In his decades as a New York City real estate mogul, Donald Trump had some spectacularly twisted interactions with media figures in his hometown. Nothing has changed since he assumed the presidency.
On Thursday, President Trump slimed the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” after they leveled some criticisms on that morning’s program, including a shot from co-host Mika Brzezinski over the posting of fake Time magazine covers in Trump golf facilities. A not-very-amused president unfurled his Twitter account and did what he does:
I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
…to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
Seeking maximum social-media burn, Brzezinski tweeted back:
— Mika Brzezinski (@morningmika) June 29, 2017
There was nothing particularly surprising about Trump’s outburst, considering that it hovered at the intersection of two presidential pathologies — women and the media. Yet the United States has more than two centuries’ experience with heads of state who more (Barack Obama, the Bushes, Dwight Eisenhower) or less (Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon) upheld the dignity of the Oval Office. So, five months into this administration, we’re still entitled to some shock at the reality of Trump continuing to be Trump.
Which gets us to an extraordinary segment of television Friday morning on MSNBC. “Morning Joe” co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Brzezinski bagged out of vacation to appear on the program to break down their reaction to Trump’s Twitter-borne hostility. For her part, Brzezinski noted that she’d been raised “tough” and was braving the storm just fine. Both she and Scarborough focused their concerns on a country ruled by an unhinged man who can’t handle criticism.
And to hear Scarborough tell it, an unhinged man who’s morphing before our eyes. “The guy that’s in the White House now is not the guy we knew two years ago,” said Scarborough, presumably referring to the launch of Trump’s presidential bid in June 2015. “The guy that’s in the White House is not even close,” he continued, arguing that the Trump of a dozen years ago was “always in on the joke … Without getting into great detail, I will just say that somebody at the top of his campaign last summer said to me, ‘We’re all really worried about his emotional state. … This guy is not even the same person he was a year ago.”
That line of analysis mirrors an op-ed that Brzezinksi and Scarborough wrote in The Post. “We, too, have noticed a change in his behavior over the past few years. Perhaps that is why we were neither shocked nor insulted by the president’s personal attack,” write Brzezinski and Scarborough. “The Donald Trump we knew before the campaign was a flawed character but one who still seemed capable of keeping his worst instincts in check.”
And that line of analysis happens to be a very convenient and self-serving point for the co-hosts of “Morning Joe.” As has been documented by the Erik Wemple Blog and many others, “Morning Joe” was a Trump-friendly harbor with few ripples over the critical opening months of the Trump presidential campaign in 2015. On those occasions when Trump veered from common decency, yes, the hosts voiced their disapproval, such as the time when Trump slighted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over his heroics in the Vietnam War.
Yet “Morning Joe” provided a chummy embrace of Trump and his escapades over multiple interviews. Don’t believe the Erik Wemple Blog; believe the video clips themselves, which The Post video team helped us to compile back in 2015:
They loved Donald Trump the early presidential candidate. And Trump himself felt it, too, as he told the co-hosts after winning the New Hampshire primary: “You guys have been supporters. And I really appreciate it. And not necessarily supporters, but at least believers.”
In his defense, Scarborough pointed to the times he criticized Trump — for instance, over the candidate’s December 2015 advocacy of a Muslim ban, among other issues. Another line of defense focused on analytical prowess: Scarborough argued he understood early on that Trump was a legitimate threat to take the Republican nomination. Others, blinded by bias, didn’t. Fair enough.
The claim that somehow Trump has gone from amiable jokester to baleful cretin in the course of two years marks the show’s latest defense for its early misdeeds. And it’s not going to fly in this space! Go ahead and scroll through Trump’s Twitter feed, the very instrument that he used to smear Brzezinski — who marveled at how many lies he’d fit into his Thursday tweets — as well as many other people going back years. The tweets he sends these days read a lot like the tweets he sent back when Scarborough claims he was “always in on the joke.” And beyond: “There is an absolute through line from his tweets of recent years going all the way back decades to the hand-scrawled notes to reporters — the same intemperate, impulsive language, the same insults, the same wit, the same search for just the right insult that has been a constant going back to the 1970s,” says Marc Fisher, who co-wrote a Post biography on Trump titled “Trump Revealed.”
STAT News in May published a study contending that Trump’s verbal articulation skills have declined over the decades. “In interviews Trump gave in the 1980s and 1990s (with Tom Brokaw, David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey, Charlie Rose, and others), he spoke articulately, used sophisticated vocabulary, inserted dependent clauses into his sentences without losing his train of thought, and strung together sentences into a polished paragraph, which — and this is no mean feat — would have scanned just fine in print,” reads the STAT piece, noting a contrast with his less fluent speech patterns these days.
Such observations, however, don’t particularly shore up Scarborough’s contention that just in the past few years, his acquaintance has nose-dived. “I think he has the capacity to speak in different ways to different audiences and if the TV folks have noticed a difference, it may be simply a difference in context,” says Fisher. “Most of the people we talked to [who] worked closely with him in ’70s and ’80s adamantly argue that he is unchanged in any important way.”
Here are some of the complaints from the co-hosts about Trump in light of the face-lift tweets:
- “It’s amazing how many lies he packed into two tweets.” — Brzezinski
- “For some reason, he always goes after Mika.” — Scarborough
- “He attacks women, ’cause he fears women.” — Scarborough
- “He lurches at a morning cable news host and since he’s obsessed with women in a way that makes him feel even more scathed when a woman mocks him, what does that say to our enemies and our allies and our allegiances and developing relationships around the world?” — Brzezinski
- “And you think about him responding to my tweaking him about the Time magazine covers. You think about … that spooky Cabinet meeting where everybody went around the table and complimented him, this appears to be a man that cannot take the tiniest tweak from a woman on cable news but requires his Cabinet to speak at length about his greatness, especially in the middle of a presidency that appears to be struggling, low approval ratings and very few accomplishments. He’s not in reality.” — Brzezinski
All valid points now. All valid points, too, back when “Morning Joe” was yukking it up on a regular basis with Trump. Take the thin-skinned complaint as an example. On July 24, 2015, the co-hosts interviewed Trump about his early exploits on the Republican campaign trail. The candidate complained right from the outset that “Morning Joe” wasn’t giving him enough credit: “Well, I’m leading in all of the polls by a lot, and I was just listening to you, Joe — and you know we all love you and Mika — but I was listening to you talking about Bush and Rubio and a couple of others and you sort of forgot to mention my name even though I’m creaming them all in the polls.”
Scarborough responded, “What are you talking about? We’ve been talking about you for a week.”
Back and forth this unfathomable exchange went, as Trump continued griping about not getting enough attention, and Scarborough expressing incredulity. Laughing, hilarious incredulity at Trump’s thin skin. (See the 1:29 mark of the video above.) So: Back then, this attribute was a laughing matter; now it’s a matter of national security.
Maybe it’s the “Morning Joe” crew that has changed, in other words. And that evolution redounds to the show’s credit. Better late than never to decry the outrages of this disappointingly and offensively consistent man.