Donald Trump isn’t letting slights go – even after the ego-boosting accomplishment of winning the presidency.
As the Republican President-elect greeted candidates for Cabinet position at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf course Sunday, he couldn’t resist another shot at the cast of the musical “Hamilton” – which had read a message directly to Vice President-elect Mike Pence after he attended the Broadway production Friday night.
With Pence looking on silently, Trump told reporters the remarks were “very inappropriate.”
It marked the second straight day of Trump, now back in control of a Twitter account aides had wrested away in the closing stages of the campaign, raging against “Hamilton.”
And more importantly, it was a continuation of Trump’s months-long penchant for lashing out after ego-bruising moments. Those outbursts have most often come on Twitter, and include his criticism of Megyn Kelly following her sharp questioning in the first GOP primary debate and his attack on a 1996 beauty queen’s weight after Hillary Clinton cited her in a debate. The “Hamilton” episode shows Trump’s tactics aren’t changing, even though he won.
Trump is currently interviewing candidates to form his Cabinet, receiving his first intelligence briefings and beginning to develop relationships with congressional leaders to enact his policy vision for America.
But on Sunday, the first words he offered were about Hamilton.
“The cast and producers of Hamilton, which I hear is highly overrated, should immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior,” Trump tweeted at 6:22 a.m. ET.
At 8:26 a.m., Trump had another bone to pick – this time with NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” which lampooned him as only now realizing the gravity of the presidency in its opening skit.
“I watched parts of @nbcsnl Saturday Night Live last night. It is a totally one-sided, biased show - nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?” he tweeted.
But “Hamilton” – the critically acclaimed musical about the nation’s founding fathers – has been Trump’s most frequent target.
On Saturday morning, in one tweet, Trump wrote: “Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing.This should not happen!”
In another, he said: “The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”
The remarks offered a stark reminder of Trump’s sensitivity – and showed how his expectations contrast with how he encouraged supporters to treat journalists covering his rallies, protesters against whom he encouraged physical violence and opponent Hillary Clinton, who he threatened to jail.
The Twitter tirades did serve to draw attention away from his $25 million settlement of lawsuits alleging that Trump University was a fraud. It was no master plan, though: Trump tweeted about that settlement, too, drawing even more attention to it.
On Monday, former Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway explained why Trump tweets.
“He has over 25 million followers on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s a great way for him to take his message directly to people and cut through the noise or silence,” she told Chris Cuomo on CNN’s “New Day.”
“Sometimes, important things he’s saying or doing are getting zero coverage. Sometimes, he’s just trying to cut through the nonsense of people telling Americans what is important to them, which we saw through the elections wasn’t true,” she added. “People constantly being told this issue, this statement, this past transgression is important to you and Americans said, ‘No, it’s not. What is important to me is this 100-day plan where he’ll drain the swamp and repeal and replace Obamacare and pass meaningful reform.’”
But there are some signs Trump is trying to rein in his Twitter behavior.
He deleted a tweet posted at 7:32 p.m. ET Saturday – a full 12 hours after he’d begun attacking “Hamilton” – that said: “Very rude and insulting of Hamilton cast member to treat our great future V.P. Mike Pence to a theater lecture. Couldn’t even memorize lines!”
On the campaign trail, Trump said he wanted to change laws to make it easier to sue his critics – a move which, free speech advocates warned, could lead to a chilling effect that would silence political expression.
The American Civil Liberties Union lambasted Trump’s attacks on the “Hamilton” cast, portraying Trump as unaware of the realities of his political office.
“President-elect Trump needs a refresher on his high school civics class,” said Anthony D. Romero, the ACLU’s executive director.
He said it’s Trump – not the cast of “Hamilton” – that should offer an apology.
“Americans don’t apologize – not even to presidents or vice presidents – for the lawful and proper exercise of their constitutional rights,” Romero said. “The First Amendment is a cornerstone of our democracy, and Democratic and Republican presidents alike have understood that freedom of speech makes our country stronger – even if it sometimes make our leaders uncomfortable.”
Trump’s tweets have amplified the comments from a cast member, read on-stage after the production.
Brandon Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr in the hit musical, began the message by thanking Pence for attending the play and saying, “We hope you will hear us out.”
“We, sir – we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights,” Dixon said. “We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”
Pence, for his part, has let the comments go.
“I did hear what was said from the stage. I can tell you I wasn’t offended by what was said. I will leave to others whether that was the appropriate venue to say it,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I do want to say that the basic element, the center of that message is one I want to address and that is I know this is a very disappointing time for people that did not see their candidate win in this national election,” Pence said.
“I know this is a very anxious time for some people. I just want to reassure people what President-elect Donald Trump said on election night – he absolutely meant from the bottom of his heart,” he said.
“He is preparing to be the President of all of the people of the United States of America and to watch him bringing together people of diverse views, bringing people together who disagreed with him strongly, seeing him talk to leaders around the world, I just want to reassure every American that in the days ahead I am very confident that they are going to see President-elect Trump be a president for all of the people and we embrace that principle. We are going to work hard to make that principle every day that we serve.”
The “Hamilton” cast’s message to Pence came after some in the crowd booed the Republican Vice President-elect.
Pence said he did notice the booing, but it didn’t spoil the show.
“My daughter and I and her cousins really enjoyed the show. ‘Hamilton’ is just an incredible production, incredibly talented people. It was a real joy to be there,” Pence said.
“When we arrived we heard a few boos, and we heard some cheers,” he said, “I nudged my kids and reminded them that is what freedom sounds like.”