The Memo: For Trump, this week has been anything but sleepy

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President Trump has had a wild week during the normally sleepy height of summer, lashing out against former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, stripping former CIA Director John Brennan of his security clearance and getting into a spat with Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) as he canceled his proposed military parade in the city.

Trump also weighed in Friday on Paul Manafort’s trial before departing from the White House for the weekend, telling reporters that his former campaign chairman was “a very good person” and that it was “very sad what they’ve done” to him.

The remarks quickly led to criticism on cable television and social media, where observers said it was inappropriate at best for the president to make comments on a trial as the jury, instructed to avoid news coverage, deliberated on a verdict.

{mosads}Few observers think that any of these controversies will have a profound effect on Trump’s political fortunes. But some suggest voters may tire of the furors that Trump seems to delight in causing.

“The more chaotic, the more divisive he is — whether it is revoking Brennan’s security clearance or fighting with Omarosa — none of that helps him change the opinion of the 55 percent of people who disapprove of him,” said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi.

Republican candidates running in special elections for the House in this cycle have repeatedly underperformed Trump’s marks in 2016 while Democrats have overperformed, an ominous trend ahead of the midterm elections.

Yet Trump’s approval ratings have risen significantly in recent months — albeit from historic lows. He stood at 43.3 percent approval and 52.3 percent disapproval in the RealClearPolitics polling average as of Friday afternoon. 

In the most recent Gallup weekly poll, Trump registered 39 percent approval. It’s a low figure but also not wildly out of step from the ratings recorded by several other modern presidents in the August of their second year — President Clinton (41 percent), President Reagan (42 percent) and President Obama (44 percent). All three men went on to win reelection.

That’s the kind of historic comparison that leaves some observers skeptical that a Trump collapse is likely, or that the most recent controversies will have any discernible effect.

“There have been so many things over the last couple of years that it is just impossible to point to one thing that is going to be a particular problem, or more of a problem than the rest,” said Grant Reeher, a professor of political science at Syracuse University.

Reeher added, referring to the Manigault Newman and Brennan episodes, and the Manafort trial, “under normal circumstances, you could say that any one of those things could be a real distraction — but the real fact of the matter is that [with Trump], you just go from distraction to distraction.”

Trump likes to fan the flames of controversy — regardless of what the political class thinks.

The White House had been hoping to ignore Manigault Newman’s new book, but the strategy was thrown to the wind when Trump began hitting back against the woman who had once sought to win his favor on NBC’s “The Apprentice.” 

Trump’s most incendiary moment came when he referred to Manigault Newman as “that dog” in a tweet — a term that critics said carried both racist and sexist overtones. (Trump defenders noted that he has also used canine imagery to disparage white male critics.)

Manigault Newman was only finally shunted out of the headlines when the administration made its own news by stripping clearance from Brennan, and threatening to do the same to several other national security figures who have been critical of Trump.

Announcing the news, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders blamed Brennan’s purportedly “erratic” behavior and “frenzied commentary.”

To critics, the reality is that Brennan was being punished for his many public expressions of dissent from Trump.

“This was very much intended to send a broad and chilling signal, not just to former officials but to currently serving officials, that they should not speak up,” said Ned Price, who served as National Security Council spokesman under Obama.

“This has really nothing to do with security clearances,” Price added. “Nothing John Brennan has said has had anything to do with his access to classified information. This is about trying to silence critics and pre-empt criticism before it emerges.”

The controversy got fresh life on Friday afternoon when Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) tweeted that he would introduce a legislative amendment next week “to block the President from punishing and intimidating his critics by arbitrarily revoking security clearances.”

Even before then, Trump appeared to acknowledge that he had amplified Brennan’s voice.

Asked as he prepared to board Marine One on Friday morning whether he was “trying to silence his critics,” he replied, “There’s no silence. If anything, I’m giving them a bigger voice.”

Trump clearly believes his hardball tactics work for him. Given that he won the presidency at his first attempt, no one thinks he is going to change now.

But skeptics still argue that the kind of flame-throwing, controversy-courting behavior of the past week is wearing thin with voters.

“They don’t like the feeling of constantly being on edge,” said Trippi.

“Trump keeps everything feeling on edge. It is that feeling that I think is hurting him and his party.”

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

Tags CIA Donald Trump John Brennan Mark Warner Omarosa Manigault Newman Paul Manafort security clearances

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