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How Trump created a new era of high risk

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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

On Jan. 26, just over a year into his presidency, President Trump had a president's dream: peace and prosperity. The Dow Jones industrial average, S&P 500 and Nasdaq all hit record highs.

Where it stands: Since then, Trump has injected multiple new risks into the system.

  • Yesterday, "U.S. stocks suffered their worst week in more than two years, signaling mounting investor anxiety over whether factors from restrictive trade policies to rising interest rates could disrupt the nine-year bull market." (WSJ)
  • N.Y. Times: "Aides said there was no grand strategy to the president’s actions, and that he got up each morning this week not knowing what he would do. "

So what's happened in the past two months?

  • Checks inside the White House are gone, and Chief of Staff John Kelly's controls have been circumvented.
  • Critics of China and trade have been empowered.
  • Hawks have been installed at NSC and State.
  • Trump is stirring for a Mueller fight.

The conversation:

  • CFR President Richard Haass tweets: "This is the most perilous moment in modern American history-and it has been largely brought about by ourselves, not by events."
  • Jeremy Bash, former CIA and Pentagon chief of staff, on "Morning Joe": "I think the president is assembling a War Cabinet. To take a war to Bob Mueller, he's got Joe diGenova. To take a trade war to China, he's got Larry Kudlow. And now, to actually have a real war, he's got John Bolton. And the only question is: Will we find ourselves in a military conflict vis-à-vis North Korea or Iran or both?"
  • N.Y. Times Quote of the Day ... Tong Zhao, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, on the apprehension of American allies in Asia about the appointment of John Bolton as national security adviser: “People are trying to avoid appearing terrified, but people are deeply concerned.”

The Trump view ... A source close to the president told me:

  • "I personally reject the premise that there is inherent 'risk' in Trump being more Trump."
  • "He's got 15 months under his belt, and is feeling more comfortable and confident in the job."
  • "The economy is booming ... ISIS is obliterated. He's got China to the table to help with NoKo in unprecedented ways."
  • "Now he's continuing to throw Kim off balance with a vocal NoKo hawk, reminding him he's serious."
  • "He's doing nothing on trade that he didn't openly campaign on."
  • "It's unorthodox. It's chaotic from a staff level. But I think folks need to relax."

Be smart: The markets can be prescient — they appear to be factoring in rising uncertainty and risk.

Bottom line: We have never seen so much wobbliness and apprehension, internally and externally. 

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