Trump’s Way: Inside Trump’s Hour-by-Hour Battle for Self-Preservation

‘I Can Invite Anyone’

Mr. Trump seeks release on the golf course on weekends. But on weekdays, his principal mode of blowing off steam is his nightly dinner in the White House residence, which begins at 6:30 or 7 p.m. with a guest list organized by the ever-vigilant Mr. Kelly.

“I can invite anyone for dinner, and they will come!” Mr. Trump marveled to an old friend when he took office.

Mr. Trump has always relished gossiping over plates of well-done steak, salad slathered with Roquefort dressing and bacon crumbles, tureens of gravy and massive slices of dessert with extra ice cream.

He needs support, a sounding board and, as a lifelong hotelier, guests. Mr. Trump is naturally garrulous, and loves to give White House tours. He has an odd affinity for showing off bathrooms, including one he renovated near the Oval Office, and enjoys pulling dinner companions into the Lincoln Bedroom or onto the Truman Balcony for the postcard view of the city he has disrupted.

Over the summer, he invited four Democratic lawmakers and immediately peppered them with questions as they strolled through the Diplomatic Reception Room.

“Who is going to run against me in 2020?” he asked, according to a person in attendance. “Crooked Hillary? Pocahontas?” — his caustic nickname for Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who once claimed Native American heritage on an employment form.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the president opined, would definitely run — “even if he’s in a wheelchair,” Mr. Trump added, making a scrunched-up body of a man in a wheelchair.

Mr. Trump still takes shots at Mark Cuban, a fellow rich-guy reality star, and expresses disappointment that Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback, has distanced himself. But he spends much of his time now puzzling over political options and wrestling with the terrifying responsibilities of the presidency.

Even when Mr. Trump is in a lighthearted mood, hints of anxiety waft over the table like steam over a teacup. In September, he met with evangelical leaders to reassure them that he would still pursue their agenda despite a flirtation with Democrats.

“The Christians know all the things I’m doing for them, right?” he asked, according to three attendees, who reported praising his positions on issues like abortion and Planned Parenthood.

When the guests depart, the remote control comes back out. He is less likely to tweet at this hour, when the news he would react to is mostly recycled from hours earlier. But he watches Ms. Pirro and her fellow Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, and sometimes “hate-watches” CNN to get worked up, especially Don Lemon.

In between, it is time for phone calls, to people he has fired like Corey Lewandowski and Mr. Bannon, old friends like Thomas J. Barrack Jr. and Richard LeFrak, and more recently Republican lawmakers, especially Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the head of the conservative Freedom Caucus. This is when his fixations are unfettered: Russia, Mrs. Clinton, Barack Obama, the “fake news” media, his bitter disappointment with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

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