Whether or not the alt-right-provocateur-turned-chief-White-House-strategist orchestrated the chaos that was kicked off last Thursday with President Trump’s hair-raising interview with the New York Times, it certainly advanced the “creative destruction” that he reportedly favors.
To most observers, though, the destruction part was more apparent than the creative effort, as Trump launched an unprecedented campaign to undermine Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with the explicit goal of controlling the special counsel’s investigation into Russian influence in last year’s election. His remarks in the Times interview and subsequent tweets achieved the rare feat of uniting Democrats (who want the investigation to continue unfettered) with Republicans (who generally like Sessions and his policies) while making Trump look both bullying and weak (as Sessions, refusing to comment or resign, in effect called the president’s bluff). The impression that Trump’s vaunted toughness wasn’t even skin deep was reinforced when he whined that Republicans in the Senate weren’t doing enough to “protect their president.”
Trump did manage to find a scapegoat for his anger: press secretary Sean Spicer, who resigned minutes after the president undercut him with the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. Scaramucci, a Wall Street investor and longtime friend of the president, set himself up as Trump’s Torquemada, launching an inquisition against media leaks from the White House, issuing threats against staffers up to and including his own nominal boss, chief of staff Reince Priebus.
Chaos enough for one week? Apparently not: Trump proceeded to give a meandering, confounding speech to 40,000 Boy Scouts at their annual jamboree, including an attack on former President Obama, flagrantly defying the Scouts’ tradition of nonpartisanship and reportedly angering Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, an Eagle Scout and former national president of the organization. Coincidentally or not, Tillerson, who has been rumored to be unhappy in his job, proceeded to “[take] a little time off,” according to his spokesperson. His vacation came just as the White House faced a critical decision about whether to sign legislation, passed overwhelmingly in Congress, writing sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea into law and forestalling the president from unilaterally relaxing them.
The White House sent mixed signals about its intentions.