President Trump began Monday as he has started so many other presidential mornings — by unleashing a blistering Twitter attack on critics who suggested his 2016 campaign colluded with the Russians.
By the afternoon the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, had systematically demolished his arguments in a remarkable public takedown of a sitting president. Even a close ally of Mr. Trump, Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the House Intelligence Committee chairman, conceded that “a gray cloud” of suspicion now hung over the White House by the end of the day’s hearings.
But it’s the obsessiveness and ferocity of Mr. Trump’s pushback against the Russian allegations, often untethered from fact or tact, that is making an uncertain situation worse.
Mr. Trump’s allies have begun to wonder if his need for self-expression, often on social media, will exceed his instinct for self-preservation, with disastrous results both for the president and for a party whose fate is now tightly tied to his.
And Mr. Trump’s fixation on fighting is undermining his credibility at a time when he needs to toggle from go-it-alone executive action to collaborative congressional action on ambitious health care, budget and infrastructure legislation.
A Gallup poll released Monday found Mr. Trump with an abysmal 37 percent approval rating; other recent polls place his popularity in the mid-40s, but even that level is among the lowest ever recorded for a president this early in his first term.
Over the past several weeks, Republicans in Congress and members of their staffs have privately complained that Mr. Trump’s Twitter comment on March 4 — the one where he called Barack Obama “sick” and suggested that the former president had ordered a “tapp” on his phone — had done more to undermine anything he’s done as president because it called into question his seriousness about governing.
The problem, from the perspective of Mr. Trump’s beleaguered political fire brigade, is that the president insists on dealing with crises by creating new ones — so surrogates, repeating talking points the president himself ignores, say they often feel like human shields.
The president, people close to him have said over the last several weeks, has become increasingly frustrated at his inability to control the narrative of his action-packed presidency, after being able to dominate the political discourse or divert criticism by launching one of his signature Twitter attacks.
There’s some evidence that the president’s magic medium is losing its effectiveness, in part because Mr. Trump’s Twitter persona seems to have shifted from puckish to paranoid.
Focus groups and polls conducted by two Democratic strategists this month have shown that many voters, even some who support Mr. Trump, have grown weary of his tweets as president. That was also borne out by a Fox News poll last week, showing that a mere 35 percent of Trump voters approve of his Twitter habits, and that only 16 percent of all voters approve of them. Some 32 percent said they “wish he’d be more careful” with his feed.
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