WASHINGTON — When President Trump grows annoyed with advisers throughout conferences, which isn’t an unusual prevalence, he sits again in his chair, crosses his arms and scowls. Usually he erupts. “Freaking idiots!” he calls his aides. Besides he makes use of a extra pungent phrase than “freaking.”
For 2 years, Mr. Trump has waged conflict towards his personal authorities, satisfied that folks round him are fools. Indignant that they resist his needs, uninterested within the particulars of their briefings, he turns into particularly agitated after they inform him he doesn’t have the ability to do what he needs, which makes him suspicious that they’re secretly undermining him.
Now, the president who as soon as declared that “I alone can repair” the system more and more stands alone in a system that appears as damaged as ever. The swirl of latest days — a authorities shutdown, spiraling scandals, tumbling inventory markets, abrupt troop withdrawals and the resignation of his alienated protection secretary — has left the impression of a presidency vulnerable to spinning uncontrolled.
On the midpoint of his time period, Mr. Trump has grown extra positive of his personal judgment and extra reduce off from anybody else’s than at any level since taking workplace. He spends ever extra time in entrance of a tv, typically retreating to his residence out of concern that he’s being watched too carefully. As he sheds advisers at a head-spinning fee, he reaches out to previous associates, complaining that few of the folks round him have been there initially.
Mr. Trump is alleged by advisers to be consumed by the multiplying investigations which have taken down his personal lawyer, campaign chairman, national security adviser and family foundation. He rails against enemies, who often were once friends, nursing a deep sense of betrayal and grievance as they turn on him.
“Can you believe this?” he has said as he scanned the torrent of headlines. “I’m doing great, but it’s a war every day.”
“Why is it like this?” he has asked aides, with no acknowledgment that he might have played a role. The aides, many of whom believe he has been treated unfairly by the news media, have replied that journalists are angry that he won and proved them wrong. He nods in agreement at such explanations.
As the president vents, he constantly rattles off what he sees as underappreciated accomplishments. “Look what I did for Mexico and Canada,” he has told allies. “Look what’s happened with terrorism.”
The portrait that emerges from interviews with about 30 current and former administration officials, personal friends, political allies, lawmakers and congressional aides suggests a president who revels in sharp swings in direction, feels free to disregard historic allies and presides over near constant turmoil within his own team as he follows his own instincts.
White House officials did not respond to requests for comment. But as the president struggles to find a way forward, the path is about to become much more hazardous. As tumultuous as events have been so far, Mr. Trump’s first two years may ultimately look calm compared to what lies ahead.
In less than two weeks, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California will take the speaker’s gavel held until now by Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, and subpoena-wielding House Democrats will be empowered to investigate Mr. Trump’s family, business, campaign and administration. At some point after that, he will face the results of whatever Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, finds about campaign ties to Russia and obstruction of justice.
At some point after that, Ms. Pelosi may come under enormous pressure from her liberal base to open an impeachment inquiry, and many Republicans anticipate a battle over whether Mr. Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors even if they hold enough votes in the Senate to block removal. Amid all that is a rising budget deficit that will shrink Mr. Trump’s domestic options and signs of a possible economic downturn that would undercut his most potent bragging point.
“Nothing he’s going to face in the next two years is going to be like the challenges of the previous two years,” said Michael Steel, a longtime adviser to Republicans like Mr. Ryan and former Speaker John A. Boehner. “Given the staff turnover and the increasing feeling that the president is encircled or cornered by legal and political enemies, it’s entirely possible it gets worse, not better.”
Yet even with a 38 percent approval rating in Gallup polling, Mr. Trump has dominated the national conversation as no other modern president has, and his base thrills at his fights with the establishment, seeing him as a warrior against self-satisfied elites who look down on many Americans. Determined to maintain that base, he has insisted — despite the seemingly long odds — on his pledge of a border wall, aware that abandoning his signature campaign promise would make him less authentic, the quality that his voters often cite as his appeal.
As a result, a partisan war may be just what he wants. He has privately told associates that he is glad Democrats won the House in last month’s midterm elections, saying he thinks that guarantees his re-election because they will serve as a useful antagonist. That may be bravado, but history provides some support. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, his Democratic predecessors, both endured even bigger midterm setbacks and went on to win re-election.
“It’s absolutely fair to say that it’s better to have Nancy Pelosi as a foil than Paul Ryan as a foil,” said Marc Short, the president’s former legislative affairs director. “It’s better for the party and it’s better for unity.” He added, “The reality is the Democrats could overplay their hand.”
