Trump fired Comey on Tuesday
"He's a showboat. He's a grandstander," Trump said
Presidents often get angry, but most go to great lengths to hide their fits of rage and the impression that red faced fury rules their actions.
Not Donald Trump.
In three-and-a-half months in office, the 45th President has shown that indignation, impulsiveness and a prickly desire to protect his own self image are at the core of his governing philosophy.
The latest example of the President’s simmering fury has emerged in the aftermath of his firing of James Comey this week, apparently the culmination of long-brewing animosity towards the FBI director.
Trump gave a glimpse of his irritation and impatience with Comey during an interview with NBC News on Thursday.
“He’s a showboat,” Trump said. “He’s a grandstander.”
But such visceral reactions sometimes get the President into trouble. The sudden dismissal of Comey for example could do more than deal a political blow to the President. It could lead him onto perilous constitutional ground and risks embroiling him in a web of investigations that could lead off in unpredictable directions and dig up all sorts of hidden political or legal baggage.
This would not be the first time Trump has hurt himself politically with his temper.
He’s spent weeks, for example, waging feuds sparked by his own anger – opening his presidency with a showdown over the size of his inauguration crowd, then claiming, apparently furious at the never ending Russia election meddling story, that he was wire-tapped by President Barack Obama.
His daily torrent on Twitter, and at less frequent news conferences and campaign rallies, also reveal his highly emotional response to the merest political slight and thin skin for criticism.
But even though his outbursts hurt him sometimes, there’s a reason he may be reluctant to cool it. Anger has been a potent political weapon to connect with the animosity toward Washington felt by his supporters. He admitted as much during an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett in January 2016.
“I am angry. I am angry, and a lot of other people are angry too about how incompetently out country is being run. I am extremely angry and upset about it and I think its ridiculous,” Trump said.
Trump is not the first President to feel the bile boiling within. Lyndon Johnson’s temper was legendary. Richard Nixon’s stomach-clutching fury about his foes is revealed in the White House taping system that led to his downfall. Bill Clinton’s staff feared his puce-faced rages. And even Barack Obama vented in private when the cameras were off in rants mostly reserved for his staff, like on the occasion when the Healthcare.gov website crashed on its launch day.
But unlike those Presidents, Trump’s emotions and anger form the dominant strain of his political persona. They seem to largely dictate how he conducts his business as president, lashing out at perceived enemies, seemingly without forethought.
The Comey drama suggests serious downsides to such an approach.
It also raises a potentially crucial question that gets to the heart of Trump’s hopes for forging a successful presidency. Could his impetuous and extemporaneous use of his executive power become a fatal flaw and lead him into situations far more serious than the political spats he has battled through so far, and even into legal jeopardy?
Any president has the right to replace an FBI director. But it is the timing and the optics surrounding the Comey dismissal that are troublesome for the White House, since the FBI director was overseeing a probe into whether Trump aides cooperated with a Russian effort to meddle in the US election.
Trump was reportedly also mad that Comey refuted his wiretapping claims in a congressional hearing – though he did some damage control on that issue in his NBC News interview.
“I was surprised he said it but I wasn’t angry,” Trump said.