Wed, Dec 06, 2017 - Page 9 News List

How Trump uses Twitter storms to make the political weather

Causing a rupture with a close ally, endorsing a hate group, undermining a Cabinet member — it is all in a morning’s work for the US president’s restless thumbs

By David Smith  /  The Guardian, WASHINGTON

Illustration: Mountain people

Reality TV star turned political aide Omarosa Manigaul snapped photos of the buffet and greeted staff serving eggnog. Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity held court with multiple colleagues from the conservative network. White House chief of staff John Kelly chatted to journalists and military veterans in the East Room. A 90kg gingerbread White House, with 9kg of icing, stood beneath a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. A copy of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, read by former US president Franklin Roosevelt to his family, was displayed in the library.

At first glance, the White House Christmas reception on Friday last week was not so different from years past. However, something was missing: The host. Instead of greeting guests and posing for souvenir photos like his predecessors, US President Donald Trump was upstairs in the White House residence — tweeting.

“The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon,” Trump posted at 3:12pm, referring to reports that his secretary of state would soon be axed. “FAKE NEWS!”

Multiple reports said the secretary of state would be replaced. Were those sources wrong or did a move against Tillerson fall victim to the Michael Flynn drama?

Eight minutes later, Trump and first lady Melania descended the red carpeted staircase — passing Roosevelt’s portrait along the way — to the grand foyer of the White House, where a marine band played amid snowy trees adorned with miniature crystal nutcrackers.

The president made brief remarks to “my friends in the media” and shook a few hands, but left after five minutes.

It was a sure way to avoid some awkward questions after another day, and week, that implied the opulent splendor of the occasion was less winter wonderland than Titanic. That morning, Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials. The previous day, there had been the reports about Tillerson’s expected demise.

And before that, Trump had delivered one of his wackiest speeches yet — “I will tell you this in a non-braggadocious way. There has never been a 10-month president that has accomplished what we have accomplished” — while pushing a major tax overhaul and used a ceremony honoring Native American war heroes to mock a senator he has nicknamed “Pocahontas.”

“Something is unleashed with him lately,” New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman told CNN. “I don’t know what is causing it. I don’t know how to describe it. I think the last couple of days’ tweets have been markedly accelerated in terms of seeming a little unmoored.”

“People are constantly saying: ‘Don’t do things.’ He’s also a grown man. He’s the president. They can’t handcuff him. They can’t break his fingers to keep him from tweeting. They do tell him: ‘Please don’t do this.’ He does these things anyways,” said Haberman, who has known Trump for years.

The tweetstorms — that unrivaled glimpse into Trump’s id — raged with particular violence last week, triggering one of the worst diplomatic ruptures with the UK since British troops torched the White House in 1814.

It started when Trump shared three anti-Muslim videos posted by Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the far-right hate group Britain First. British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said he was wrong to do so.

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