Wednesday, the 1,000th day of Donald Trump’s presidency, went badly. That’s no surprise; most of the first 999 days went badly too. I have no idea if he’s going to wind up getting ousted from office, either as a result of the impeachment House Democrats are readying or the 2020 election. But things are getting worse for Trump — whether he realizes it or not.
Every once in a while, some event offers a clarifying reminder of the president’s poor judgment. On Wednesday, it was the release of a letter Trump wrote to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The letter itself was an embarrassment, in which Trump, soon after telling Erdogan on the phone that U.S. forces would move out of his way to enable Turkey’s invasion of Syria, tried to walk things back. Sort of. As Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman put it at the Monkey Cage, the president opted for “threatening rhetoric reminiscent of a Mafia boss” to “make loud threats that he may not be able to deliver on.” As soon as the letter was published, professional diplomats and historians said they had never seen something so amateurish from a U.S. president.
But what really underlined Trump’s problem for me wasn’t that he wrote an incompetent letter to follow up on what seems to have been an incompetent phone call. Or that his Syria policy, as my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Eli Lake notes, has resulted in chaos and death. Or that, on a crass political level, he’s managed to alienate his congressional allies just as he needs them most, with House Republicans voting overwhelmingly on Wednesday to condemn his decision.
No, what really got to me was that Trump distributed copies of this letter to congressional leaders when they showed up at the White House for a briefing. Think of it. Even if the letter had been perfectly normal, what Trump was handing them was an Oct. 9 request to Erdogan to halt his invasion — a request that Erdogan has, as we’ve seen, totally ignored. Trump was bragging about what he considered to be a sign of his own brilliance without realizing that it was instead evidence of abject failure.