Both sides gamely talk about possible cooperation on issues like rebuilding the nation’s tattered network of roads, bridges and other infrastructure. “The opportunity in the era of divided government is to work with both sides to get something done for the country,” said Representative Josh Gottheimer, Democrat from New Jersey and co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
Recent days showed the possibilities when Congress overhauled the criminal justice system, the most significant bipartisan domestic legislation of Mr. Trump’s tenure. Mr. Trump has hopes of winning bipartisan support for his new trade deal with Mexico and Canada. But one congressional Democrat said the party has gone from thinking it could make discrete deals with Mr. Trump to believing he must be stopped at all costs because he is so dangerous.
Mr. Trump has struggled with fellow Republicans lately too. They objected loudly to his decisions to draw down troops from Syria and Afghanistan and pushed through a Senate resolution essentially rebuking his handling of Saudi Arabia after the assassination of the dissident Jamal Khashoggi. The departure of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who protested the troop pullouts and Mr. Trump’s cavalier approach to America’s alliances, sent shudders through Republican ranks.
House conservatives, meanwhile, revolted against Mr. Trump when he seemed to retreat on his demand for border wall funding to avert a government shutdown. At the same time, Senate Republicans, who had voted unanimously to keep the government open without the wall money Mr. Trump had demanded, were angry when he reversed course and refused to sign such a measure.
Such conflict comes with a cost. Mr. Trump has a way of stepping on his own successes. The border wall fight overshadowed his signing of the criminal justice overhaul. The abrupt way he decided to withdraw from Syria overshadowed the military victories against the Islamic State. Mr. Trump’s focus during the midterm campaign on a caravan of migrants overshadowed the positive economic story he had to tell before the latest stock market gyrations.
“When he’s talking about the economy, he’s gotten a much more positive reaction,” said David Winston, a Republican pollster. “Obviously on other topics he hasn’t been able to get it to the point where he’s able to create an overall job approval. The question is do you address weaknesses or do you play to your strengths?”
Always impulsive, the president increasingly believes he does not need advisers, according to people close to him. He is on his third chief of staff, third national security adviser, sixth communications director, second secretary of state, second attorney general and soon his second defense secretary. Turnover at the top has reached 65 percent, according to the Brookings Institution.
Some left in a cloud of corruption allegations, including his health and human services secretary, his Environmental Protection Agency chief and, most recently, his interior secretary. Others left after clashing with Mr. Trump. Mr. Mattis was the last of the so-called axis of adults seen by some as tempering a volatile president, following the ouster of Rex W. Tillerson as secretary of state, H. R. McMaster as national security adviser and John F. Kelly as chief of staff.
“Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis are two of the finest people ever to serve in government,” said Steve Goldstein, who was under secretary of state until he was fired along with Mr. Tillerson. “They were very close and worked hard at trying to do what was best for the country, and sometimes that meant being brutally honest with folks at the White House.”
But Fred Fleitz, who worked for nearly six months this year as chief of staff for John R. Bolton, the current national security adviser, said the new team is more cohesive and better suited to Mr. Trump than one constantly undermining him.
“He came in as the ultimate outsider and he brought in some unorthodox policies that worked and he tried some things that didn’t work, and one of the things that didn’t work was bringing in some staffers who didn’t work like McMaster and Tillerson,” Mr. Fleitz said.
In a recent public talk, Mr. Tillerson said out loud what others say in private, that Mr. Trump often pushes for actions that exceed his authority and does not like it when told he cannot do something. He bristles at constraints and expresses envy of autocrats like President Xi Jinping of China who do not have to deal with independent power centers like the Federal Reserve or the courts.
In recent days, Mr. Trump has asked aides whether he can fire Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chairman he appointed, telling advisers that Mr. Powell will “turn me into Hoover,” a reference to the Great Depression-era president. During a meeting with German car executives this month, Mr. Trump threatened to impose higher fuel efficiency standards on their imported cars than required on American vehicles even though aides told him he could not do that.
And he can be hard on his staff. He regularly curses at them, some say. Even his humor can be abrasive. When Larry Kudlow, his economics adviser, returned after a heart attack this year, the president ribbed him in front of aides. “Larry, you’re here six weeks and you had a heart attack?” Others laughed uncomfortably.
More recently, the president has told associates he feels “totally and completely abandoned,” as one put it, complaining that no one is on his side and that many around him have ulterior motives. That extends even to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was credited for helping push through the criminal justice bill, praise that Mr. Trump took note of.
