A storm is forever raging in the mind of Donald Trump.
The president proved again this week that his own self-absorbed preoccupations and off-the-cuff attacks against his perceived enemies are the greatest threats to his chances of successfully sailing a robust economy into the midterm elections and preventing Democrats from retaking a house of Congress.
As the week began, Hurricane Florence’s “cone of uncertainty” became a little more certain. Forecast to make landfall as a Category 3 or 4 monster, the storm would hit by the end of the week, giving the Trump administration and local authorities ample time to prepare a plan of action.
Yet the president kicked off Monday with a storm of his own making, tweeting a false claim about the economy that was quickly disproved.
In fact, that feat had been accomplished 64 times in the past 70 years. In the White House press briefing later that day, White House Council of Economic Advisers chairman Kevin Hassett explained that Trump had simply added an extra zero to his figures: “I can tell you what is true. What is true is that it is the highest in 10 years.”
Like Hassett, Trump’s supporters saw the error as a tempest in a teapot that didn’t diminish the fact that the economy was doing well. Tweet deleted, move on.
But Trump also spent his morning obsessed with another looming calamity, the forthcoming publication of Bob Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House.”
Woodward, the journalist who helped bring down Richard Nixon, was rightly deemed a threat, and Trump and his aides worked overtime to discredit the book’s central thrust: that the president was in over his head. The problem for Trump was that Woodward’s conclusions appeared to be supported by an anonymous op-ed published the week before in the New York Times, attributed to a “senior official” in the administration. The writer said that a resistance movement, having concluded that the president was amoral and, to borrow Omarosa Manigault Newman’s book title, unhinged, had established itself in the executive branch. And while the White House worked overtime to convince Americans that Woodward’s book was, in Trump’s review a “work of fiction,” the pushback against the op-ed implicitly conceded that the author was a real person who might fit the description of a “senior official.”
“If that individual is in meetings where national security is discussed, or other important topics, and they are attempting to undermine the executive branch, that would certainly be problematic,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at Monday’s briefing, explaining why the president had called on the attorney general to identify the author.
As the day wore on and Florence continue to creep closer to the East Coast, the president’s advisers tried to get him to concentrate on the coming deluge.