t made him feel any better.
I suspect the biggest reason for all this is the ultimate betrayal: His followers failed him by not voting in great enough numbers to defy all the predictions and prove that he is the biggest winner in American political history. He may not be stable and he may not be a genius, but right now he knows that he looks like a loser. Perhaps he also instinctively realizes that may just break the spell some of his voters have been under since he was unexpectedly elected two years ago — the belief that even though he is personally a mess and his administration is nonstop chaos, he’s an unbeatable giant-slayer, an omnipotent superhero who transcends the normal definition of leadership. He lost, and his followers will never see him the same way again.
Once a con man is exposed, he blows town and moves on to the next mark. But Donald Trump is the president of the United States. He’s trapped and he has nowhere else to go.