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Witcover: Trump under siege

The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board break down Trump's health care loss.

Only five months into his presidency, Donald Trump's promise to make America great again is at best on hold, as he squirms to get out of the defensive crouch his ad hoc decision-making, incompetence in governing and self-inflicted wounds have placed him in.

He faces possible defeat already in his prime domestic legislative objective, repeal of Obamacare, despite Republican control of both houses of Congress. So he is now engaged in a tardy effort to find 50 Republican votes in the Senate to enact a replacement scheme widely unpopular in his own party ranks.

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At the same time, Mr. Trump labors to get himself out from under that "little Russian thing" — Moscow's alleged intrusion into the 2016 presidential election to put him over the top. He blames his predecessor, Barack Obama, for not responding earlier and more aggressively to the meddling — while showing no evidence of decisiveness himself in acknowledging its existence or taking actions against it on his own watch.

Also as usual, he clings to excessive rhetoric in assaulting political foes via the American news and social media in his transparent campaign of fake news designed to flood and discredit the daily real news flow. From both his mouth and tweet storms, he unleashes his overflowing store of lies and misrepresentations.

The consequent public outbreak of public protest around the country against the Senate repeal-and-replace Obamacare bill, written by the GOP leaders on Capitol Hill sans presidential leadership, assures that whether or not it becomes law, the fight over health care reform will go on, as Mr. Trump struggles to take political control of his party and the country.

Mr. Trump's presidential modus operandi of diversion from issues and controversies remains in play. His recent statement that he did not tape his White House conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey, contradicting his earlier strong suggestion that he had, served to create more confusion, fits a familiar pattern of muddying the waters with endless, contradictory back-and-forth.

An ironic casualty in all this war of words is the communications arm of the presidency. Its traditional task has been keeping the public informed of the activities, whereabouts, thoughts and plans of the nation's chief executive. With the exception of the last years of the Nixon administration, when lies to cover up the Watergate crimes shattered its credibility, and the period when Bill Clinton's PR aides were tasked with explaining away his sexual peccadilloes, the White House press staff has been a generally reliable entity.

However, given Mr. Trump's obvious disapproval and even contempt of the American press corps, particularly in Washington, the relationship between the White House and accredited reporters has grown from uneasy and testy to downright hostile and adversarial.

Sean Spicer’s future as Trump’s White House Press Secretary doesn’t look good.

The beleaguered presidential press secretary, Sean Spicer, an acerbic and acidic refugee from the Republican National Committee, has turned the often daily press briefing into an endless sparring match, to the point where he has been mocked mercilessly on television's "Saturday Night Live." Spicer and his deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have struggled to stay in step with Trump's erratic observations, to the point that the daily briefings have now been curtailed to audio-only affairs with video forbidden.

Mr. Spicer and Ms. Sanders have been embarrassingly reduced to offering serial non-answers to reporters' specific and even general queries. The cable news outlets that have been airing the briefings have responded by printing the questions and answers on the television screen, countering the Trump administration's childish petulance in the matter. Doing so spotlights Trumpworld's laughable solution to its problem of poor press relations.

This latest twist on the deteriorating marriage between Mr. Trump's presidency and journalism's working stiffs, charged with keeping their eyes and ears on the comings and goings of this media-afflicted leader, tells a lot about his gluttonous hunger for public acceptance. As he strains to inhibit the messengers not subject to his control, Donald Trump provides evidence that it's he who, as he might put it, is "the enemy of the people."

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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