Analysis

The Very Sensitive President

As Trump himself once put it: “I’m not thin-skinned at all. I’m the opposite of thin-skinned.”

President Trump talks to Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook at the White House on March 6.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
March 14, 2019, 8 p.m.

Rarely is there unanimity in any assessment of Donald Trump, a man with a knack for polarizing opinion on everything from religion to politics, fashion to music, sports to movies. But the way the president is handling a recent slip of the tongue has united White House aides with Never Trumpers and comedians with political analysts. After slipping up and referring to Apple CEO Tim Cook as “Tim Apple,” Trump couldn’t just join in the laughter and move on. He had to keep it going, offer an easily debunked alternate version of events, and gripe that it had become “yet another bad Trump story!” The episode reminded everyone that their president is unusually thin-skinned and incapable of putting up with any kidding at his own expense.

Even before he was elected, Louise Sunshine, a former executive vice president in the Trump Organization, warned voters to be prepared for this trait. “Donald is very thin-skinned,” she told The Washington Post. “He takes everything personally. Everything.” Among the things Trump is sensitive to is the charge that he is too sensitive to slights. During the campaign, he chafed at Hillary Clinton’s accusation that he was thin-skinned. “I’m not thin-skinned at all,” he told The New York Times. “I’m the opposite of thin-skinned.” Supporter Bill O’Reilly, then a Fox News host, almost begged him to get tougher. “He gets way too personal in defending himself against criticisms,” said O’Reilly, adding that another mistake he makes is launching so many “petty” attacks on critics.

When Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes in 2015 asked him about his attacks on reporters, the president said, “Frankly, I don’t call it thin-skinned; I’m angry.” When Pelley said it looked like he could “dish it out, but you can’t take a punch,” Trump said, “I could take it if it’s fair. … If people say things that are false, I will fight, like, harder than anybody.” Voters have been paying attention. By the end of 2017, a survey taken by Morning Consult and Politico found that 52 percent saw him as thin-skinned. Keeping the “Tim Apple” story alive won’t bring that number down.

Here are 24 instances when the Trump thin skin has been on display:

“Tim Apple”

The slip was innocent, coming toward the end of a March 6 business roundtable. When the critics poked fun over the next two days, the president, according to Axios, brought it up at a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser on March 8 with an explanation nobody bought. That sparked more ridicule, prompting him to raise it again in a tweet on March 11 with still another unbelievable explanation. Comics pounced. “Hah, hah, we certainly made our jokes. … All in good fun,” said Stephen Colbert of CBS that night. “And it was over. But now it has re-blossomed into an ongoing national scandal that we’re calling Applegate.” On NBC, Seth Meyers said, “Now, a normal person would have just let it go, written it off as a slip of the tongue, and moved on. But Trump is not a normal person.”

Chrissy Teigen blocked

Of all the many critical things ever said about Trump, perhaps the least vile, least nasty, least offensive one was a joking five-word tweet on July 23, 2017 by model and TV host Chrissy Teigen. “Lolllllll no one likes you” was the entire tweet. It drew an immediate response from the president, who blocked her from reading any of his tweets. That block has not been lifted even though a federal court ruled a president cannot block people. No explanation has ever been given.

Steph Curry disinvited

Trump was mightily displeased when NBA star Stephen Curry cited disagreements with the president and said that he didn’t want to attend the White House if his champion Golden State Warriors went in 2017. In an early-morning tweet, Trump said a visit is a “great honor” and the “invitation is withdrawn!” A year later, he said he would not invite the 2018 champion if either Golden State or LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers won.

Mark Cuban mocked

Texas billionaire Mark Cuban was quite open about his disdain for Trump, and the president fired back. On Feb. 12, 2017, he tweeted, “I know Mark Cuban well. He backed me big-time but I wasn’t interested in taking all of his calls. He’s not smart enough to run for president!” The tweet graded as Trump’s nastiest in a YouGov analysis of 2,063 tweets between Feb. 4, 2017 and Jan. 19, 2018.

SNL unfunny

When he hosted Saturday Night Live during the campaign, Trump boasted, “I don’t hold any grudges against anybody,” and “I know how to take a joke.” Since taking office, he has held a big grudge against the show and repeatedly indicated he can’t take their jokes. That latest shot was a tweet last month: “Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Lives on Fake News NBC!”

Alec Baldwin makes an impression

His ire is particularly aimed at actor Alec Baldwin’s brutal impression of him. “Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks,” he said in one early tweet. In 2018, he added, “Alec Baldwin, whose dying mediocre career was saved by his terrible impersonation of me on SNL, now says playing me was agony. Alec, it was agony for those who were forced to watch.”

