For Trump, a Year of Reinventing the Presidency

‘That’s Why He Won’

Presidents are human, too, a blend of varying degrees of idealism, generosity, empathy, ambition, ego, vanity, jealousy and anger, but they generally hide their unvarnished traits behind an official veneer. Call it decorum, call it presidential. Mr. Trump essentially calls it fake, making no effort to pretend to be above it all, except to boast that he is stronger, richer, smarter and more successful than anyone else. To him, the presidency is about winning, not governing.

The first president never to have served in government or military service, Mr. Trump repeatedly jumps the guardrails that his predecessors heeded. When the mayor of San Juan, P.R., complained about federal recovery efforts after the island was ravaged by Hurricane Maria, Mr. Trump dismissed her as “nasty.” When he did not receive enough gratitude for helping to free three American college basketball players from China, he exclaimed, “I should have left them in jail!”

He distorted a comment by the Muslim mayor of London to paint him as soft on terrorism. He accused Mr. Obama of tapping Trump Tower, calling him a “Bad (or sick) guy!” — a claim Mr. Trump’s own Justice Department rejected. He said there were “very fine people on both sides” of a white supremacist rally and counterprotest in Charlottesville, Va. He endorsed an accused child molester for Senate.

He called various targets of his ire “crazy,” “psycho,” “short and fat,” “crooked,” “totally inept,” “a joke,” “dumb as a rock,” “disgusting,” “puppet,” “weak and out of control,” “sleazy,” “wacky,” “totally unhinged,” “incompetent,” “lightweight” and “the dumbest man on television.” Among others.

Even in small ways, Mr. Trump has broken presidential protocol. Presidents generally do not talk about daily gyrations of the stock markets or tout corporate expansion plans, seeing it as inappropriate. But Mr. Trump eagerly trumpets market increases, making them a substitute metric for success given his anemic poll numbers, and claims credit for corporate decisions with the gusto of a mayor or governor, whether related to his policies or not.

To supporters, his willingness to say anything and take on anyone comes across as refreshing.

“One thing he’s done to the Oval Office and our political culture as a whole is brought a lot more authenticity than people have been used to from politicians,” said Andy Surabian, a senior adviser to the Great America Alliance, a Trump-aligned group. “Whatever you think of him from an ideological point of view, I think for the first time in my lifetime, you have someone in the Oval Office who doesn’t seem plastic.”

“You hear all the time he’s not presidential,” he added. “But I say to myself, ‘That’s why he won.’”

Other presidents have experimented with how they communicated to the public and were criticized for diminishing the dignity of the office, only to have their innovations become standard fare for their successors. Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted fireside chats on the radio. Dwight D. Eisenhower inaugurated news conferences on television. John F. Kennedy allowed the briefings to be aired live instead of taped and edited.

Those presidents, however, did not use their platforms as weapons as Mr. Trump has. And they presided over serious, if sometimes unwieldy, policymaking structures designed to inform their decisions. Mr. Trump’s decisions, announced over Twitter, often seem like spur-of-the-moment reactions to something he has seen on television.

“He is a one-man show,” said Shirley Anne Warshaw of Gettysburg College, the author of nine books on presidential decision making. By her count, Mr. Trump has filled only about 350 of 469 positions on the White House staff. “He just doesn’t need them.”

Indeed, even those slots do not stay filled for long. A new Brookings Institution study found a 34 percent turnover rate in Mr. Trump’s White House, more than twice as high as any first-year personnel change in the 40 years examined.

“It’s a presidency of one person,” said Ron Klain, a White House official under Mr. Clinton and Mr. Obama. “That’s really kind of a stunning thing. There is no Trump doctrine. There is no Trump plan. There is no Trumpism. There’s just Trump. Whatever Trump says is what Trump is. No one else speaks for him.”

Even Mr. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general who took over in July as chief of staff, has met the limits of his ability to guide the president. Rather than seek to control Mr. Trump, Mr. Kelly has tried to control the information that gets to him and make sure it is vetted. The structure he has established resembles that of previous presidents. That does not mean Mr. Trump adheres to it.

“I’m not put on earth to control him,” Mr. Kelly said. “But I have been put on earth to make this staff work better and make sure this president, whether you voted for him or not, is fully informed before he makes a decision. And I think we achieved that.”

“He remains fairly unconventional,” he added. “But as I point out, he now is fully briefed on the issues and the pluses and minuses, pros and cons.”

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