One of the earliest controversies of Donald Trump's presidency came after he authorized a mission in Yemen, which claimed the life of Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens. The president couldn't have dealt with the developments in a worse way.
Trump exploited Owens' death, made dubious claims about the mission, and ultimately tried to avoid responsibility for the operation he personally authorized. "This was something that was, you know, just, they wanted to do," the president said, referring to U.S. generals. "They came to see me they explained what they wanted to do, the generals ... and they lost Ryan."
It was a quote that, under normal political conditions, might have come to define Trump's presidency, haunting him at every turn. And while that obviously didn't happen, the president's response was nevertheless an early reminder that in Trump World, the buck always stops somewhere else.
Trump drove this point home during remarks at a White House cabinet meeting yesterday afternoon:
"Despite what the press writes, I have great relationships with actually many senators, but in particular with most Republican senators. But we're not getting the job done."And I'm not going to blame myself, I'll be honest. They are not getting the job done.... We've had other things happen, and they're not getting the job done."
It was a rare example of the president correcting himself in public. Initially, Trump said "we're" not getting the job done, suggesting he and other Republicans collectively need to pick up their game, before he realized that he should clarify matters. "They're" not getting the job done.
The president's responsibility allergy has never been clearer.
The problem would be less exasperating if it weren't so common. Three quarters of the way through his first year in office, Trump's list of scapegoats is staggering. The more he fails, the more he asks Americans to blame Barack Obama. And Hillary Clinton. And John McCain. Don't forget hapless Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.
Jeff Sessions bears responsibility for recent messes. So does James Comey. Blame the press. And the hurricanes. And his staff.
A Washington Post analysis added:
It's fine to note that things aren't completely under your control as president -- we don't have a dictator -- but presidents do get a chance to exert influence over the things the country talks about and Congress passes. The president can bring to bear plenty of pressure when it comes to swaying wavering lawmakers.... But Trump has shown considerably less interest in providing a helping hand to McConnell and Ryan than he has in absolving himself of the blame for their failures to produce.
I'm looking forward to reading the authorized biography: "I'm Not Going To Blame Myself: Donald Trump's Story."
Postscript: Around this time five years ago, Trump argued in a tweet, "Obama's complaints about Republicans stopping his agenda are BS since he had full control for two years. He can never take responsibility."