“President Donald Trump is coming off his “worst week” in the White House — that is, if you’re not counting the at least nine other weeks since his January inauguration.”
-Darren Samuelsohn, Politico, August 19th
“There hasn’t been a single smooth week in the Trump presidency, but last week was, by popular consensus, the worst of them so far.”
-David A. Graham, The Atlantic, July 31st
“I can say unequivocally that Donald Trump has had the single Worst Week in Washington that I can remember.”
-Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, October 9th, 2016
It’s tough to pinpoint exactly when “Worst Week” became every Washington pundit’s go-to phrase. It was May 12, 2010 when Chris Cillizza, then of the Washington Post, invited fans of his blog The Fix to nominate “worst week” sufferers.
The first winner was someone only a committed political junkie could love: Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), a 30-year D.C. veteran who lost his seat in the primary. A worthy winner, to be sure.
Too bad Cillizza didn’t find a way to copyright the phrase, because it’s now infected the political discourse like a dozen similes that immediately come to mind but are not suited for a serious publication like this.
A quick Labor Day Google search of the term “worst week” yields the following institutions and people winning the honor in the past couple of weeks:
- The British Monarchy (referencing the Diana anniversary)
- The Canadian Football League
- The Los Angeles Dodgers
- Newly-famous white nationalist Chris Cantwell
- European Stocks
- American Stocks
- High-end Manhattan real estate
- And, oh yeah, Houston
Topping the list of people apparently NOT having their worst week ever: President Trump. His last “worst” was nearly three weeks ago. But, of course, he remains the course leader.
Do we care anymore? Even if the President’s weeks get worse, will they ever really be “worst”? Are we even listening? Let’s put it to the panel: Is it time to retire “worst week?”
Jessica Curtis, Executive Director of GOPAC, told The American Conservative, “‘The worst week ever’ is a phrase that has been way overused for a very long time, and been ignored by most people for just as long,”
“We just keep conditioning ourselves to expect the worst—even when things aren’t even that terrible,” says Geoffrey Skelley, spokesman for the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
“Extreme rhetoric like this is exactly what continues to push the ever-widening divide between so many different groups of Americans.”
Another Capitol Hill veteran says the problem isn’t the phrase, but the source of the phrase.
“The issue now with President Trump is that his team is not sure when he’s going to create the next crisis,” says Lee Keller, founder and CEO of The Keller Group and former spokeswoman for Sen. Dan Evans (R-Wash.).
“He honestly makes things so much worse than they even have to be. It’s challenging enough to manage the normal state of affairs in the White House, but with Trump, you’re never sure what he’s going to do or say next and it leaves his team feeling like they are standing on quicksand, not sure which way to turn.”
But Curtis contends: the criticism is part of the problem.
“When everything is hate filled, wrought with doom and gloom and considered to be ‘the worst’—there’s no room for compromise. Many folks on the left seem completely un-open to even hearing what the President has to say, and are unwilling to give even an inch of leeway to him on anything. To them, every week is the ‘worst week ever’.”
So when the President makes more unforced errors, undercuts his own positions, insults someone for no apparent reason or starts firing people again, how do we describe it? Is there a better phrase?
Mark Rozel, Dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, is not holding his breath.
“I don’t know what the new verbiage would be because we keep hearing ‘the worst week ever’ for this President—but that’s followed by the ‘worst week ever,’ which means the next one is worse than the one before.”
“I think we can say the ‘worst week ever’ phrase or related lines are terribly over-used. Trump has had a number of bad weeks, that there can be no question about,” he said. “He’s in a deep approval hole and it’s difficult to see that changing anytime soon. But we don’t know what the future holds. In the meantime, journalists and observers should find other ways of describing the president’s week. Every single week cannot be his worst one.”
Does the President even care?
“President Trump is a leader who has thin skin, who criticizes just about everyone, who is an attack dog 24/7,” according to Bruce Merrin, who’s arranged speaking engagements for several past Presidents going back to Ronald Reagan. So, maybe not. Or yes.
“He seems pretty immune to criticism by major media in this country,” understates Rozell.
“Trump is still maintaining pretty strong support among much of his base. And it’s quite remarkable, given how much he’s been unable to deliver on the key promises he made in the campaign. On the other hand, I don’t know how many more bad weeks a President can have until people start wondering ‘Okay—maybe this isn’t working out as well as we thought it would.’”
We may find out in September, as President Trump deals with backlash over his Dreamers decision, emergency funding for Hurricane Harvey relief, the possibility of more damage from Hurricane Irma, the federal budget, the debt ceiling, and a possible government shutdown.
Load all that into the week of Sept. 25th and we just might have a new winner.
A native Oregonian, Rich Johnson is a four decade commercial radio news veteran. His resume includes posts at AP, ABC and Fox. He currently plies his trade at WTOP and Westwood One in Washington.