THE MEMO: Frustrated Trump looks to turn it around

President TrumpDonald TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE is looking for fast action to restore momentum after his crushing defeat in attempting to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

This week has already seen a flurry of activity.

On Tuesday, Trump signed an executive order rolling back some of President Obama’s key policies on climate change and carbon emissions. The previous day, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsManchin flexes muscle in 50-50 Senate Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' Ocasio-Cortez targets Manchin over Haaland confirmation MORE made a surprise appearance at the White House daily media briefing to talk about the administration’s opposition to so-called sanctuary cities.


Also on Monday, the president announced the new White House Office of American Innovation. Led by his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, the group aims to develop fresh solutions to persistent problems afflicting American society. 

But it’s an open question as to whether this burst of activity can help Trump find his footing or settle jangled nerves on the right.

The failed push to repeal ObamaCare, which reached its denouement last Friday, was a debacle even in the eyes of the president’s natural allies. While some Republicans such as Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanCruz hires Trump campaign press aide as communications director Bottom line Ex-Trump chief of staff Priebus mulling Wisconsin governor bid MORE (Wis.) are vowing to revisit ObamaCare, there is no clear path forward.

Meanwhile, investigations into alleged connections between Russia and people in Trump’s orbit are pestering the administration — as is the related controversy over the conduct of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

The next big-ticket item on Trump’s agenda is tax reform. However, any push toward that goal will be subject to the same treacherous cross currents on Capitol Hill that sank the healthcare push.

Executive orders repealing Obama-era regulations and hard-edged rhetoric on a favorite subject such as illegal immigration at least give supporters heart.

“I don’t think his agenda has changed,” said Barry Bennett, who served as a senior adviser for Trump’s presidential bid. But, Bennett added, items that did not require congressional approval “are going to happen, so [the White House] can shift the narrative when they desire, which is what they are doing.”

Bennett argued that Trump’s capacity to drive media coverage — and change the subject when required — can be vital.

“It’s really valuable because it’s only Tuesday and we are not talking about defeat on Friday,” Bennett said yesterday. “We are talking about coal and sanctuary cities and reforming government.”

Trump has not focused only on policy since the healthcare push went awry. He has taken to Twitter to blame the conservative House Freedom Caucus for his defeat and has insisted that ObamaCare will “explode.”

Fueling the kind of palace intrigue that has surrounded his White House, Trump tweeted a recommendation that his followers should watch Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News show over the weekend. Pirro used that platform to call for the resignation of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The White House pushed back at suggestions that Trump knew what Pirro was going to say.

To some critics, Trump’s feverish level of activity has a negative flip side: an unwillingness to do the honest self-reflection that might help him avoid repeating mistakes.

“He lives in a sort of reality-distortion field where he doesn’t want to acknowledge that he makes any mistakes,” said Timothy O’Brien, the author of a biography of Trump. “He very rarely acknowledges making mistakes, and I think that is largely because he has been insulated from the consequences of his mistakes his whole life.”

During his presidential campaign, Trump often displayed a propensity to create the kind of big news that drowned out his rivals. His initial announcement that he wanted to ban all Muslims from entering the United States came with the Iowa caucuses looming. It was made within hours of a poll showing his then-rival Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech Sunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues Texas attorney general hits links with Trump before CPAC appearance MORE (R-Texas) leading Trump in the state.

Two months later, Trump again threw out the political rulebook and hit back at criticism from Pope Francis. Another Trump biographer, Michael D’Antonio, noted at the time on CNN’s website that “even those of us who know him and his fighting mentality have to marvel at his ability to find new battles.”

"If he didn't bounce back from adversity, he would be hosting ‘The Apprentice’ at the current time,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor who specializes in political communication.

“He’s the maestro of agenda-setting, both for good and bad. All it takes is 140 characters [on Twitter] and at least one or two news cycles get converted to focusing on a new aspect of Trump and his presidency.”

Critical voices like O’Brien’s believe Trump is in a different world now, however — subject to the intense scrutiny that faces any president and with the Russian controversy lapping at his feet.

"The most dangerous thing, staring him right in the face, is the Russia investigation,” O’Brien said. “And all of his diversionary tactics haven’t actually taken that away as the central thing that the media and Capitol Hill are looking at. He hasn’t changed the narrative on that and, in fact, the response has been very ham-handed. Exhibit A on that is Devin Nunes.”

But Trump loyalists remain convinced that he can bounce back once again, even when the stakes are at their highest.

“I am still very optimistic,” said Bennett. “We had bad days in the campaign. Next day, we’re on to the next fight.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.