People close to the president will tell you that in fights like this one, his anger doesnât stem from the criticism aimed at him, but by the fact that it comes from prominent people he once considered friends. Thatâs going to be hard to avoid given that his relationships with the nationâs top news people started when they were his fellow New York media fixtures, not national journalists covering him as the president.
No relationship better exemplifies the way Mr. Trump lives and breathes the political-media environment than the one between him and the hosts of âMorning Joe,â Mr. Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, both of whom agreed to talk with me about it on Friday.
As has now been well documented, Mr. Trump spent years courting and hobnobbing with the major media personalities who populate his hometown. Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski were among them. After all, they were part of the same network, NBC, where Mr. Trumpâs âApprenticeâ was such a hit.
Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski donât deny that something of a friendship developed, although they say it gets overblown.
âMaybe we had lunch with him five or six years ago, but, you know, it was always a run-and-gun thing,â Mr. Scarborough said. âHeâd always show up for our book parties; he was always very supportive there. Heâd help us with fund-raisers when David Axelrod was raising money for Cure. Donald was very helpful there. We did a lot of stuff with AmeriCares, and we could always count on him being supportive on that.â
During the campaign the relationship had its ups and downs, all of which played out publicly.
Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski were early to proclaim that Mr. Trump had a real shot at the presidency, and they say those forecasts led to criticism that they were too cozy with him. Mr. Trump didnât help when he once referred to them on their show as âsupporters,â although he quickly changed it to âbelievers.â
Their posture toward him could be plenty harsh and became increasingly so with Mr. Trumpâs call for a âtotal and completeâ ban âon Muslims entering the United States. They also objected when Mr. Trump questioned whether a judge presiding over a case against Trump University could be fair to him because of his Mexican heritage (Mr. Trump publicly denigrated Mexicans early in his campaign).
âI mean our coverage when the voting started was probably 90 percent negative,â Mr. Scarborough said. âHeâs always shocked when he does something offensive and we attack him for it.â
But after Mr. Trump won the presidency, the leaf turned again, with Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski urging their audience to give him a chance.
And knowing how closely Mr. Trump watched cable news â and their show, in particular â they told me that they tried at times to use the program as an advisory and learning tool for the incoming commander in chief. (As The Times reported then, Mr. Trump also sought Mr. Scarboroughâs advice directly on occasion.)
âIt doesnât seem like he reads much â it seems like he takes in things on TV,â Ms. Brzezinski said. âAnd we knew that he was very interested in being on the show or being talked about on the show, and so we took our best shot at bringing on the best people: the best admirals, the best retired generals, the best foreign police minds â the best on both sides of the aisle â just to try to elevate the conversation, I mean, doing what we do, but maybe hoping that he would hear some of it.â
Ms. Brzezinski â the daughter of Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser â also said she helped Mr. Trump find a key staff member, his foreign policy adviser, Dina Powell. Ms. Powell, a former Bush administration official, has emerged as a power inside the administration, reassuring worried outsiders.
âDina Powell was in there because I brought her to Trump Tower and introduced her to Ivanka and Donald,â Ms. Brzezinski said. âI will just say that, on camera and off, we hoped for the best.â
(A person familiar with Ms. Powellâs ascent at the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, confirmed Ms. Brzezinskiâs description of the introduction, but said her move to the National Security Council from an informal advisory role with Ivanka Trump came at the behest of H. R. McMaster, Mr. Trumpâs national security adviser, on the advice of outside experts.)
Things started to deteriorate, Mr. Scarborough said, after Mr. Trumpâs first week in office.
The president invited Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski to lunch at the White House, where, Vanity Fair reported, he even offered to officiate at their wedding should they have one (they have since publicly announced their engagement).
âHe said, âHow do you think the first week went?â and I sort of stammered a little bit, and I said, âWell, you know, there have been some problems,ââ Mr. Scarborough said, adding that his critical emphasis was on the presidentâs first attempt at imposing a travel ban, which had been promptly blocked in court.
âHe blanched and he said, âYou didnât like how this first week went?â He started repeating that, and he said, âHey Steve, Hey Reince, Joe says he doesnât think we had a great first week.ââ
Then came what he described as a screaming match over the phone a couple of weeks later, after Ms. Brzezinski and Mr. Scarborough mercilessly mocked Mr. Trumpâs aide, Stephen Miller, for his overheated proclamation that the presidentâs power to impose the travel ban should ânot be questionedâ by the courts.
âIt went back and forth for 20 or 30 minutes and it was a very ugly call,â Mr. Scarborough said. âHe was screaming at me saying, âWhy are you being so tough on this kid â I invited you to lunch at the White House, and you know I could have invited Sean Hannity,â and I said, âWell invite Sean Hannity â weâre not going to be schmoozed because you gave us some fish.ââ
The White House had no comment, but the administration and its supporters have made Mr. Trumpâs views clear.
On Thursday, during an interview on Fox News, the Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said of Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski: âTheyâve said he has dementia. Theyâve said heâs stupid. Theyâve called him a goon. Theyâve called him a thug. Theyâve said heâs mentally ill.â And they have said all that.
For now, Mr. Scarborough no longer has a place at Mr. Trumpâs table. Mr. Hannity of Fox News, though, has a singular place at it, providing Mr. Trump a far more flattering television mirror.