WASHINGTON — Despite repeated pleas to lay off Twitter, President Donald Trump has only grown more forceful over five months in office, spraying critics with 140-character bursts of venom and revenge.
Most days, the reaction amounts to a collective head-shaking.
But Thursday there was bipartisan alarm that he crossed a line with an attack on an MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough, a former Florida congressman, and Mika Brzezinski, who in recent days mocked Trump's fake Time magazine cover.
"I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore)," Trump tweeted shortly after the show ended. "Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came … to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!"
The comments were denounced by House Speaker Paul Ryan and other prominent Republicans for being below the dignity of the office. Some viewed it as sexist, recalling Trump's history of vulgar comments about women.
On a larger scale, it was a reminder that the president's Twitter finger has often stepped on his own agenda, Thursday's salvos coming as GOP Senate leaders scrambled to build support for an Obamacare replacement and as Trump sought to highlight energy policy.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, whose support for the health care bill is already in jeopardy, Tweeted:
The White House was unapologetic. "When the president gets hit, he's going to hit back harder," spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during the daily briefing. She accused Scarborough and Brzezinski of leveling constant attacks on Trump, including questioning his mental fitness.
The electorate "knew what they were getting when they voted for Donald Trump," she said. Effectively, deal with it.
Indeed, Trump's outspokenness appealed to many voters. But increasingly, his use of Twitter has drawn a negative reaction.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed that 61 percent of American voters say he should stop tweeting from his personal account, @realdonaldtrump, which has 32.9 million followers. In another poll published by NPR on Wednesday, 69 percent of Americans said Trump's use of Twitter is "reckless and distracting."
Every day brings anticipation of what Trump may tweet, his words providing amusement, shock and feeding news cycles. But Thursday's reached a higher level. "Donald J. Trump: Cyberbully-In-Chief," said Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach.
Republicans worry Trump is undermining their ability to get things done. "It's maddeningly frustrating," Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said in a CNN interview.
"@POTUS, do you want to be remembered for your tweets or your accomplishments?" Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, asked on Twitter. "Stop it! The Presidential platform should be used for more than bringing people down."
What apparently set Trump off was a Morning Joe discussion about a story that Trump's properties, including Mar-a-Lago, feature a made-up Time magazine cover from 2009 declaring his reality show The Apprentice "a television smash."
"Nothing makes a man feel better than making a fake cover of a magazine of himself, lying every day, and destroying the country," Brzezinski said. She also made a snide remark about the size of Trump's hands.
Trump has largely blamed his White House struggles on the news media, arguing he hasn't been given a fair chance. He has repeatedly lashed out at major news outlets as purveyors of "fake news." CNN, a frequent target, gave Trump ammunition Friday when it retracted a story about an ally of the president.
So it was not unusual to see Trump go after MSNBC. What was different and why so many lawmakers spoke out was the deeply personal nature of his attack on Brzezinski.
"It's despicable," said former U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Pinellas County, a Republican and vocal Trump critic. "This is the same man who spoke offensively on the Access Hollywood tapes."
He fears longer-term damage to the party image.
"Most of what this president does is beneath the dignity of the office, but we knew that. And those who voted for him knew that. ... Our party owns this right now and we're responsible for extricating ourselves from it or it's going to brand us for a very long time. We're a long way from the likes of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush."
Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report. Contact Alex Leary at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @learyreports.