A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
“If your head’s not spinning, you’re not listening,” CNN’s Chris Cuomo said Thursday night. The banner below him said, “Trump turmoil: Defense secretary quits amid shutdown battle, market free fall, DOJ controversies and Russia probe.”
The resignation by Defense Secretary James Mattis was the biggest headline of them all. It received the six-column treatment on Page One of Friday’s NYT.
The Times’ front page described a government in “turmoil,” a “jittery capital,” and a looming shutdown.
A couple hundred miles south, WaPo captured all of it in this paragraph: “At perhaps the most fragile moment of his presidency — and vulnerable to convulsions on the political right — Trump single-handedly propelled the U.S. government into crisis and sent markets tumbling with his gambits this week to salvage signature campaign promises.”
The Post cited interviews with 27 sources to say that “Trump has been isolated in bunker mode in recent weeks as political and personal crises mount.”
Trump’s most loyal media outlets are averting their eyes and downplaying the chaos while emphasizing the border $$$ fight. Everyone else has eyes wide open:
– CNN: “Shaken, saddened, scared: Washington erupts over Mattis resignation”
– The banner headline on NYTimes.com: “Day of Upheaval”
James Mattis’ warning to America
National Review’s David French wrote: “This letter represents America’s most-respected warrior telling the nation that he does not believe the president sees our enemies clearly, understands the importance of our alliances, or perceives the necessity of American leadership.”
After the news broke around 5:20 p.m. ET, many analysts talked about the “wheels coming off” the Trump admin. Karen Tumulty commented on Twitter: “There were wheels?” George Conway replied: “It’s the axles now.”
– Cuomo: “All kinds of chaos erupting in the season finale of the 2018 version of The Trump Show…”
– Mark Hertling on “AC360:” “When a guy like Mattis says he’s gone, there’s something dysfunctional…”
– Speaking with Rachel Maddow, historian Michael Beschloss said a defense secretary has never resigned in protest before…
– Courtney Kube to Maddow: “Are we going to see military resignations over this?”
– Eli Stokols: “People inside the White House really don’t know what’s coming next…”
– MSNBC’s Chuck Todd just minutes after the news broke: “I just had somebody email me who’s usually very much a Trump person who said, ‘I think you’re underplaying the crazy that’s going on today!’ Like we’re numb to it. This feels extraordinarily serious. He is on a one-man temper tantrum right now…”
– Susan Glasser’s newest column: “When I started writing this column, the freakout was over Syria. By the time I finished it, Mattis was resigning…”
– John Kerry on the phone with Brian Williams: “This is the continuation of a crisis that too many people have been too content to live with…”
– James Clapper to Don Lemon: “Knowing Jim as I do, I figured it was a question of time – when he would reach the point where he would have to do what he did….”
– Navy Adm. Jim Stavridis, a former NATO supreme allied commander, tweeted: “Very challenging days ahead for the Pentagon and the nation…”
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Stephen — hold on a minute — calm down a minute, we don’t have to yell.”
– CNN’s Wolf Blitzer calming down Trump senior advisor Stephen Miller’s overheated comments on “The Situation Room…”
What will Friday bring?
I don’t know. But I expect it will be bad. The possibility of a partial government shutdown at the end of the day Friday will loom over everything.
WaPo’s Matt Viser wryly pointed out: Friday “is the darkest day of the year.”
Some of the cable newsers have started to use shutdown countdown clocks… It’s hard to see how a shutdown is going to be avoided at this point… Here’s CNN.com’s latest…
Right-wing media shutting down the government?
Oliver Darcy emails: Trump can withstand criticism from mainstream media outlets. His base doesn’t pay much attention to the news organizations that fall under this category, and he can dismiss unflattering reports from outlets like CNN, NYT, and WaPo as so-called “fake news.”
The problem for Trump is when he’s on the receiving end of sharp criticism from the outlets that his base does, in fact, pay attention to. That’s what happened this week. Fox News personalities, Rush Limbaugh, the Drudge Report, Breitbart, and others all excoriated Trump for what they have characterized as him caving on his pledge to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
On Thursday, it seemed that the pressure cracked the president. Trump announced he would not sign a measure to provide funding for the government if it didn’t include funding for a wall…
Trump told aides to “fix it”
Darcy emails: Early Thursday, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins tweeted that Trump was monitoring the coverage he was receiving and telling aides to “fix it.” Soon after,Rush Limbaugh, who was lacing into Trump over the wall funding, said he received a message. “You tell Rush that if there’s no money in this, it’s getting vetoed,” Limbaugh said, describing the message he received. “If there’s no money for a wall, I’m vetoing this plain and simple.” Limbaugh later added, “The president has gotten word to em that he is either getting funding for the border or he’s shutting the whole thing down.”
>> One has to wonder: Which other pundits/outlets in conservative media did Trump or the White House reach out to?
The power of Limbaugh, Drudge, and the rest
Darcy adds: Throughout Trump’s presidency, there has been a lot of coverage of Sean Hannity and “Fox & Friends.” And rightfully so. However, other key figures in the conservative news space, like Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge, have often stayed hidden beneath the radar. But they retain a significant amount of power and influence in the right-wing universe — and Trump knows this. He understands that THESE are the people who can hurt his numbers with his base. And his decision to shut down the government over wall funding underscores how influential some of these other individuals are…
This is meta!
Fox’s Ed Henry talked about the right-wing media megaphone in a live report on “Hannity” (hosted by Dan Bongino) Thursday night. “Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh have spent the last 24 hours telling the president, urging him not to cave,” Henry said. “Ann Coulter warning he’ll lose reelection if he does not stand and fight…”
Howard Fineman, over on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” put it more bluntly: “Right now it looks like the administration is being run by a combination of Laura Ingraham and Vladimir Putin…”
FOR THE RECORD
– A tale of two morning shows: After the firing of Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer, “CBS This Morning” has lost momentum, while the “Today” show ratings have been holding steady, David Bauder reports… (AP)
– “Vox Media is now asking people to help cover the high cost of making videos with a $4.99-a-month membership program…” (BI)