Watergate reporters compare Trump, Nixon

Reporting legends Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward compare the drama surrounding President Donald Trump's White House with the scandals that plagued the Nixon administration.

Posted: Mar 2, 2018 3:08 PM
Updated: Mar 2, 2018 3:10 PM

President Donald Trump has, throughout his life, embraced chaos as a life philosophy. (He's like Littlefinger in that way.)

But now, chaos -- spurred by surprise departures, the ongoing Russia investigation and Trump's own grudge-nursing -- is threatening to overwhelm his presidency, and there's every reason to believe things will get worse, not better, in the coming days.

Here's why: Trump is not only beset on all sides by bad stories -- Russia investigations, a feud with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Ben Carson's taste for fine furniture, etc., etc. -- but he is also forced to face these stories with an ever-diminishing group of loyalists around him.

It's a perfect storm for Trump -- and not in a good way.

The descriptions coming out of the White House describing Trump's state of mind over the last few days all paint a picture of a frustrated and angry executive who feels more and more isolated in his own White House.

Here's how CNN's White House team described the mood:

"The tumult of the past week has fueled a deep and seething anger within President Donald Trump -- not an uncommon emotion for the insolent commander in chief -- but one that allies and aides say has escalated as he faces a new gauntlet of problems."

Axios' Mike Allen put it this way:

"After a crazy 24 hours, sources close to President Trump say he is in a bad place — mad as hell about the internal chaos and the sense that things are unraveling."

Even longtime Trump defender -- and 10-day White House communications director -- Anthony Scaramucci acknowledged in an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo Thursday morning that "the morale is terrible."

What's important is not that Trump is angry or thinks he is ill-served by staff. He thinks that pretty much all the time. What's different this time is that three of the people he trusts most -- his daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his longtime aide Hope Hicks -- are either leaving him or weathering problems that put them in weakened positions, at best, and in jeopardy of being forced to leave the White House, at worst.

Hicks' decision to resign as communications director was clearly a blow to Trump on a personal level. Hicks' title is far less important than how Trump regarded her: as a trusted loyalist who had been with him when everyone else thought his presidential candidacy was a joke. Outside of his immediate family, Trump trusted no one more and listened to no one more than Hicks.

Speaking of the President's immediate family, they've had a rough run of things too. Ivanka's trip to the Olympic closing ceremonies in South Korea raised the hackles of the likes of chief of staff John Kelly. And her response that it was "inappropriate" for a reporter to ask her about the sexual misconduct allegations against her father simply served to highlight the difficulty of simultaneously being the daughter of the President and a senior adviser to that President.

If Ivanka's last few weeks have been bad, Kushner's have been worse. First came the news that his security clearance had been downgraded by Kelly amid ongoing questions about Kushner's ability to secure a permanent clearance. Then the news that countries had targeted Kushner as vulnerable to manipulation due to the complexity of his financial holdings. Then The New York Times reported Wednesday night that Kushner's family had received $500 million in loans following meetings between Kushner and the heads of investment companies that made the loans.

The spate of stories on Kushner have occasioned talk that he might not be able to even approximate the job he has been assigned in the Trump White House and may have to move on -- whether to Trump's growing 2020 staff or return to the private sector.

Even if Javanka stays put -- and yes, it's totally fair to consider them a matching set -- it's not clear they are in any sort of position to talk Trump down when he is angry or frustrated -- or both. They are dealing with problems of their own, problems that distract them from giving their full attention to the President of the United States.

All of which means that Trump faces the most serious set of problems since the start of his presidency with fewer and fewer people he feels he can truly rely on.

And a lonely and cornered Trump rarely reacts well.

I keep thinking back to the early days of Trump's time in the White House -- when he was largely alone and unhappy. This, from a stunning New York Times story in February of 2017, is the image that sticks in my head:

"Usually around 6:30 p.m., or sometimes later, Mr. Trump retires upstairs to the residence to recharge, vent and intermittently use Twitter. With his wife, Melania, and young son, Barron, staying in New York, he is almost always by himself, sometimes in the protective presence of his imposing longtime aide and former security chief, Keith Schiller. When Mr. Trump is not watching television in his bathrobe or on his phone reaching out to old campaign hands and advisers, he will sometimes set off to explore the unfamiliar surroundings of his new home."

While the White House denied that Trump wandered around the White House in his bathrobe and Melania and Barron have since moved to Washington, there's little question that the more isolated Trump gets -- or feels -- the more he gives in to his most basic instinct: score-settling via Twitter.

Without the likes of Hicks to rein him in, we are likely headed into an even more chaotic moment for Trump. Unleashed to say and do what he wants when he wants -- and increasingly convinced that he is being victimized by, well, everyone -- Trump is likely to get even more unpredictable in the weeks to come.

That's a prospect that has to terrify Republicans, who are desperately trying to hold on to their House and, to a lesser extent, Senate majorities in November. But they better get used to it. It's likely to be the new normal.

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