Longtime associates said Mr. Trump’s relationship with his children has grown more removed and that he feels he does not have a friend in the White House. He disagrees with Mr. Kushner and Ivanka Trump much of the time, but cannot bring himself to tell them no, leaving that instead to Mr. Kelly, according to former aides. That made Mr. Kelly the heavy, they said, and therefore the target of their ire until he was finally forced out.
Mr. Trump has spent far less time lately with older friends. The sense of isolation was on display at this month’s holiday parties when he appeared for a few minutes, took a few perfunctory photographs with preselected guests and then disappeared back upstairs rather than mingle. He is spending this preholiday shutdown weekend alone since Melania and Barron Trump went ahead to Florida without him.
Mr. Trump still views the presidency through the lens of a television showman. He told his staff that he wanted a fireworks display over Mount Rushmore. Before signing the farm bill, he posted a goofy video of himself on the 2005 Emmy Awards wearing overalls and a straw hat, holding a pitchfork and singing the theme music to the previous tv present “Inexperienced Acres.”
For election evening in November, he insisted on throwing a lavish celebration within the East Room and initially wished aides to be on show for his company, a simulation of officers gathering election return info like aides did at Trump Tower in 2016. When White Home officers warned celebration would look discordant given the probability of shedding the Home, he insisted on going ahead anyway.
By all accounts, Mr. Trump’s consumption of cable tv has truly elevated in latest months as his first scheduled conferences of the day have slid again from the 9 or 9:30 a.m. set by Reince Priebus, his first chief of employees, to roughly 11 many mornings. Throughout “govt time,” Mr. Trump watches tv within the residence for hours, reacting to what he sees on Fox Information. Whereas within the West Wing, he leaves it on throughout most conferences within the eating room off the Oval Workplace, one ear attuned to what’s being mentioned.
Of late, allies concede, the information has been significantly grim. He was infuriated by his former private lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, who pleaded responsible to organizing an unlawful scheme to pay hush cash to ladies to maintain quiet about alleged affairs with Mr. Trump earlier than the 2016 election, a scheme he mentioned Mr. Trump had directed.
Nonetheless, for all of the experiences of a fuming president alarmed at attainable impeachment, Mr. Trump not often expresses such particular nervousness out loud, associates mentioned. As an alternative he expresses frustration, anger, mania — all of which aides learn like tea leaves to discern what lies beneath.
“It is going to be a problem to not be consumed by it,” Mr. Brief mentioned. “It could solely be human when it’s the protection main the information on daily basis to be distracted, however it will likely be vital to have the inner self-discipline to not be.”
Nobody outdoors of Mr. Mueller’s workplace, in fact, is aware of for positive what he’ll report however up to now he and different prosecutors have drawn a devastating image of a president surrounded by individuals who have lied to the authorities, cheated on their taxes, skirted marketing campaign finance legal guidelines and secretly labored for overseas pursuits. The query is what Mr. Mueller will say about Mr. Trump.
“Does he create a narrative that the person by no means put the presidency first?” requested Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose latest e-book, “Management: In Turbulent Instances,” chronicles 4 presidents. “There needs to be a story. The person issues might not hit the individuals who help him but when there’s an general narrative, folks might perceive.”
Mr. Trump has not helped himself with selections that opponents use to attract a story of a president unusually deferential to Russia, together with his withdrawal of troops in Syria, which drew the general public approval of President Vladimir V. Putin.
“Mueller will resolve whether or not there’s collusion with the Russians on the election,” mentioned Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, a former White Home chief of employees to Mr. Obama. “However we are able to now say there’s collusion with the Russians on overseas coverage, and it’s to not America’s profit.”
Extra lately, Mr. Trump has taken to spending time reminiscing in regards to the happier days of his candidacy and his 2016 victory. He spent the autumn displaying completely different teams of holiday makers what he calls his love letters from North Korea’s iron-fisted dictator, Kim Jong-un, expressing admiration for Mr. Trump. And he nonetheless takes pleasure in points of the job, primarily those who exhibit energy. “The roads closed for me!” he declared to pals earlier this yr after a motorcade trip.
However these highs have been arduous to recapture. The times are stuffed with battle, a lot of it of his personal making. Extra advisers are heading for the door. The divisions are widening, not closing. If it’s a “conflict on daily basis,” there aren’t any indicators of peace.
“What I’m making an attempt to determine is the place does it finish,” Mr. Goldstein mentioned. “The language will get coarser on all sides. The respect for the workplace of the presidency appears much less to me than it was. How can we transfer folks again? Or are we within the new actuality?”