Donald Trump started off precisely on-message.
Strolling to the end of a White House driveway on Wednesday ahead of his departure for a veterans event in Kentucky, the president began speaking while still walking toward a crowd of waiting reporters. “So the economy is doing very, very well,” he said.
With fears of a recession stirring and public confidence in the health of the economy dropping for the first time in Trump’s presidency, it was a sound message to project to a skittish nation. But that was as good as it got.
What followed might have swept away all previous Trumpian benchmarks for incoherence, self-aggrandizement, prevarication, and rancor in a presidency that has seemed before to veer loosely along the rails of reason, but may never have come quite so close to spectacularly jumping the tracks.
Over an ensuing half-hour rant, Trump trucked in antisemitic tropes, insulted the Danish prime minister, insisted he wasn’t racist, bragged about the performance of his former Apprentice reality show, denied starting a trade war with China, praised Vladimir Putin and told reporters that he, Trump, was the “Chosen One” – all within hours of referring to himself as the “King of Israel” and tweeting in all caps: “WHERE IS THE FEDERAL RESERVE?”
Leaving aside, those who were left merely gape-jawed, the performance-inspired reactions from new expressions of doubt about Trump’s fitness for office to evocations of “the last president I know of who compared himself to the Messiah.”
(That turns out, according to Brookings Institution fellow Benjamin Wittes, to be Andrew Johnson (1865-9), whose articles of impeachment cited his “intemperate, inflammatory and scandalous harangues.”)
After the news conference, the hashtag #25thAmendmentNow was the top trending item on US Twitter. Referring to a constitutional proviso by which cabinet members and the vice-president can band together to remove a president deemed unfit.
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