So much for a new year, new start.
For Donald Trump, that energy-sapping 2017 cocktail of blistering presidential tweets, salacious White House infighting and jaw-dropping feuds with foreign adversaries has given way to, well, more of the same.
“We are off and running,” said Josh Holmes, a longtime adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “It’s amazing that the pace that we set in 2017 has continued with equal vigor.”
Indeed, the first three days of 2018 – yes, just three days – brought a new array of targets for the president and the return of some familiar foes. As part of a 17-tweet barrage on Tuesday, Trump picked a fight with the “deep state” within his own government that he believes is trying to undermine his presidency, and he raised the specter of war with North Korea by asserting that his “Nuclear Button” was bigger than that of Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong Un.
By Wednesday, Trump had turned on his former top adviser Steve Bannon, accusing him of having “lost his mind.” The scathing attack, issued with the formality of an official White House statement, followed the publication of excerpts from an unflattering book in which Bannon accuses the president’s namesake son of holding a “treasonous” meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.
Across Washington, holiday cheer was suddenly a distant memory.
“I feel exhausted,” said Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist who advised Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in his campaign against Trump in the 2016 GOP presidential primary. “I feel like the year has got to be over by now.”
Trump rattled Washington in his first year in office by blowing past the guardrails that have traditionally governed what a president does and doesn’t say and by frequently picking fights that seem far less consequential than the weighty issues that land on a commander in chief’s desk. He needled friendly foreign leaders like Britain’s Theresa May, accused former President Barack Obama of wiretapping his New York skyscraper and spread rumors about media personalities he deemed overly critical.
To be sure, no one in Washington expected Trump to be a different man when he returned from Christmas vacation at his estate in Palm Beach, Florida. By now, Washington has largely come to grips with the reality of a president who often starts and ends his day with tweets on topics that are a mystery to even his closest aides until they pop up on their smartphones. And while some Trump advisers have grown beleaguered by the president’s seemingly insatiable appetite for a feud, few expect that to change or put much effort into trying to hold him back.
Yet there was still a hope, both in the White House and on Capitol Hill, that the president might return to Washington eager to build on the passage of a sweeping Republican overhaul of the tax code in the waning days of December. The bill passed with only Republican votes, and polling shows the complicated legislation is deeply unpopular with Americans, leaving the president and his party with a tall task if they hope to ride the tax overhaul to electoral victories in the midterm elections.
Trump has tweeted a handful of messages in 2018 about the tax bill. But he generated far more attention with his missives taking aim at the media and his unfounded claim of credit for the fact that no commercial airlines crashed in 2017.
Some Republicans cringed. Tyler said that in the early days of 2018, the White House had already “lost the communications war over what tax policy is designed to do.” And he put the blame squarely on Trump, saying the president “cannot be trusted with his own message.”
On Capitol Hill, where the Senate returned to work, most GOP lawmakers girded themselves for another year of what has become their familiar ritual: carefully critiquing Trump’s most sensational comments without criticizing the president himself. Asked about Trump’s North Korea button bluster, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said simply: “It’s probably better not to tweet about such things.”
Just 361 days to go until the calendar flips again.