But that spirit soon faded. Through the weekend and spilling into Monday, Trump spooled out dozens of tweets that amounted to a dark catalog of grievances and frustrations that preoccupy him midway through his term, with the results of the Russia probe looming. Pausing to attend a church service Sunday near the White House, he took seemingly gratuitous swipes at longtime Senator John McCain of Arizona, who died of cancer seven months ago. He suggested that federal agencies led by his political appointees should examine NBC’s Saturday Night Live, a comedy show that has satirized politicians for decades. He touted his poll numbers, skewered anchors at Fox News, disparaged Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry, and denounced former and possibly future campaign rivals. Hillary Clinton, he wrote, is “Crooked Hillary”; former Vice President Joe Biden, a “low I.Q. individual.”
One of the president’s outside confidants on Monday likened the tweetstorm to Trump’s free-wheeling speech earlier this month at the Conservative Political Action Conference. That’s no accident, said this person, who, like other Trump associates I talked with, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. Inside Trump’s 2020 campaign, two factions are emerging. One wants Trump to act “presidential” and deploy the formal trappings of the White House to his advantage. The other camp wants Trump to reprise the unscripted approach he used to secure his 2016 election victory. That’s the political persona Trump intuitively embraces—and it’s the one voters are most likely to see going into the next election, this person said.
Peter Wehner: A damaged soul and a disordered personality
Many of Trump’s tweets came with no clarifying context or connecting thread. It’s easy for a reader to get lost—or to at least pine for some sort of annotated guide. When Trump tweeted Sunday morning, for example, that the Democrats had tried to “steal” the 2016 presidential race through an “Insurance Policy,” he was apparently referencing a text-message exchange between FBI officials who privately expressed opposition to his election.
In one instance, Trump risked undercutting the consoling message he delivered after the mosque killings. Again focused on Fox News’ lineup, the president called for the network to “bring back” Jeanine Pirro, whose show did not air on Saturday after she faced criticism for alleging that Representative Ilhan Omar’s “adherence to … Islamic doctrine” might conflict with the Constitution.
As Trump and his staff have sparred over his Twitter practices, the president has contended that they’re part of an authentic image. But some aides have worried that his tweets are a form of self-sabotage. In his book Fear, the journalist Bob Woodward described a scene in the Oval Office in 2017 after Trump tweeted that the Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski had been “bleeding badly from a face-lift” when he saw her at his Mar-a-Lago estate. “I know what you are going to say,” Trump told then–Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, according to Woodward’s reporting. “It’s not presidential. And guess what? I know it. But I had to do it anyway.”