Trump's erratic behavior not just a 'message' problem

Our view: Allowing President Trump to be himself isn’t playing so well with the ‘beleaguered’ attorney general — or with the American electorate

Diehard supporters of Donald J. Trump like to use the phrase, “Let Trump be Trump,” as if the president’s biggest hangup was staff, family or colleagues holding him back. On the Sunday talk shows, Anthony Scaramucci, Mr. Trump’s new communications director, even offered a novel explanation of the president’s inappropriate tweeting — a failure of the president’s messengers to fully explain the White House point of view to the outside world. "I want the president to be the president and I want him to express the full nature of his personality," he said.

Apparently, someone was listening.

President’s Trump’s cringeworthy behavior in recent days, most notably his public bullying of Attorney General Jeff Sessions along with a rambling, politics-laced and wholly inappropriate address to the Boy Scouts at the National Scout Jamboree Monday evening, are clearly not the behavior of anyone but the 71-year-old real estate developer from Queens who seems laser-focused on the glorification of himself and the disparagement of anyone he believes has crossed him in the past. The president may spend some moments prodding the U.S. Senate to move forward on a “repeal and replace” health care bill, but it’s clear he has little idea what’s involved in that legislation, only that its passage would be perceived as a political achievement for him.

Past presidents have approached the Boy Scouts’ quadrennial gathering as an opportunity to talk about values or life experience or American history. Not Mr. Trump. He showed up in West Virginia to settle scores, to complain about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, to recall New York cocktail party chat, to lambaste “fake news.” In other words, he offered the same sort of self-serving, warmed-over political banter that he not only offers at rallies (where it’s expected) but also at events like Saturday’s commissioning of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford (where it wasn’t). Many Americans are likely resigned to the president’s lack of statesmanship, his crass behavior and sometimes coarse language, yet he always seems to reliably find new ways to embarrass the nation.

Even those of us who have little good to say about Attorney General Sessions are somewhat flabbergasted at the lengths Mr. Trump has gone in recent days to denounce a cabinet member who serves at his pleasure. “Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes...” was how President Trump began his Tuesday at 6:12 a.m. And that’s after the president described Mr. Sessions as “beleaguered” in a Monday morning tweet, his anger apparently raging over the attorney general’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation in March. March!

So what’s the point of bullying Mr. Sessions four months after he made a decision that most people regarded as reasonable (and even helpful if the president and his inner circle did nothing wrong)? Either Mr. Trump considers this a normal way to motivate and manage his cabinet members, or he’s attempting to force one of earliest and most loyal campaign supporters to resign. Neither seems an adequate explanation. More likely, Mr. Trump is simply lashing out at a convenient target with no greater purpose than the pleasure of doing so.

This might explain why a new poll by USA Today and MediaEthics found Americans split 42 percent to 42 percent over whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office through impeachment. Now, take a moment to digest that bit of information. It’s not even the president’s worst numbers. A similar survey by Public Policy Polling in June pegged the impeach-the-president support at 47 percent. Americans didn’t support the Bill Clinton impeachment in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal with that kind of enthusiasm; an October 1998 Gallup poll pegged the public’s pro-impeachment sentiment at 34 percent, yet the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment just two months later. The only modern president to record worse numbers than Mr. Trump on the impeachment question? Richard M. Nixon.

Perhaps this is why pardons are so much on Mr. Trump’s mind that he felt the need to tweet on Saturday that he has “complete power” to pardon everyone. Why offer that little tidbit after his aides claimed reports that his legal team was already researching his pardon authority were completely false? Here’s the probable explanation: It’s President Trump being President Trump. He’s a little angry, a little scared and a little circular in his reasoning, and Americans are already growing weary of this rerun.

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