Donald Trump delivered a speech before Congress Tuesday that embodied the most effective traditions of his office. He called for unity, commemorated the plight of a military widow and asked his country to embrace its biggest challenges. “The time for trivial fights is behind us,” he said.
Four days later, he veered once again into unprecedented territory, with a Saturday tweet-storm at dawn from his Florida mansion that claimed, without evidence, that President Obama had wiretapped the Trump campaign and that Arnold Schwarzenegger had been fired from the Celebrity Apprentice, a television show that features aging pop stars who compete to make chewing gum jingles. Both Obama and Schwarzenegger disputed Trump’s claims.
These approaches by Trump are impossible to reconcile, but the President appears not to mind the confusion. He has long seen power in contradiction, welcomed the attention that comes with controversy, and shown no shame when his statements are proved false, incendiary or misleading. In fact, his political success has hinged over the past year on his unpredictability, though the tactic appears to be coming under increasing strain now that he has become President.
The Trump who stood to deliver a joint address to Congress is the one most Republican leaders, not to mention most of his senior White House staff, hope will take center stage in the coming months. They see a more presidential Trump as someone who could succeed in rallying his party to pass major tax and health care reform this year, while steadying global concerns about American leadership in the world at a time of turmoil. And they worry that a less disciplined Trump could spark a backlash among voters and weaken his support in Congress.