Oct 18, 2017

Trump's alternative reality, part two

Trump in the White House Rose Garden yesterday. Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

I wrote yesterday about President Trump's war with the truth, after a stunning string of false statements during double-header press avails. But his war with his own Cabinet, over his own ideas, is equally stunning.

It's a feature, not a bug, of this White House for Trump to say one thing about policy, and for his Cabinet or hand-picked officials to say or do the exact opposite:

  • Yesterday, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai subtly shot down Trump's threat to revoke NBC broadcast licenses: "I believe in the First Amendment."
  • SecState Rex Tillerson says North Korean diplomacy "will continue until the first bomb drops"; Trump tweets that he's "wasting his time."
  • SecDef Jim Mattis tells Congress that holding onto the Iran nuclear pact is in the interest of the national security of the United States; 10 days later, Trump threatens cancellation.
  • Trump blames "both sides" for racial violence in Charlottesville; Tillerson says the president "speaks for himself," and economic adviser Gary Cohn says the administration "must do better."
  • Trump threatens extreme action on immigrants, Muslims, "Dreamers," trade, NATO and more, but aides and advisers wind up softening or delaying most — with the notable exception of the Paris climate deal.

Why this matters: This dynamic — like the spreading of fake news or false statements — makes it hard for the media, Republicans and his Cabinet to determine when to take the leader of the free world seriously.

Sound smart: This is not a plot of evil genius to keep friends and foes guessing. It's the inevitable output of an improvisational president who often says whatever pops into his head.

Go deeper

Stephanie Grisham out as White House press secretary

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham is departing her post to return to the East Wing as First Lady Melania Trump's chief of staff, the White House announced Tuesday. The news was first reported by CNN.

Why it matters: Grisham will leave after nine months without ever having held a formal press briefing. Her departure follows the arrival of new White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who has a chance to overhaul a communications shop that's kept a low profile since President Trump ended the tradition of daily press secretary briefings.

WeWork board sues SoftBank

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

SoftBank was sued Tuesday morning by a special committee of WeWork's board of directors for alleged breaches of contract and fiduciary duty related to SoftBank's decision to cancel a $3 billion tender offer for WeWork shares.

Why it matters: SoftBank is viewed by many in the private markets as an unfaithful partner. If this reaches trial, that reputation could either become widely cemented or reversed.

IEA boss won't let Big Oil off the hook

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Freya Ingrid Morales/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol has a tough job these days — responding to an unprecedented crisis now without losing sight of an existential one that must be tackled over decades.

Driving the news: He spoke to Axios yesterday about his work to help stabilize oil markets and ensure coronavirus doesn't sap governments' and companies' work on global warming.