Even by the hyperactive standards of Donald Trump, it was a wild weekend.
While most of the country settled in for a Columbus Day holiday break, Trump orchestrated a cacophony of threats, offered dark warnings of military action and waged bitter political feuds on multiple fronts.
No one, not his estranged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, his chief of staff John Kelly, European leaders, North Korean dictators, Democrats or despairing GOP senators can temper his shock and awe leadership style.
In a torrent of angry tweets, a TV interview with former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and a back-and-forth with reporters, Trump poked and jabbed, in another mind-scrambling chapter of a reality-show presidency that is threatening to exhaust the nation.
But there was a method in what his critics see as madness: The President is making clear that he and only he is writing his script.
As he amps up foreign-policy tensions and fights battles within his own administration and on Capitol Hill, Trump is effectively fighting for control of his own presidency, resisting aides and conventions that seek to hem him in.
The range of Trump’s swirling political activity at the weekend was staggering.
He hinted at military action against North Korea, he slugged out a nasty row with GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. He took another jab at Tillerson, saying he had a good relationship with the top diplomat — who reportedly called him a “moron” — but would like him to be “tougher.” Trump even tried to ramp up the controversy over Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and sexual harassment allegations by bringing up the issue in an encounter with reporters.
Trump also revived his base-pleasing culture war furor with the NFL after Vice President Mike Pence left a game in Indianapolis on his orders after several players took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial discrimination. He also found time to take a slap at NBC, accusing it of writing “fake news” over its Tillerson stories. He also complained that his own efforts in Puerto Rico were not getting enough credit, despite clear logistical problems in the hurricane relief effort.
“Nobody could have done what I’ve done for #PuertoRico with so little appreciation. So much work!” Trump tweeted on Sunday.
Then, setting the stage for another acrimonious week, his White House released principles for legislation protecting undocumented migrants brought to the US as children, outraging Democrats with a hard-line opening bid that included money for a border wall and a call for tough immigration enforcement.
A frenetic weekend likely to reverberate
The frenzy reflected the swirl of a presidency that seems to turn on whatever pops into Trump’s mind at any given moment and is far from the ordered West Wing operation Kelly has been trying to establish.
At one point, Trump asked reporters on Saturday: “Do you ever rest?”
It was a question that might have been better directed at the President himself.
The frenetic weekend was consistent with the chaos that has raged around Trump ever since he took office and reflects his lifelong and compulsive hunger to make himself the center of attention at every possible opportunity.
But there is also something deeper going on.
There was a sense, in his encounters with the media and his tweets, that Trump was running free, relishing the chance to make everyone dance to his tune, signaling that he would run his presidency exactly as he likes.
His rebellious mood comes at a time when Trump’s critics and even members of his own team are trying to rein him in.
His showdown with Tillerson erupted last week after the secretary of state revealed that US and North Korean officials were in contact through diplomatic channels, even as Trump threatens to rain nuclear war on Pyongyang.
Trump was quick to make clear who was in charge, humiliating his top diplomat by tweeting that he was “wasting his time” trying to talk to “Little Rocket Man.”
In the coming days, Trump is likely to revive another foreign policy crisis with Iran by decertifying the nuclear deal that his predecessor agreed to with the Islamic Republic and international partners. The move will absolve him of the need to publicly state that Tehran is in compliance every 90 days. It will also contradict all available evidence that Iran is respecting the terms of the agreement and reject entreaties of European leaders and a public statement by Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis that the US should keep faith with it.