President Donald Trump’s latest tweets spread with the viral yet numbing familiarity that only comes when this president does such outrageous things with his preferred mode of communication.
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Trump deserves to be criticized for his latest petty, nasty and arguably sexist attack, aimed at MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski. It drew bipartisan condemnation, and a near-universal recognition that it does nothing to help advance the president’s agenda.
But we’ve been here before. It’s happened often enough to recognize the pattern -- tweet, denounce, defend, repeat -- and to recognize this episode is highly unlikely to matter beyond the next news cycle or so.
It doesn’t mean there’s an excuse for the president’s behavior, and it doesn’t mean he’s got a strategy in mind. But the White House response to the Trump barrage serves as a reminder that the perception of Trump as a counter-puncher is part of his appeal, and an image he cultivates to great effect.
“I don't think that it's a surprise to anybody that he fights fire with fire,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
There is, of course, the irony of first lady Melania Trump’s stated commitment to combating cyber-bullying. The only statement from the first lady’s office, though, restated her feeling that “when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder.”
Then there’s the matter that Trump is supposedly most focused on: passing the health care bill. It so happens that among the holdout Republican senators are three women -- Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia -- all of whom registered their disapproval for the president’s actions.
“Stop it! The presidential platform should be used for more than bringing people down,” Murkowski tweeted.
But health care was a heavy lift before the tweets. It remains so after. It’s hard to argue that any votes will be influenced.
Trump has effectively normalized abnormal behavior. He is crossing lines that he long-ago blurred, by acting pretty much exactly like he did as a candidate, even nearly six months into the presidency.
Part of the ritual of the Trump tweet now includes the disavowal by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who seems to have come to grudging terms with occasional presidential outbursts that send the planned business of the day sideways.
“What we're trying to do around here is improve the tone and the civility of the debate. And this obviously doesn't help us do that,” Ryan said.
But then Ryan went back to talking about health care and immigration. The business of Washington -- struggling Trump agenda and all -- returned to about what it was doing before.
Yes, Trump’s actions diminish the presidency. But the point is he is still the president.