President's impulsive moves fuel White House meltdown

WASHINGTON • A White House lurching from crisis to crisis appeared close to complete meltdown, as President Donald Trump's staff struggled to limit damage from two impulsive moves with far-reaching consequences.

Mr Trump's off-the-cuff enticement of a global trade war and calls for limits on the constitutional right to bear arms cleaved a schism between the mercurial president and his Republican backers, sparked a stock market sell-off and prompted threats of retaliatory sanctions from across the globe.

Angered by the announced departure of confidante Hope Hicks, financial scandals surrounding son-in-law Jared Kushner and the ongoing investigation into his election campaign, Mr Trump thumbed his nose at advisers' warnings and announced punitive steel and aluminium tariffs.

"When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win," Mr Trump tweeted last Friday.

Officials made no effort to disguise that the decision - which will bring legal action - had short-circuited internal deliberations and preempted the administration's own determination about whether the step was lawful.

The tariffs are an extension of Mr Trump's decades-long crusade against America's terms of trade, but infuriated allies in Canada, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

The internal blowback was swift, with rumours that top economic adviser Gary Cohn was ready to walk.

'EASY TO WIN' WARS

When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win.

U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, on Twitter last Friday.

Wall Street insiders - who have embraced Mr Trump's tax cuts and laissez-faire approach to regulation - expressed disbelief at the policy, but also disbelief at a White House that appears to have careened off the rails.

Mr Trump's tweets came only hours after he blindsided Republicans by advocating raising age limits for gun ownership, tightening background checks and seizing some weapons without due process.

The latest wave of crises has rocked an administration that has been in the impact zone for more than 13 months.

"The lack of anything resembling a serious process around both the gun and tariff announcements makes painfully clear we have a White House in disarray at the same time we have a world in disarray," said Mr Richard Haass, a veteran diplomat and president of the Council on Foreign Relations. "If you are not worried, you should be. The combination is nothing less than toxic."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 04, 2018, with the headline 'President's impulsive moves fuel White House meltdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe