He gave an interview in which he described the chief of staff as a “paranoid schizophrenic” and said Bannon was wasting time trying to “suck his own c–k”.
It was reportedly Trump’s wife, Melania, and daughter, Ivanka, who insisted he go. The strength of the Trump marriage was a source of tabloid speculation: Melania appeared to swat his hand away on a couple of occasions and Trump once confessed that he’d forgotten to buy her a birthday present.
The truth was probably that the First Lady was shy, that she found the pressures of media scrutiny unbearable, even farcical.
In the midst of a scandal over the separation of migrant families at the Mexico border, she wore a hoodie that read “I really don’t care, do you?”
It was the reporting she didn’t care for, not the kids, a point she hammered home in a phone call with a former aide that the aide recorded, as one does, and shared with the media, as people do.
The administration was under attack, complained Melania, and she was stuck decorating the Christmas tree. “Who gives a f— about the Christmas stuff and decorations?” she asked, “But I need to do it, right?”
The most competent, controlled, loyal member of the inner circle turned out to be Jared Kushner, Ivanka’s husband.
It is believed that it was Jared and Ivanka who persuaded Trump to sign off on significant justice reforms and reach out to black voters, while Jared’s middle east peace initiatives handed the administration genuine diplomatic victories.
The secret to Kushner’s success, concluded journalist Bob Woodward, was that he understood how to read the president, how to second guess what he wanted and bring it to him before he even asked.
To explain Trump’s unique management style, Kushner quoted Alice-in-Wonderland, from the passage where Alice asks the Cheshire cat for directions.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” says the Cat.
“I don’t much care,” replies Alice. “Then,” says the Cat, “it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
‘He is a unicorn, riding a unicorn over a rainbow’
Ex-Trump spokesman Sean Spicer put it this way: “He is a unicorn, riding a unicorn over a rainbow.”
Trump’s “ability to pivot from a seemingly career-ending moment to a furious assault on his opponents is a talent few politicians can muster”.
Almost immediately after he entered the White House, there were u-turns: Hillary Clinton would not be going to jail, Nato wasn’t obsolete, Russia was a threat.
These were leapt on as signs (hopes) that Trump might mature in office, yet they were totally consistent with a worldview that was shaped less by philosophy than by instinct: policy was inconsistent because Trump did what felt right in a given moment.
In the aftermath of the appalling massacre at a Florida school in February 2018, Trump was briefly for gun control; weeks later he told the National Rifle Association that the best thing to do was to arm the teachers so they could fire back.
One quality that John Bolton, his National Security Advisor, saw as consistent was an obsession with the price of things, that Trump demanded, for example, that Nato members increase defence spending because America, shouldering the biggest burden, was getting a bad deal.
When asked what the purpose of the Trump administration was, Steve Bannon said to translate disruption into policy and “deconstruct the administrative state”.
This meant doing the opposite of whatever Obama had done. Obama had engaged in Syria; Trump aimed to walk away. But Obama had also failed to enforce red lines against the use of chemical weapons, so Trump did.
If liberals were commonly associated with virtue signalling, Trump was accused of vice-signalling. The moment that sealed Trump’s reputation as a demon among liberals, irredeemable beyond that point, was a far-Right riot in Virginia in August 2017.
There were fine people “on both sides” said the President, even though one side included neo-Nazis. Bannon said he was “proud” of his boss.
Trump boasted of the scale of achievements and part of the reason why so many conservative voters admired Trump was that he did deliver what they wanted: historic tax cuts, deregulation, some construction of the border wall, conservative judges on the Supreme Court.
Republicans were uncomfortable with his views on free trade; sometimes they seemed to almost work against him.
John Bolton was horrified to discover that the very people charged with fixing the border problem were cooking up policies that ran counter to Trump’s entire approach.
Facing all these structural roadblocks, Trump did what probably came naturally and governed through executive action or diplomacy, transforming foreign policy, often the area of greatest caution, into his global theatre of disruption.
The threat of nuclear war became a comedy.