The Memo: Trump chaos pervades holiday season

Christmas Day should bring a respite from a deepening sense of chaos around the Trump administration — but it will likely be a brief one.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally MORE is being buffeted by a number of storms, several of them of his own making.

As usual, Trump shows no sign of deescalating the situation. In a series of tweets Monday, he took aim at Democrats, the media and the Federal Reserve.

ADVERTISEMENT

He did so in characteristic Trump style, beginning one tweet with the statement, “I am all alone (poor me) in the White House.”

The remark spawned instant ridicule on social media.

Other Trump targets in recent days have included Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPress: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Press: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE (R-Tenn.) and Brett McGurk, who is expediting his departure as special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition following Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

The overall sense, among both friends and foes, is of a president under pressure and lashing out.

The pattern seems only likely to accelerate given the imminent departures of restraining influences like Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisShanahan drama shocks Capitol Hill, leaving Pentagon rudderless Top nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April Top nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April MORE and chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, the darkening cloud cast by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE and the fact that Democrats will take control of the House on Jan. 3.

Trump’s complaints about the Federal Reserve on Monday were especially pointed. He tweeted that the central bank was the “only problem our economy has” and compared it, in a somewhat unclear analogy, to a golfer who cannot putt.

That tweet came during a day when the major stock indices declined sharply yet again. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the broader-based S&P 500 each fell by more than 2.5 percent, with the Dow tumbling more than 650 points.

That leaves the stock market on track for its worst year since 2008, when the U.S. economy was in recession.

ADVERTISEMENT

The market remains significantly above where it was when Trump took office, but it is way off its October peaks. The S&P 500 is now officially in bear market territory, having fallen more than 20 percent from its record high.

This creates obvious dangers for a president who took credit when the markets were doing well and now faces the prospect of being blamed as things head south.

Trump apparently believes the Fed’s action in raising interest rates four times this year has spooked the markets and choked off growth.

Speculation continues to buzz around the future of Jerome Powell, the Fed’s chairman. But any attempt by Trump to push Powell out could be challenged in the courts. Such a frontal attack on the independence of the Fed would likely spark further turmoil in the markets as well.

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinCharitable giving by individuals down in first year under Trump's tax law: study Charitable giving by individuals down in first year under Trump's tax law: study Congressional leaders, White House officials to meet Wednesday on spending MORE has said, via his own Twitter account, that Trump accepts he does not have the right to fire Powell. But those words have not been publicly heard from the president.

Some people close to Trump believe Mnuchin could find his own position in peril, in part because an attempt to calm the markets on Sunday backfired.

To widespread surprise, Mnuchin issued a statement noting that he had spoken with the CEOs of the nation’s six largest banks and they had “confirmed that they have ample liquidity.”

The liquidity of the banking system had not been seriously questioned by mainstream observers.

One GOP operative who spoke to The Hill was scathing about what he characterized as a clumsy effort by the Treasury Secretary to shore up his position with Trump.

“You just took a bad situation and you threw gasoline on it,” this source said. “You’re the secretary of the Treasury and you’re suggesting there’s a problem with liquidity? Why would do you that?”

The markets are also being roiled by the government shutdown, which is affecting about 800,000 federal employees and for which there is no obvious end in sight.

Once the Senate returns on Thursday, the impetus for some kind of movement is sure to increase.

It seems all but certain that Trump will not get the $5 billion he has sought for the border wall, however.

The Hill has previously reported that administration negotiators suggested a compromise figure of $2.1 billion. But they were rebuffed by Democrats who want a smaller sum, as well as restrictions underlining that the money cannot be used for an actual wall, merely for border security.

A return to normal business later in the week could also see renewed focus on the president’s decision to push Mattis to the exit quicker than intended.

Mattis resigned last week, in a letter that implicitly but fiercely rebuked the president for undermining U.S. alliances. He had intended to stay in his post until the end of February, but Trump announced on Twitter on Sunday that Mattis would be replaced on Jan. 1.

Among Trump’s political allies, though, the state of the economy and the markets generates more anxiety than almost anything else.

Many acknowledge that his approval ratings have been buoyed up by a strong economy for most of his tenure.

If that prop is kicked away, the president will be more politically vulnerable than ever.

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