ANALYSIS — President Donald Trump spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning veering from topic to topic and enemy to enemy, again stepping on a victory with other messages.
He and his surrogates could have seized on a common message after Attorney General William Barr sent Congress a summary of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report that found no criminal-level conspiracy between his 2016 campaign and Russia. They could have used that messaging blitz to more forcefully counter Democrats who are loudly noting Mueller, according to Barr, opted against exonerating Trump on obstruction of justice.
Instead, as the president and his team — inside and outside government — have done repeatedly since he took office, they instead have veered from a major victory and brought up other controversial topics or made moves that have pushed wins off the cable news chyrons that clearly capture the president’s attention most days.
The GOP president is even getting the cold shoulder from some Republican lawmakers and conservative opinion-shapers about his decision to move ahead with a court filing that aims to repeal the entire 2010 health law even though his party has no feasible alternative ready to push through both chambers on Capitol Hill.
The back and forth on why Mueller’s report hasn’t been released yet
Jesse Watters, a Fox News host who has flown on Air Force One with Trump and interviewed the president, is among them.
“I definitely would not pivot to health care, if I was the president,” Watters said Wednesday afternoon on the network’s “The Five” program. “I would basically plant the flag and say, ‘I was vindicated’ and move on to trade and international relations.”
The president has cited the influential Wall Street Journal editorial board before. But that conservative group doesn’t always side with the GOP president, and published an editorial Thursday morning blasting the move to terminate the health care law known colloquially as “Obamacare.”
“The latest ObamaCare lawsuit is bad law and high-risk politics,” reads the editorial’s subhead. And the WSJ board wasted no time getting to its view of the law in the piece’s first paragraph: “An abiding mystery of the Trump Presidency is why it can’t stand prosperity. And right on time, after its victory on Russian collusion, the Administration decided this week to elevate a legal fight over health care that it is almost sure to lose.”
And one GOP source told Roll Call on Wednesday that he has yet to decipher a motive for trying to take down the sweeping health law in the potentially paradigm-shifting move. “I’m befuddled,” the source said.
Trump used an interview Wednesday night with Fox News personality Sean Hannity to take another victory lap after Barr’s summary of Mueller’s report and to attack Democrats and some involved in the Justice Department’s investigation into his 2016 campaign.
Trump told Hannity he plans to release full declassified versions of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants used to probe his campaign and blasted former CIA Director John Brennan for his role in launching the federal probe while President Barack Obama was still in office.
But the president also used a question from the Fox personality to make his latest vague promise on health care even as Democrats sense he has handed them a gift for the 2020 campaign season.
“We’re going to do great. We’re going to have great health care,” Trump told Hannity without offering a single detail of any plan he might propose should his court bid be successful and Obama’s law be erased.
Some Republican lawmakers, like retiring Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, have admitted this week the party has no plan ready to go despite Trump claiming — as he has for a half-decade without producing a proposal — that Republicans would quickly put something on the table that could be enacted, even though Democrats have their doubts.
On Thursday morning, Trump used his morning tweets to veer from topic to topic. He was very much in pre-rally mode with his posts mirroring the scattershot remarks he likely will deliver at 7 p.m. EDT in Grand Rapids as he seeks to win the state for a second time – and this time, polls show him trailing several potential Democratic nominees there.
And, as he has all week, Trump opted to hit multiple topics rather than hammer home a message that Mueller found “no collusion,” as the president often puts it.
“I have learned to live with Fake News, which has never been more corrupt than it is right now. Someday, I will tell you the secret!” he wrote in one.
Eleven minutes later, Trump was tweeted about Mexico and other countries in Central America that he claims “do Nothing” to “help stop the flow of illegal immigrants to our Country.” Though he has threatened it before and not taken the action, the president again warned he “May close the Southern Border!”
Ten minutes later, Trump decided to weigh in on actor Jussie Smollett’s roller-coaster case in Chicago, saying the FBI and Justice Department plan are to “review the outrageous” situation surrounding his allegedly staging a hate crime against himself.
Nine minutes after that, he was back on the post-Barr/Mueller message, again calling for House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff to “resign” over allegedly “knowingly and unlawfully lying and leaking.”
He returned to his favorite outlet to encourage OPEC to increase its production of oil to bring down prices: “Very important that OPEC increase the flow of Oil. World Markets are fragile, price of Oil getting too high. Thank you!”
But, in true Trumpian form, in the end, it’s largely about television news coverage of his presidency. In between his Schiff and OPEC tweets, he mocked MSNBC and CNN, saying their ratings dropped after Barr’s summary of Mueller’s probe.
And he went directly after the former’s “Morning Joe” program, which he used to call into before a very public falling out with hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, saying it has “tanked.”
Will be heading to Grand Rapids, Michigan, tonight for a Big Rally. Will be talking about the many exciting things that are happening to our Country, but also the car companies, & others, that are pouring back into Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North & South Carolina & all over!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2019
The Fake News Media is going Crazy! They are suffering a major “breakdown,” have ZERO credibility or respect, & must be thinking about going legit. I have learned to live with Fake News, which has never been more corrupt than it is right now. Someday, I will tell you the secret!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2019
Mexico is doing NOTHING to help stop the flow of illegal immigrants to our Country. They are all talk and no action. Likewise, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have taken our money for years, and do Nothing. The Dems don’t care, such BAD laws. May close the Southern Border!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2019
FBI & DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago. It is an embarrassment to our Nation!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2019
Congressman Adam Schiff, who spent two years knowingly and unlawfully lying and leaking, should be forced to resign from Congress!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2019
Wow, ratings for “Morning Joe,” which were really bad in the first place, just “tanked” with the release of the Mueller Report. Likewise, other shows on MSNBC and CNN have gone down by as much as 50%. Just shows, Fake News never wins!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2019
Very important that OPEC increase the flow of Oil. World Markets are fragile, price of Oil getting too high. Thank you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2019