Sometimes it seems like President Trump is living in his own world.
A world where Trump already has the votes to replace the Affordable Care Act and pass tax reform; where hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico are getting “A-plus ratings;” and where he has a “fantastic” relationship with congressional Republicans.
To critics, the world is one in which Republicans have been unable to pass major legislation, including health care and taxes; in which lawmakers have have harshly criticized the Puerto Rico response; in which a prominent Republican has likened the Trump White House to an adult day care center — and one in which Trump is seeking to create his own version of reality.
“Since he first emerged as a presidential candidate, Trump has regularly asserted things that aren’t true in order to either avoid uncomfortable questions or paint a rosy (or dystopian) picture of whatever issue he’s talking about,” said Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor with the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.
Trump’s world is volatile and can shift suddenly:
• On Tuesday, Trump indicated he supported a bipartisan Senate plan to restore certain health insurance subsidies; the next day, he criticized the plan as too much of a gift to the insurance companies.
• In early October, Trump tweeted that Rex Tillerson was “wasting his time” in seeking diplomacy with North Korea, yet insisted he was not undercutting his secretary of State. After reports that Tillerson once called Trump a “moron,” Trump told reporters that they have “a very good relationship,” though “sometimes I’d like him to be a little bit tougher.”
• Trump continues to say that the United States is the highest-taxed nation in the world, even though that is not the case.
“Some people say it differently, they say we’re the highest developed nation taxed in the world,” Trump told Scripps in an interview this week. “A lot of people know exactly what I’m talking about, and in many cases they think I’m right when I say the highest. As far as I’m concerned, I think we’re really essentially the highest, but if you want to add the ‘developed nation,’ you can say that, too.”
To Trump supporters, it is the critics and reporters who are distorting reality, taking Trump’s statements out of context or putting them in a false light while he seeks to promote his agenda his way.
Trump is “not scripted”
“You can say that the president is positive and the media is negative, always focusing on the negative side of things,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
Sanders said Trump is “candid,” and his style is one of the reasons he defeated Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election: “People want somebody who is real, who is authentic, and who is not scripted.” Clinton received 2.9 million more votes than Trump but lost the election in the Electoral College.
One result of Trump’s rhetoric: Diametrically different accounts of a single event, as happened this week in stories about presidential phone calls to families of soldiers killed in battle.
A member of Congress from Florida who overheard one of Trump’s calls said he patronized the widow by saying her slain soldier “knew what he signed up for;” Trump responded that he “didn’t say what that congresswoman said; didn’t say it at all.”
Trump has said “I think I’ve called every family of someone who’s died,” but the families of several slain soldiers said they have not heard from the president.
John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, on Thursday confirmed Trump’s comments but criticized Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat, for publicizing them.
Lunch with Mitch
The different political universes were also put on full display with this week’s White House meeting between Trump and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
Afterward, Trump brought McConnell before reporters in an impromptu Rose Garden news conference, telling reporters they have a great relationship — never mind that they and their aides have sniped at each other for months over the lack of a health care bill and other legislative setbacks.
Just a few hours earlier, in a Cabinet meeting, Trump said he “great relationships” with most Republican senators, but added that “they are not getting the job done.”
Also never mind that former White House strategist Steve Bannon plans to back primary challengers to Senate Republicans he believes have been insufficiently pro-Trump.
In the view of Trump, however, “maybe with the exception of a few — and that is a very small few — I have a fantastic relationship with the people in the Senate, and with the people in Congress.”
A week before, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. told the New York Times that Trump’s recklessness threatens “World War III,” and added that he isn’t the only Republican to feel this way.
“Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” Corker told the Times, adding: “Of course they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”
A-plus on hurricane response?
President Trump is giving himself a ’10’ for the hurricane response in Puerto Rico. Trump met Thursday with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello at the White House. He said the governor understands that US responders ‘can’t be there forever.’ (Oct. 19) AP
Also at the McConnell news conference, Trump said he was “very honored” that James Lee Witt, the Federal Emergency Management Agency head under President Bill Clinton, “gave us an A-plus” on hurricane recovery.
On Twitter, Witt took to Twitter to say his grade applied only to responses in Texas and Florida: “It is still too early to grade the hurricane response in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. As time goes by it should become apparent.”
Critics have scorned the Puerto Rico effort, noting that nearly a month after Hurricane Maria more than a third of Puerto Rico households lack running water and less than 20% of the island’s power grid has been restored.
To his supporters, Trump accentuates the positive, not unlike a salesman involved in negotiations.
“The media does not like the answers that President Trump is giving,” said former Trump campaign communications director Jason Miller.
Miller called Trump a master of media communications, and “many detractors have been frustrated that President Trump is beating them at their own game.”
Hemmer, the Virginia professor and author of a book called Messengers of the Right:
Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics, said Trump “has shown again and again that his statements are not rooted in reality.”
Instead, she said, Trump uses rhetoric designed to make himself look good: “I don’t think there is an overarching strategy, other than to avoid taking blame for failures and to shore up his ‘I alone can fix it’ argument.”