Trump can be a temperamental commander-in-chief
He is prone to bursts of anger that can dissipate quickly
Touring his recently purchased Plaza Hotel in the late 1980s, Donald Trump noticed an armoire that offended him.
Fuming, Trump accused his staff of making him look bad. In an expletive-laced explosion, he ripped the door off the subpar piece of furniture, a former senior Trump Organization employee recounted to CNN on Friday.
Thirty years later, the antique armoires at the White House remain intact. But Trump’s temper – honed over years as a public and political persona – hasn’t waned.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions bore the brunt of Trump’s most recently disclosed upbraiding. The New York Times reported this week that Trump, in front of multiple people, called his long-time supporter an “idiot.”
In the West Wing, Trump can be a temperamental commander-in-chief, prone to bursts of anger that dissipate as quickly as they came on. The rage is an extension of what many say they experienced on the campaign trail.
Some close to him even say his expressions of anger are a sign that he is engaged.
“I would much rather have him yell at me than be dismissive,” said a source familiar with his management style. “If he doesn’t get mad, it means he doesn’t care.”
People who have been in meetings with the President describe a pattern for Trump’s outbursts. They arise without much warning – in keeping with Trump’s flair for the dramatic – making it difficult for those in the room to avoid situations where the businessman-turned-politician lets loose on his subordinates.
He’s not shy about singling out one particular aide for a lashing, even with others looking on. Fighting back rarely ends well, since there are few topics Trump won’t broach in his humiliating takedowns.
He enjoys swearing, one source said, especially when he is around people he is comfortable with like his longtime aides and family. But he tries to avoid it with people who don’t know him well.
His preferred curse word, multiple people say: The tried-and-true F-bomb.
One person who has been in meetings with Trump recalls the President displaying his “volcanic” temper when he “feels ganged up on” or when nobody tells him one of his ideas is good.
The tirades have, at times, left his staff shaken. After an angry phone call with the Australian prime minister in January, some of his staff were left white-faced after catching a first glimpse of his capacity for rage.
Even as his temper has left some with memorable stories, those who have been in the room with Trump describe a man who quickly moves on.
“He has a temper, yes, and it doesn’t take much to set him off, but at the same time, it is always overblown and he will be fine five minutes later,” said one person who had worked with Trump. “He can be volcanic and then he will be fine five minutes later.”
Another source acknowledged that Trump had regular blow-ups during the campaign, but that they were more surprised by times when then-candidate held back.
“It was a pretty rare thing,” the source said. “There were a lot of times on the campaign trail where he didn’t get mad but if he had, nobody would have blamed him.”
“President Trump goes out of his way to care for his staff and has throughout his career,” a White House official said. “The relationships he has built and maintained are a testament to his leadership and his thoughtful approach. He looks out for his people and they look out for him.”
Trump isn’t averse to acts of kindness. Valet attendants at his Florida golf clubs say he has arrived on slow nights, when tips are scarce, to hand over $100 bills. Staff at the White House residence largely describe Trump as a pleasant, if mercurial, man to work for. And many of Trump’s longest tenured advisers, men and women who have worked with him for two decades or more, remain loyal to him because they believe that loyalty is reciprocated.
But as Trump developed an outsized persona as a real estate developer and later as a television celebrity, it wasn’t kindness that formed his reputation. It was anger in all its shades: the fury-filled executive, the high-maintenance billionaire, the pugnacious Twitter troll.
As Trump rants and raves through his first eight months in office, his penchant for outbursts has persisted. The isolation of the White House, paired with the enveloping cloud of the Russia investigations, have caused Trump to brood and bellow with unpredictable results.
Outbursts at his most loyal underlings have become commonplace. Multiple men of distinction, with long careers in public service, say the dressings-down that have sprung from Trump’s lips are the most demeaning they’ve enduring in their adult lives.
Traveling in Arizona last month, Trump lashed out at his chief of staff John Kelly, trashing the retired Marine Corps general for suggesting the President tone down his heated political rhetoric when discussing policy matters. Before the same event, an irate Trump phoned his longtime advance man George Gigicos to complain the crowds at the rally looked sparse on television.
Three months earlier, it was Sessions at the end of Trump’s fury firehose. Debasing him recusing himself from Russia-related matters, the President’s tirade prompted Sessions to draft a resignation letter (Trump didn’t accept).
The list of top officials that Trump has humiliated in front of other aides stretches on. He cut off and undermined his Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin during a meeting on the debt ceiling. He repeatedly and publicly accused his first chief of staff Reince Priebus of acting disloyal during last year’s campaign. And he barred his first press secretary Sean Spicer from a meeting with the Pope, despite knowing of his long desire to meet the Pontiff.
Trump is not the first president to have explosive outbursts in the White House – “You couldn’t be around Bill Clinton very long without seeing him get angry,” Clinton aide and senior CNN political analyst David Gergen has said. Multiple sources close to Trump, in an effort to tamp down on the President’s outbursts, cast his anger as normal in a White House, noting that past presidents have displayed plenty of anger.
“I think he’s a very even-keeled guy and a guy I’ve known for a while, so I don’t see him as someone who goes into wild tantrums,” said Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax and a Trump confidante. “A lot of Americans like that about Donald Trump. He’s not going to be a pretend guy. He’s not going to say he likes something when he really doesn’t.”
“When Donald Trump calls someone an idiot, I think in the Trump lexicon that is almost actually not a bad thing. That could be a good thing,” Ruddy added. “Chuck Schumer was a clown, and he became a pal. Obviously, Jeff Sessions wasn’t so angry about it. He’s still in his post. He kept his position.”
Trump himself has written that anger can be deployed as a tool as long as the actual emotions remain in check.
“Many people think I am an angry guy. But it’s not true. I am tough and I am demanding, but I never lose it,” he wrote in his 2007 book “Think Big.”
“Sometimes I use anger in a controlled way to make a point when I am negotiating,” he wrote. “In those situations, I am using anger for an effect, to further my goals. Using anger constructively is another form of mental toughness that you need to succeed.”
But people who worked for Trump early in his career remember his temper showing more about him, not those he was fuming at.
Barbara Res, Trump’s former head of construction who worked with the then-businessman for 18 years, described the President a “master” at using anger to “find the weakness in people and then exploit it to his benefit.”
Res recalled a number of moments where Trump dressed down employees in front of their colleagues, but it was an inspection of The Plaza Hotel in the fall 1989 that sticks out to her most.
After fuming over the reviled armoire, Trump and Res moved onto the renovated bathroom, where the construction manager – with the help of Trump’s first wife, Ivana – was installing cheaper green Chinese marble that the businessman had approved. He quickly flew into a rage.
“He started screaming, ‘this is cheap shit. This is no good. You are making me look bad,’” Res recalled. “He is cruel and vicious and he undercuts. If he sees a weakness, he will pounce on it.”
“That was his thing,” she said. “He cut your heart out.”