Trump goes off-script, leaving new chief of staff hoping for the best

 Midway through President Donald Trump’s second media availability in a single afternoon here Thursday, his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, held up a sign signaling to the boss that it was time to drop the curtain on the show.  

“One more question,” it read.  

The president either did not see her plea or opted to disregard it, because he kept answering questions — for 20 minutes straight, after having already fielded them for seven minutes in the earlier session.  

This was Trump in his element: At his luxurious private golf club here in Bedminster, the cameras trained on him, his vice president and national security advisers looking on admiringly, he parried queries — at times even gleefully — like a tennis player.  

Engaging with people — journalists, advisers, friends and even foes — is Trump’s lifeblood. His Oval Office has felt like a busy train station, with people breezing in and out to share a juicy tidbit or to solicit the president’s opinion on a pressing issue or to chew over something in the news. He likes to watch cable television news shows with other people, sometimes only through the phone.  

After a week of seclusion at his Bedminster golf club, mostly out of public view during his working vacation, Trump seemed to have a lot he wanted to get off his chest. He weighed in on a far-reaching array of topics and generated new headlines in rat-a-tat fashion.  

The president’s exchanges with a small pool of traveling reporters lacked the formality of a full-fledged news conference. (His last was in February.) After each answer, he made eye contact with a reporter, as if to say, “Gimme another!”  

“It was like he was a dam that had suddenly burst free and he was able to unload a lot that was on his mind,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said.  

At both media availabilities, which had been billed as “sprays,” an official term for photo opportunities, Trump’s new chief of staff, John Kelly, was relegated to merely watching the spectacle. The retired four-star Marine Corps general has, with great fanfare, worked to instill order in the White House, including a more disciplined message from the administration and more limited access to the president.  

But two things Kelly apparently could not control on Thursday: What Trump would say next or how long he would keep talking.  

“This is what General Kelly will learn very quickly, which is when you put this guy in a cage and think…

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