The president cant help trampling on his message, especially if his self-image is on the line.
Following a carefully manicured, four-day convention in which Donald Trumps chief lieutenants branded him as an avatar of stability and Joe Biden as the pied-piper of race riots, the president did what he always does: He casually disposed of his teams messaging in the service of nursing personal grudges.
This week, it was about how his brain isnt dying.
CNN should fire Joe Lockhart, a lifetime failure who thought it was a great idea for fellow loser Michael Dukakis to put on that stupid helmet, for knowingly pushing a conspiracy theory about President Trumps health, an unsigned statement from the campaign read. If another CNN employee said similar things about Barack Obama theyd be fired immediately, so the same standard should be applied here.
Whether the presidents campaign brass went ahead and released the statement knowing it would please the boss or if Trump personally ordered it up himself wasnt immediately clear. But it also was largely immaterial, too. Numerous current and former senior Trump aides say that officials will often start drafting these types of intemperate statements even absent an explicit directive from the president, because they all know that Trump will most likely demand such action anyway.
When you sign up for a job in comms for [Trump], you sign on to play defense on any number of absurd things, said a former senior administration official. That includes pushing back aggressively on perceived or real attacks on his mental fitness, which he has [at times] said is an intolerable attack not just on him, but on his administration and his supporters.
The entire episode was, at one level, another window into the doubts and insecurities that have fed the presidents rise through the business and political worlds. They also were just the latest example of why Democrats and many Republicans believe his campaign is stuck. Having tried to put his opponent on defense over rioting and looting in several cities, Trump decided to turn the conversation to a topic that no one seemed to be paying attention to; and one that was not particularly beneficial for his electoral prospects.
Joe Bidens presidential campaign was practically thrilled to play along, arguing that Trumps focus on his own mental acuity was rooted in his failures on a more pressing health matter: the coronavirus pandemic that now has a U.S. body count of more than 185,000.
Trump is flat out running on upheaval happening on his own watch, said Andrew Bates, the Biden campaigns director of rapid response. The truth is, Donald Trump has failed our nation so abysmally that he is now the only president in American history for whom derailing his own self-damaging message with bizarre theories about ninjas and sudden rants about his own health are probably the closest thing he can get to a win.
Those close to Trump arent surprised at all by this turn, given how all- consuming his emphasis on defending his honor and lauding his own health has become. For years, his own physical and mental well-being have been extremely touchy subjects for this president, leading to him having various prolonged freakouts in public and behind closed doors.
Trump has privately groused to friends, family, and aides that New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman accused him of having Parkinsons disease this summer, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter. Those sources say that the president has been stewing about this for nearly three months, and he still hasnt let it go, bringing it up in the West Wing as recently as last week, one of these sources said.
The presidents intense focus on these matters during the final stretch of the 2020 presidential raceand at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is still raging, the U.S. economy is still gutted, and racial and civil unrest continue to swell around the countryhas mystified some longtime Republican operatives, even as many of Trumps own top advisers have given up on attempting to rein in their candidates excesses.
Its not a wise use of time, no, said Doug Heye, a veteran GOP strategist and a former top official at the Republican National Committee who has publicly noted his antipathy for the president. But I think weve seen several years ago that Donald Trump is not going to pivot We said all these things wouldnt work for Trump, but he won. Proving that negative is hard to do a second time around. His answer to everything is, You said I shouldnt do these things and I wouldnt win if I did these things, and I won.
Still, some of Trumps own senior staffers seem ready to turn the page on the presidents recent tantrums. Reached for comment on this story Wednesday night, the Trump campaigns communications director Tim Murtaugh sent along a 122- word comment. However, none of it addressed the mental-health-related nature of the inquiry, and instead stayed on what was supposed to be Trumps message this week: mainly, blasting the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee for being too weak in the face of riots staged by left-wing criminals in Democrat-run cities and the radicals who are in charge of his party and his campaign.