There were problems with this notion from the start, like the idea that the president was a successful businessman or that he would actually appoint the most qualified people for positions of power instead of, say, Ben Carson and Betsy DeVos.
Nonetheless, on national-security issues, the president did appoint a number of men and women that Washington began to refer to as “the adults in the room.” These adults included the president’s secretary of state, his secretary of defense, and the man who replaced Mike Flynn as the national-security adviser, H.R. McMaster.
But to paraphrase Politico’s Susan Glasser, the problem with the adults in the room is that they’re not actually in the room. On three separate issues over the past two weeks—the decision not to affirm Article 5 of the NATO charter, the decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, and the tweets that placed the United States on the side of the Saudis and Emiratis in their spat with Qatar—the president took actions either without first consulting his advisers, or which contradicted their advice.
Under our system of government, the president has every right to disregard the counsel of his advisers—as President Obama did, for example, when he elected not to strike chemical-weapons sites in Syria in 2013 before first consulting the Congress. But supporters of this particular president—who were assured his own callowness would be offset by the sage advice of others—have more right than most to feel misled.
Or do they?
As the longtime Trump-watcher Maggie Haberman noted, “What is amazing is capacity of people who watched the campaign to be surprised by what they are seeing. Trump is 70. Ppl [sic] don't change.”
Put another way, and as I have argued before, the principal challenge for this presidency was never going to be process or staffing—though both remain an issue. The principal challenge for this presidency is the temperament and character of the president himself, and no one who has watched Donald Trump over time—or even over the course of 2016—can claim to be shocked or disappointed by what they are seeing now.
Over the past two weeks alone, Donald Trump has turned his back on the most successful military alliance in history in the face of renewed Russian aggression, abdicated global leadership on climate to the Chinese, and served notice to the Gulf emirate out of which the United States and its coalition partners are running the air wars over Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
The only people who have benefitted from the president’s actions are America’s enemies.
Thus far, the Republican reactions to Trump’s actions have ranged from tepid support to silence to—at the harshest—an exasperated shake of the head from the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Many Republicans still view Trump as the flawed vessel through which they can carry out their domestic agenda.