Jon Sopel North America editor
This week across America, millions of children will be getting ready to go back to school and returning home that evening with their first work assignment – an essay with the title: “What I did on my summer holidays.”
Now imagine for a second you’re Donald Trump, and you’ve just been given that piece of homework. I think the first thing you’re going to do is ask for a few extra sheets of paper because, what a summer.
From distant, foggy memory, I also seem to remember that the one other instruction you got from the teacher was to make it descriptive, and not too much of a list.
Well, sorry about that, Miss. This is what Donald and his pals in the White House got up to:
1. Hires a new communications director called Anthony Scaramucci
2. Press secretary Sean Spicer quits in protest. Says he’s happy but is fulminating
3. The Mooch (aka Scaramucci) gives obscene interview to New Yorker magazine
4. Trump fires his chief of staff, the hapless Reince Priebus (abandoned at Andrews air force base)
5. Hires a new one, Gen Kelly, who was the head of homeland security
6. On Kelly’s first day, the president fires the new communications director – Scaramucci has lasted just 10 days – less time than it takes for a pint of milk to go off
7. He hires a new comms director, his fourth in seven months
8. He publicly shames his attorney-general, numerous times, but Jeff Sessions clings on
9. Loses a healthcare bill
10. Publicly lashes the three Republicans who voted against it, several times
11. Bans transgender people from the military, via Twitter, without telling the military
12. Military chiefs say: “Forget it, we don’t take orders from tweets; there’s a chain of command”
13. Makes political speech to Scouts aged between 11-18
14. Claims Scouts leader rang to congratulate him on greatest speech ever made
15. Scouts leader says there was no such call, and issues statement apologising to Scouts for president’s misjudged address
16. Says the president of Mexico rang to congratulate him on his border policies
17. Mexican president says no such call ever took place
18. White House denies the president is a liar, but can’t explain the president’s claims
19. Takes days to sign bipartisan sanctions bill and then criticises Congress for making him sign it
20. Thanks Vladimir Putin for expelling hundreds of American diplomats
21. Condemns leaks but then says he likes the leaks because it shows people love him
22. Encourages police officers to be rough with suspects during arrests
23. Police chiefs condemn statement. White House clarifies that it was a joke
24. Publicly shames the Republican Senate leader, whom he needs to get anything done, several times
25. Seems to respond to North Korea by threatening nuclear war
26. Tells Guam, which has a big US military base which North Korea’s leader threatened to attack, that the publicity will help tourism
27. Chief strategist Steve Bannon contradicts president. Says: “There’s no military option in NK”
28. Threatens Venezuela with a military option
29. After a neo-Nazi rally in which a woman was killed, the president blames both sides
30. After backlash, cleans it up. Denounces white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan
31. Cross at having been forced to do this, erases all of it and reverts to blaming both sides, saying there were “fine people there”
32. Military high command issue statement condemning all forms of discrimination in thinly veiled attack on commander-in-chief
33. Promotes his Virginia vineyard when asked if he will – as president – visit Charlottesville
34. And gets condemnations from Democrats, Republicans, former presidents, world leaders, allies, his own staff, and the Pope.
35. Publicly shames company bosses who abandon him. There’s a mass walkout by execs leading to disbanding of key White House business bodies
36. Fires Steve Bannon, his chief strategist and architect of Trump victory
37. Does U-turn on Afghanistan and commits more troops, having repeatedly said he’d pull US forces out
38. Threatens to close government down if he doesn’t get funding for border wall with Mexico
39. Appeals for unity of American people
40. Next day lambasts his enemies and critics in highly partisan speech
41. Day after that appeals for unity again
42. Pardons ex-Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been convicted for defying court order to stop traffic patrols targeting suspected immigrants
And this is the quiet season. This is the still, millpond of August when nothing happens; when days are long and news bulletins are slim, when surfing dogs and the battle of the bake-offs should dominate the news cycle.
Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, and now the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, tweeted at one point that he was going to nominate the White House for a Tony award for most drama. Not best drama. Just most.
So to the big question: Does any of this matter?
There is no shortage of pundits and political professionals in Washington who will tell you things can’t continue like this, and that there is no way that Donald Trump can last a full four years in office. There is a degree of wishful thinking in that for some people. For others it is a genuine, cold-eyed assessment.
I am unconvinced. For a start the drama, the chaos and noise are what this president thrives on. If he hated the drama, he wouldn’t stoke and provoke as much as he does.
Where it does matter is in his relationships with the lawmakers on Capitol Hill, with the business leaders across the country, with the money men on Wall Street, with the military high command who seem to have bristled at the way their commander-in-chief is behaving and with his fellow leaders around the world.
Just consider for a minute his threat to allow a government shutdown if he doesn’t get funding for the border wall with Mexico. The president says it’s making good on a campaign pledge: the lawmakers, still under their breath, say: “Yeah, and the other part of the pledge was that Mexico was going to pay.”
He has publicly lambasted the Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. On any number of occasions. How does that help him to get an infrastructure bill passed? How does that help to get tax reform through?
What about his supporters?
And then there’s the Trump base. Has support for Donald Trump fractured? Yes, a bit. Do the polls that chart approval ratings for him make alarming reading? Yep, the numbers disapproving seem to be rising, and the approving seem to be dwindling.
But his base is still 100% with him. Cheering, whooping and lapping it up.
He is their man, fighting the system and draining the swamp and taking on the establishment. Just look at the crowds in Phoenix, Arizona, last week.
You see, I think there is a perfectly plausible scenario where by a squeak and a cigarette-paper width of margin he gets his legislative agenda through. In which case in 2020 he could go to the American people and say: “Look, I delivered on what I promised.”
There is perhaps a more likely set of circumstances where he is blocked and thwarted – and fails on all the big legislative tests – no repeal and replacement of Obamacare, no significant change to the tax code, no wall with Mexico, no change to America’s crumbling infrastructure.
But that doesn’t mean it’s over for Trump. He then goes to the country and says: “The system is rigged. Draining the swamp is going to take even longer than I ever thought. Parts of the Republican leadership need to be swept away. The fight goes on. We’ll Make America Great Again.”
And that brings us to Donald Trump’s ego – and maybe a choice that this White House must confront as it takes stock of this chaotic summer.
Does Donald Trump want to go down in history as a heroic failure, or the winner who turned things around with his relentless energy and deal-making nous?
If it’s the latter then he needs to start nurturing all those people he has alienated, and in record fast time. And if it’s the former, then carry on with the rallies that pump up the base and leave many others feeling queasy.