Lashing out at award shows

Still angry he never won an Emmy for The Apprentice, the president often tweets after award shows, always finding political analysis in the bad ratings and suggesting his supporters are boycotting because of the attacks on him. “Lowest rated Oscars in HISTORY,” he tweeted in 2018. “Problem is, we don’t have Stars anymore – except your President (just kidding, of course)!”

Meryl Streep a bad actress

When Meryl Streep, an actress he formerly praised, criticized him at the 2017 Golden Globes, Trump pounced, calling her “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood” and a “Hillary flunky who lost big.”

Too big a lift for Arnold

Trump was so angry at Arnold Schwarzenegger for criticizing him while taking over the Apprentice helm that he mocked his ratings and even asked a National Prayer Breakfast to pray for his ratings.

No “safe space” at Hamilton

When Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended Hamilton on Broadway after the election, the cast implored him to work on behalf of all Americans. Pence insisted he was not offended. But Trump was. He fired off three tweets, calling the show “highly overrated” and saying Pence had been “harassed.” “Apologize,” he demanded, saying “the Theater must always be a safe and special place.”

Bad reviews for Woodward, Wolff

Books didn’t get much better reviews than television, the movies, or Broadway. He ripped into books by both Bob Woodward and Michael Wolff. He said Woodward’s book was “a scam” with “quotes (that) were made up.” On Wolff, he tweeted that the media “promote the Fake Book of a mentally deranged author, who knowingly writes false information.”

Friendly fire from Omarosa

When Omarosa Manigault first departed the White House, he thanked her and added, “I wish you continued success.” When she wrote a tell-all that made him look bad, that changed. His tweets called her “Wacky and Deranged,” saying she had “Zero credibility” and that “People in the White House hated her.” He tweeted, “While I know it is ‘not presidential’ to take on a lowlife like Omarosa,” he couldn’t help himself.

Getting back at the WHCA

Still nurturing a grievance from the 2011 White House Correspondents' Association dinner when Seth Meyers and President Obama joked about him, Trump has reveled in trying to destroy the annual dinner and has taken delight in how, without him, it has become “a very big, boring bust.”

“Anonymous” speaks out

When an aide in his administration penned a critical piece under the byline Anonymous, Trump exploded. It was, he said, “gutless,” and he suggested using the powers of the federal government to identify him or her.

Turning off Mika and Joe

Trump used to like Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC. But after they turned tough on him, he lashed out at them as “Crazy Joe” and “dumb as a rock Mika” who have “low ratings.” In another tweet, they were “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and “Psycho Joe.”

A snit over Megyn Kelly

Trump was very unhappy when then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly asked him tough questions. So he refused to attend the candidate debate she was moderating.

Justin Trudeau talks back

The June 2018 G7 summit in Quebec was already bad for Trump, but it became a disaster when he watched Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tell reporters that Canada “will not be pushed around” on trade. Trump erupted, attacked Trudeau as “very dishonest & weak,” and pulled out of the summit communiqué.

Pushing Mattis out the door

As he did with Omarosa, Trump praised Defense Secretary James Mattis when he announced his resignation. But when he realized Mattis was criticizing him, Trump pushed him out the door.

Mocking Mia Love

Rep. Mia Love was as loyal to the White House as her moderate district permitted. But Trump wanted total loyalty and was publicly gleeful when she lost her reelection. “Mia Love gave me no love and she lost,” he said. “Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”

Taking away security clearances

When former intelligence officials James Clapper and John Brennan criticized him, Trump wanted to hit back. To him, the security clearances still held by the two men became the target. A security clearance, he tweeted, is “worth great prestige and big dollars, even board seats.”

Post-mortem anger at John McCain

Even when Sen. John McCain died, Trump could not get past his grudge with the senator. He refused to issue a statement on the death and ordered flags lowered only after a veterans’ organization chided him. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Trump’s response was “petty” and that of “a small man.”

Attacking the looks of Carly Fiorina and Heidi Cruz

In the campaign, Trump hit back hard when candidates criticized him. To attack Ted Cruz, he retweeted an unflattering picture of Cruz’ wife, Heidi, in contrast to Trump’s wife, Melania. “The images are worth a thousand words,” he tweeted. When candidate Carly Fiorina criticized him, he told Rolling Stone magazine, “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”

Sinking Boeing’s stock

When the CEO of Boeing criticized Trump’s trade policies, he threatened Boeing’s contract to build a new Air Force One. “Cancel order!,” he tweeted, sending Boeing stock downward.

Grounding Pelosi

Trump was embarrassed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had blocked him from giving his State of the Union Address during the government shutdown. In retaliation, he refused to let her use government aircraft to visit the troops in Afghanistan. Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said Trump had “acted like he’s in the fifth grade.” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham called it a “sophomoric response."

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