There is a long history of people in the White House taking it upon themselves to curb what they saw as a president’s dangerous instincts or to compensate for his incapacity. When Woodrow Wilson fell ill late in his presidency, his wife, Edith, effectively made many decisions in his name. When Ronald Reagan seemed increasingly foggy toward the end of his tenure, some aides discussed invoking the 25th Amendment.
During the final days of Richard M. Nixon’s presidency, when he was depressed, drinking and railing against his fate as the Watergate scandal closed in on him, Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger instructed the military not to carry out any nuclear launch order from the president without checking with him or Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.
This has been a recurring theme in Mr. Trump’s presidency as well. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ignored Mr. Trump’s public entreaties to investigate the president’s political enemies and shut down the Russia inquiry. Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, has rebuffed the president’s efforts to fire Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel.
When Mr. Trump declared on Twitter that he would bar transgender soldiers from the military, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis slow-walked the issue, insisting he would study it first. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and a critic of Mr. Trump, said last year that the president’s advisers regularly sought to prevent him from making ill-considered decisions.
“I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him,” Mr. Corker said in an interview with The Times. When Mr. Trump attacked Mr. Corker on Twitter, the senator responded with a cutting tweet of his own: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”
Just last month, in a new book, Omarosa Manigault Newman, an aide fired by the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, wrote that “an army of people” was “working silently” to keep the president from harming the nation. “Many in this silent army are in his party, his administration, and even in his own family,” she wrote.
Some loyalists to Mr. Trump said this amounted to an unconstitutional seizure of power by unelected staff members.