WASHINGTON — The president of the United States is tweeting more often, more angrily and more frequently against members of his own political family, in a political spectacle revealing fault lines within America’s governing party.
Donald Trump began the day with trash-talking tweets against the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell. “Get back to work,” Trump said in one, urging the senator to end his holiday and start passing bills on health reform, tax cuts and infrastructure.
He lamented in another social-media screed that McConnell spent seven years promising to repeal Barack Obama’s health law — and that when the moment finally came, “he couldn’t get it done.”
Then came a warning shot.
Trump inched close to demanding the resignation of his party’s senior lawmaker — who happens to be married to Trump’s transportation secretary. When a reporter asked whether McConnell should step down, the president replied, “If he doesn’t get (those bills) done, then you can ask me that question.”
Tensions between the president and his party are not new.
Few senior Republicans supported his campaign. Some even urged him to resign a few weeks before the election, over an old tape scandal. Those differences were papered over in the first few months of Trump’s presidency, but are being exposed again.
By firing chief of staff Reince Priebus and forcing out spokesman Sean Spicer, Trump’s White House cut off rare links to the party establishment. That’s been followed with the commander-in-chief publicly slapping around members of his political family.
For a few days, his ire was directed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his hands-off approach to the Russia probe. Now Trump’s allies are seeking to squeeze Trump-skeptical Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake out in a primary next year.
Trump is getting angrier in social media and he’s using it more.
In the first four full months of his presidency, he used Twitter to tweet or retweet messages 150 times or less, in a relatively stable pattern; it then ramped up to 208 messages in June, 242 in July, and he’s on track to hit 260 this month if he keeps up this current pace of 8.4 per day.
In addition, the newer messages are increasingly angry, according to an analysis of word-sentiments run through the R computer-programming language. The sentiment analysis shows that messages with predominantly positive words easily outnumbered negative ones as recently as May, but it’s changed: negative messages have been running neck-and-neck or even surpassing positive ones in recent weeks.
Now he’s topped it off by publicly belittling his party’s leadership online.
One Obama-era official expressed incredulity at the president’s choice of target. McConnell not only controls the fate of Trump’s legislative agenda, but also potentially Trump’s entire political destiny, said former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller.
“Fast forward months/years,” Miller tweeted.
“If (special counsel Robert) Mueller ever makes an impeachment referral, probably no one more important to Trump’s fate than McConnell.”
On Capitol Hill, a number of Republicans have been grumbling about life under President Trump. McConnell himself may have triggered the president’s opprobrium with a speech in his home state, where he said Trump was new to politics and might have had unrealistic hopes of what he might achieve.
“Our new president, of course, has not been in this line of work before,” McConnell told a Kentucky gathering.
“I think (he) had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.”
But some Republicans interjected to say the president may have a point. A member of the House of Representatives said he was right to be annoyed at the Senate, where a bill to repeal Obamacare failed by one vote.
“I really do believe this was a congressional failure. This was not a presidential failure. And Republicans of all stripes need to look in the mirror and recognize that,” lawmaker Tom Cole told CNN.
“We made this commitment for seven years.”
But a Democratic rival offered another take on the source of frustration that Trump, a former Democrat from left-leaning New York City, might be feeling with his party. The problem, said Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, is that the party’s conservative priorities on health care and taxes don’t align with the country’s and keep bumping into resistance.
“We are watching them sort of take potshots at each other here,” Van Hollen told MSNBC. “The real issue is that they don’t have an agenda that brings the country together. The (Obamacare) repeal got maybe 12 per cent support throughout the country.
“And when that failed, you have people pointing fingers at each other. You know, this was the president who said he was going to bring to Washington the art of the deal. Clearly he was not able to do that.”
Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press