(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Presidents — normal presidents — care deeply about their professional reputations. Donald Trump showed again this week that he’s different, and it’s quite possible it was costly to him on policies he seems to care about.
I’m not really talking here about the communications fiasco surrounding the administration’s family separation policy. A lot of congressional Republicans would like to have talking points they can actually use rather than constantly changing and internally inconsistent explanations of that policy (or even if there was a policy). But it’s one thing to spin to the public, even badly. It’s another thing to lie to them. And to lie about them.
In a month in which a lot of very important things were going on, then, I still think that what Trump did to defeated House Republican Mark Sanford and his colleagues shouldn’t be overlooked. When he was meeting with House Republicans on Tuesday, Trump mocked Sanford, remarks that by all accounts did not go over well. And after Trump then claimed on Twitter that Republicans had “applauded and laughed loudly,” three of them publicly called Trump, essentially, a liar.
Does it matter? Yes, I think so. Assuming that Michigan’s Justin Amash, Pennsylvania’s Ryan Costello and Tennessee’s Scott DesJarlais (and other unnamed members of the House who had leaked the story to the media earlier) are telling the truth, it means that Trump was saying something that every single House Republican witnessed as untrue — and he had to know that they all witnessed it as untrue. Not only that, but Trump was lying about their own conduct, something very few politicians take lightly.
With Trump, this isn’t new. But I suspect this one hit close to home, not only for House Republicans, but for everyone who has to deal with the president, too. It was a stark reminder that he insists on being unbound to the facts in his dealings with those he bargains with, not just voters. And there’s not much anyone can do with a president whose word is worthless.
Of course, that’s not the only problem with Trump. His habit of backstabbing his allies — as he did to House Republicans on their health-care reform bill and the budget agreement — isn’t forgotten. Nor is his failure to bother to learn the basics of public policy, let alone the details. Or … well, I could go on for some time about all the ways that Trump’s professional reputation stinks.
The thing is that most presidents learn eventually that this stuff really can matter. Trump, now 17 months in, seems if anything worse than ever. That won’t stop congressional Republicans from trying to pass things that they want. But don’t expect them or anyone else to go out of their way for him. He remains about as weak as a president can be.
4. Fred Kaplan on why Trump’s Space Force is a bad idea and a distraction from the actual challenges the U.S. military faces. I’ll say it one more time: You never know, but I very much doubt that any of the Trump administration’s government reorganization ideas will happen.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.