The irrational, at times seemingly reckless, behavior of President Donald Trump has long been noted by most people watching his presidency unfold, but Politico reports that those on the inside have become increasingly concerned that Trump is falling apart with no ability to recognize it is happening -- and therefore unable to correct course.
Administration officials and outsiders with windows into decision-making describe a growing sense of despair within Trump’s ranks, driven by the mounting realization that the president’s brand of politics guided by intuition and improvisation is incompatible with a competently functioning executive branch.
Most alarming, by these lights, is mounting evidence that Trump lacks an attribute possessed by most previous presidents and certainly by all the most successful ones: a capacity for self-critique and self-correction.
Recent situations vexing the president have originated from within his own ranks -- think Attorney General Jeff Sessions, senior adviser Jared Kushner, and Trump's inconsistent thoughts on gun control -- which leaves insiders wondering how the administration, and particularly the president, would handle an external crisis such as a military confrontation.
One official recently described Trump's response to the last week's turmoil as "sullen and isolated, frustrated that he is not being given credit he thinks he deserves and deeply suspicious of the people around him."
“Nobody has any idea whether he has any sense of what it means to deal with a crisis,” said Leon Panetta, President Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff and the former head of the CIA and secretary of defense under President Barack Obama. “It creates a really uncomfortable feeling because we really don’t know if we’re going to be able to confront a crisis and do it successfully.”
When Chief of Staff John Kelly came on the scene, some breathed a sigh of relief and likened the general to "the adult in the room", thinking that order might be reinstated within the White House; but time has proven such hopes unfounded, especially as Kelly took center stage in the Rob Porter domestic abuse scandal.
Further, Kelly has shown little to no ability to constrain the president.
“The feeling right now is very similar to the way it was at the very beginning of the administration,” a former Trump official said, describing the period when then-chief of staff Reince Priebus took a back seat to former strategist Steve Bannon, who pushed divisive policies and left Priebus flailing, without any way to control Trump or corral his team.
So where does this leave a turbulent administration?
Panetta urged Kelly to organize a “come to Jesus moment” in which Trump’s trusted advisers along with Republican congressional leaders and business executives warn the president in the strongest terms that he’s veering off course.
“I think people have to come down hard on him,” he said. “I understand he likes to manage and govern by chaos, but that instability is undermining his presidency."
Only time will tell if such measures will be taken, and if those measures are successful.