As the lurid disputes dominated cable news for several more hours, it was unclear whether Trump had any strategy in mind. Some people close to Trump speculated that he might be consciously trying to remake the news environment — creating a bizarre spectacle to displace criticism of his tepid response to the massacre of dozens of Muslims in New Zealand, the timing of the administration’s decision to ground Boeing’s 737 Max jets, and frenzied anticipation around the expected release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report.

But the saga has left even White House aides accustomed to a president who bucks convention feeling uncomfortable. While the controversies may have pushed aside some bad news, they also trampled on Trump’s Wednesday visit to an army tank manufacturing plant in swing state Ohio.

“For the most part, most people internally don’t want to touch this with a 10-foot pole,” said one former senior White House official. A current senior White House official said White House aides are making an effort “not to discuss it in polite company.” Another current White House official bemoaned the tawdry distraction. “It does not appear to be a great use of our time to talk about George Conway or dead John McCain. … Why are we doing this?”