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Around 5:30 each morning, President Trump wakes and tunes into the television in the White House’s master bedroom. He flips to CNN for news, moves to “Fox & Friends” for comfort and messaging ideas, friends suspect, it fires him up for the day.
Energized, infuriated — often a gumbo of both — Mr. Trump grabs his iPhone. Sometimes he tweets while propped on his pillow, according to aides. Other times he tweets from the den next door, watching another television. Less frequently, he makes his way up the hall to the ornate Treaty Room, sometimes dressed for the day, sometimes still in night clothes, where he begins his official and unofficial calls.
As he ends his first year in office, Mr. Trump is redefining what it means to be president. He sees the highest office in the land much as he did the night of his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton — as a prize he must fight to protect every waking moment, and Twitter is his Excalibur. Despite all his bluster, he views himself less as a titan dominating the world stage than a maligned outsider engaged in a struggle to be taken seriously, according to interviews with 60 advisers, associates, friends and members of Congress.
What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate.
For other presidents, every day is a test of how to lead a country, not just a faction, balancing competing interests. For Mr. Trump, every day is an hour-by-hour battle for self-preservation. He still relitigates last year’s election, convinced that the by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russia’s interference is a plot to delegitimize him. Color-coded maps highlighting the counties he won were hung on the White House walls.
“He feels like there’s an effort to undermine his election and that collusion allegations are unfounded,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who has spent more time with the president than most lawmakers. “He believes passionately that the liberal left and the media are out to destroy him. The way he got here is fighting back and counterpunching.
Bracing and refreshing to his alienated-from-the-system political base, Mr. Trump’s uninhibited approach seems erratic to many veterans of both parties in the capital and beyond. Some politicians and pundits lament the instability and, even without medical degrees, feel no compunction about publicly diagnosing various mental maladies.
In recent weeks, the president made a derogatory reference to Native Americans in front of Navajo guests, insinuated that a television host was involved in the death of an aide and prompted an international incident with Britain by retweeting inflammatory anti-Muslim videos.
His approach got him to the White House, Mr. Trump reasons, so it must be the right one. He is more un popular than any of his modern predecessors at this point in his tenure — just 32 percent approved of his
performance in the latest Pew Research Center poll — yet he dominates the landscape like no other. After months of legislative failures, Mr. Trump is on the verge of finally prevailing in his efforts to cut taxes and reverse part of his predecessor’s health care program. While much of what he has promised remains undone, he has made significant progress in his goal of rolling back business and environmental regulations. The growing economy he inherited continues to improve.
In the jargon of the military, John F. Kelly, a retired four-star general, served as a “wagon boss” for Marines crashing into Iraq in 2003, keeping his column moving forward despite incoming fire. As White House chief of staff, Mr. Kelly has adopted much the same approach, laboring 14-hour days to impose discipline on a chaotic operation — with mixed success.
In the months before Mr. Kelly took over last summer from his embattled predecessor, Reince Priebus, the Oval Office had a rush-hour feel, with a constant stream of aides and visitors stopping by to offer advice or kibitz. During one April meeting with New York Times reporters, no fewer than 20 people wandered in and out — including Mr. Priebus, who walked in with Vice President Mike Pence. The door to the Oval Office is now mostly closed.