On Friday afternoon at one of the golf resorts he still owns and profits from, Donald Trump fielded some reporters' questions on a variety of topics. For example, with the crisis in Venezuela continuing to unfold, the president was asked about what options he's considering to "deal with this mess." Trump, for the first time, publicly raised the specter of U.S. military intervention.
"We have many options for Venezuela. And by the way, I'm not going to rule out a military option. We have many options for Venezuela. This is our neighbor. This is -- you know, we're all over the world. And we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away. And the people are suffering. And they're dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary."
The president wouldn't go into any details, but he added moments later that "a military operation, a military option is certainly something that we could pursue."
By all appearances, Trump just blurted all of this out without any real thought or planning. The United States hasn't actually taken any steps to prepare for military intervention in Venezuela, and Vice President Mike Pence soon after sent a very different signal about U.S. intentions -- Trump and Pence routinely say very different things to different audiences -- but the damage was already done.
As a Slate report explained, "Throughout his power grab that has accompanied Venezuela's descent into chaos, Maduro has long warned the United States was planning to invade the country. Trump's words seemed to play straight into his narrative.... 'Maduro must be thrilled right now,' said Mark Feierstein, who was a senior aide on Venezuela to former president Barack Obama. 'It's hard to imagine a more damaging thing for Trump to say.'"
That sentiment -- "It's hard to imagine a more damaging thing for Trump to say" -- keeps coming up, in all kinds of contexts.
Just over the last several days, Trump's bizarre saber-rattling towards North Korea created a national security crisis, complete with hollow-but-alliterative phrases such as "fire and fury" and "locked and loaded." Given the seriousness of the threat, it was hard to imagine a more damaging thing for Trump to say.
Trump then thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for sanctions against the United States. And again, it was hard to imagine a more damaging thing for Trump to say.
After seeing the developments in Charlottesville, the president could've condemned white supremacists, but instead he complained about violence "on many sides." And again, it was hard to imagine a more damaging thing for Trump to say.
This followed the president going after his own party's Senate majority leader and lying about the U.S. nuclear arsenal, leaving much of the country to wonder aloud what in the world the president is talking about on a nearly daily basis.
We're not talking about cringe-worthy moments that have unfolded over the course of months. These are just the developments we've seen since Wednesday.
I suppose the obvious joke at this point would be to note that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has failed spectacularly at bringing discipline and maturity to Trump's operation, but what I'd really love to know is whether this is the bottom or whether Trump still has further to fall.