Recently, while wading through a self-created deadline crisis over the Senate health bill, the President stepped onto the Twitter stage and launched a strange personal attack against broadcast journalist Mika Brzezinski, her co-host and fiancé Joe Scarborough, and their show on MSNBC, Morning Joe.
The President said:
“I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”
Leveling personal attacks against journalists like this shows Trump’s thin-skin, his lack of attention where it should be, and his general lack of understanding of the standards of his office and the traditions of our country. He continues to trip over what is already a low-bar.
“Obviously, I don’t see that as an appropriate comment,” responded Speaker Paul Ryan when asked about the tweet, going on to add that he wants to elevate the debate. The criticism was echoed throughout the halls of Congress, even among those who were supporters of Trump’s agenda. It was called vile and sad.
But in another sense, that tweet was just a really weird thing to say, right? Why tell that story? It sounds like he’s trying to make Mika and Joe sound like crazy Trump-sycophants, asking for a meeting late at night and being denied. It turns out this is actually a familiar tactic for him. Look at this tweet about Fox News reporter Juan Williams from July 2015:
.@TheJuanWilliams you never speak well of me & yet when I saw you at Fox you ran over like a child and wanted a picture. Please share pic!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2015
Same line of thinking as the Mika tweet. And here, the same, ‘they’re mad at me because they love me,’ line:
Jay Leno and his people are constantly calling me to go on his show. My answer is always no because his show sucks. They love my ratings!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2013
Trump felt slighted by Leno’s guest Bill Maher that week, and took to twitter to state that, despite what he might say, Leno does love Trump, just like everybody does. (Trump once told Anderson Cooper “Everybody loves me.”) In this instance, Bill Maher had insulted Trump’s hair. Trump was furious that Leno didn’t “defend” him and had a statement put out to to the effect that he does not wear a wig. Trump already hated Bill Maher and felt that Maher owed him $5 million.
That’s right. You might recall that in 2013 Trump offered then-President Obama $5 million to any charity if he could prove his citizenship? He did. And TV comedians skewered him, including Bill Maher who offered Trump $5 million if he could prove he wasn’t the “spawn of an orangutan.” Trump produced his birth certificate and sued Maher for the money in Los Angeles, before eventually withdrawing his suit. But the original complaint did cite both Maher’s offer on his show and a transcript of the appearance on Leno that prompted the above tweet.
In the following months Trump and his base would occasionally talk about Maher, calling him dumb and unpopular and affirming that Trump was highly intelligent and highly popular. It came up again and again.
In the context of Trump’s history, the Mika Brzezinski tweet shouldn’t have been shocking because its a repetition of not only his behavior during the election, but his behavior since he’s been on Twitter and likely before. Pundits like Hugh Hewitt say that the President just needs to get off of Twitter and focus, but there’s a real question of whether or not he’s capable of that. He really seems to love both himself and his idea of himself, and that seems to manifest in his outbursts against his critics.
The takeaway is what Mika Brzezinski said on her show when she and Joe Scarborough appeared during their July 4th vacation to respond to Trump: it’s frightening and sad for our country. And probably for our allies. But Trump is not gong to stop this. He’ll keep watching for what his critics have to say, what questions the media are asking, and he’ll likely keep issuing ugly statements and thinly-veiled threats. In fact, he already has, tweeting a video of him “body-slamming CNN.” The Obama administration had problems with the media, like the chilling effect of AG Holder’s phone-record seizures, but Trump, as he likes to do, is surpassing him.