Trump feuds causing turmoil within GOP

‘There’s no precedent for this,’ expert says.

With a key Republican senator openly worried about President Donald Trump precipitating a nuclear war and the president feuding with his secretary of state, the Trump administration is engulfed by the type of turmoil not seen in any presidency of the modern era.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told the New York Times that Trump behaves as if he is running a “reality show,” and could set the United States “on the path to World War III” with his threats against North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un.

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Corker’s jarring comments took place as Trump appeared to undercut Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s effort to soothe the tense nuclear crisis with North Korea. Trump tweeted Tillerson was “wasting his time,” a tweet issued just days after the State Department denied Tillerson privately called the president a “moron.”

The mounting turmoil caps off a chaotic nine months to Trump’s presidency which has been plagued by an alarming number of personnel departures, including U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, White House chief of staff Reince Preibus, White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, chief strategist Steve Bannon, and White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

“There’s no precedent for this,” said Evan Thomas, who has written biographies of former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and President Richard Nixon. “Chaos in government is normal in there is … always a lot of tugging and pulling.”

But Thomas said “this is a whole new dimension because we have never had a president who was remotely like Trump who seems to be operating entirely on impulse and he’s got the rest of the world reacting,” Thomas said.

John A. Farrell, author of the book “Richard Nixon — The Life,” said what’s worrisome about Trump is how much of the turmoil is is “self-inflicted.”

“With Trump, we haven’t figured him out how much of it is P.T. Barnum bluster and how much is genuine belligerence,” Farrell said.

Those who have been close to Trump say the commotion is because Trump wants to govern in a dramatically different style. Barry Bennett, who served as a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign last year, said “the insiders all play together nicely and they meet in the back rooms and they strike the deals and tell us only as much as they want us to know.”

“There is no playbook for an anti-Washington candidate,” said Bennett, a former adviser to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “There are going to be battles. There is going to be bloodshed. But I take it as a cost of doing business.”

‘That cannot be good’

Every administration since the dawn of the Republic has been plagued by infighting and squabbles. But what makes the current chaos so different is Trump seems to delight to rely on Twitter to attack or mock Republicans and members of his administration, with Thomas saying “the president has normalized government by Twitter. That cannot be good.”

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Unlike many Washington fights which have little meaning to everyday Americans, voters are paying attention. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, said during the August recess people told him they were “exhausted” by the daily pandemonium and the blistering tweets.

“They want to pay attention because they have to know what’s going on, but at the same time, it’s exhausting to try to follow everything going on,” Ryan said. “He is intentionally, and I think that’s the main word — intentionally — causing strife and chaos and everything else,” adding Trump “feeds off of it. He consumes it.”

Ohio Republicans such Sen. Rob Portman are engaged in the delicate challenge of supporting Corker — who is not seeking re-election — without alienating Trump. Without mentioning Trump, Portman called Corker “a leader in Congress on issues as diverse as deficit reduction and combatting terrorism, and he is a man of unwavering integrity.”

In his typical fashion, Trump is holding congressional Republicans responsible for the deepening split with the administration. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters last week Congress “has alienated” itself “by not actually getting the job done that the people of this country elected them to do.”

Trump has made clear he is willing to ignore congressional Republicans if he can strike a deal with Democrats on overhauling the tax code and revising the nation’s health-care system.

“What we have seen is a new triangulation kind of playbook more modeled after the Clinton presidency,” Bennett said. “When the establishment cannot yield a majority, you’ll have to find a majority in new ways.”

Yet there is no question Trump has frightened lawmakers from both parties with tweets such as “only one thing will work” with Kim of North Korea, a threat which suggested a nuclear exchange on the Korean peninsula, one that could lead to the destruction of Japan and South Korea.

Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington, pointed out during the 1964 presidential campaign, Democrats took advantage of voter fears that Republican nominee Barry Goldwater might impulsively start a nuclear war.

“But a sitting Senate chair of the foreign relations committee talking about a sitting president of the United States? That’s really, really unusual,” Rothenberg said.

‘Bent, but not broken’

Others are reassured because Trump has assembled a stable and experienced national security team headed by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general.

“So far the system has done a pretty good job of containing him,” Thomas said. “Despite all the handwringing in the press, the system has bent, but not broken.”

Ryan said he has “a lot of confidence in the people around the president with regard to the national security team – Mattis, McMaster and Kelly – and I’m less inclined to think that things will spin out of control too quickly.”

“But,” he acknowledged, “I’m a heck of a lot more worried about it today than I was a year ago or 10 years ago.”

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