Maybe we should all take a moment to feel a little sorry for Donald Trump, who reacted to criticism on tweeting a stream of coarse insults at the television journalist Mika Brzezinski.
After all, he so clearly lacks the toughness of George Washington, who once privately observed that his critics’ “arrows … never can reach the most vulnerable part of me.” He lacks the confidence of Dwight Eisenhower, who said, when asked if he thought his press coverage was fair, “Well, when you come down to it, I don’t see what a reporter could do much to a president, do you?”
And — are we really about to write this sentence? — Mr. Trump lacks the grace Richard Nixon showed, at least in public. At the height of Watergate in late 1973, Mr. Nixon blurted at a news conference, “I have never heard or seen such outrageous, vicious, distorted reporting in 27 years of public life.” Yet he added, “I am not blaming anybody for that. Perhaps what happened is that what we did brought it about.”
Mr. Trump may be a more tender soul, or less resilient. In any case, he can’t seem to take the heat.
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Opinion Gail Collins
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Probably no one in the world draws as much scrutiny and criticism — even mockery — as an American president, and each president understandably chafes. But for Mr. Trump, every barb seems to hit home, and he vengefully attacks his tormentors in full view of the world.
He does not appear to realize that he is embarrassing himself. This is what both Republicans and Democrats have been trying to tell Mr. Trump since his tweeted attacks on the MSNBC co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski, which were capped by the claim that he refused to spend New Year’s Eve at Mar-a-Lago with Ms. Brzezinski, who was “bleeding badly from a face-lift.”
“People may say things during a campaign, but it’s different when you become a public servant,” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, told The Times. “I see it as embarrassing to our country.” Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, said Mr. Trump’s tweets “do not provide a positive role model.”
Add to the nastiness of the attack its creepy misogyny. Here again was Mr. Trump, whose casual boasting of sexual assault nearly upended his candidacy, denigrating women with references to “bleeding.” “This is not okay,” Representative Lynn Jenkins, Republican of Kansas, said on Twitter. “As a female in politics I am often criticized for my looks. We should be working to empower women.”
Mr. Trump’s advocates are trying, implausibly, to present his online demonstrations of self-pity as feats of macho toughness. The spokeswoman for Melania Trump (who has named anti-cyberbullying as a potential advocacy project) said the tweets showed that “when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy White House press secretary, said Mr. Trump was “fighting fire with fire.”
Mr. Trump’s behavior sabotaged a day that included critical talks on the Senate health care bill, a speech on energy policy and the arrival of South Korean President Moon Jae-in for talks on the North Korean nuclear threat. Thursday ended with Mr. Trump awkwardly awaiting Mr. Moon’s motorcade, as reporters shouted, “Mr. President, do you regret your tweets this morning?”
The big question for all of us is whether with his foot-stamping and his vulgarity Mr. Trump, in defiance of all his predecessors, is creating a new model for future presidential behavior. Can the etiquette of professional wrestling and reality television truly pass as acceptable for the Oval Office? The breadth and depth of bipartisan repugnance for this president’s insults suggests, thankfully, that the answer may prove to be no.
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