Michael Wolff’s Withering Portrait of President Donald Trump

. A chronicler of media, power, and wealth, Wolff is also willing to dish the dirt, as he demonstrated in a gossipy tome about Rupert Murdoch, which was published in 2008.

.. After that book came out, there was an inquest inside Murdoch’s News Corporation into who had granted Wolff access.

.. as Wolff noted in a foreword to the paperback edition of the book, Murdoch was the person primarily responsible for the access he gained. The press baron “not only was (mostly) a patient and convivial interviewee but also opened every door I asked him to open,” Wolff wrote.

.. His original idea, he says, was to write a fly-on-the-wall account of Trump’s first hundred days. “The president himself encouraged this idea. But given the many fiefdoms in the White House that came into open conflict from the first days of the administration, there seemed no one person able to make this happen. Equally, there was no one to say ‘Go away.’ Hence I became more a constant interloper than an invited guest.”

.. Still, the over-all portrait that Wolff draws of a dysfunctional, bitterly divided White House in the first six months of Trump’s Presidency, before the appointment of John Kelly as chief of staff and the subsequent firing of Bannon, has the whiff of authenticity about it—and it echoes news coverage at the time.

.. during one Oval Office meeting, Bannon called Ivanka “a fucking liar,” to which Trump responded,“I told you this is a tough town, baby.”

.. Equally plausible is Wolff’s portrait of Trump as a one-dimensional figure who had no conception that he could win the 2016 election; little clue what to do after he did emerge victorious from the campaign trail; and virtually no interest in, or aptitude for, acquiring the skills and information needed to fulfill the role of President. “Here was, arguably, the central issue of the Trump presidency,”

.. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate . . . . Some thought him dyslexic; certainly his comprehension was limited. Others concluded that he didn’t read because he didn’t have to, and that in fact this was one of his key attributes as a populist. He was postliterate—total television.

.. Trump often retires in the early evening to his bedroom, where he has three television screens, and interrupts his viewing only to converse by telephone with his friends and cronies, some of them fellow-billionaires.

.. unconfirmed new anecdotes, too, about Trump’s sexism and narcissism. In one meeting, Wolff says, the President referred to Hope Hicks, his communications director, as “a piece of tail.”

.. described Sally Yates

.. Trump is, ultimately, a self-fixated performer rather than a politician, and his primary goal is to monopolize public attention.

.. This depiction probably understates Trump’s devotion to making money, as well as his racism and nativism, both of which go back decades.

.. Donald McGahn, the White House counsel, were adamantly opposed to firing Comey. “McGahn tried to explain that in fact Comey himself was not running the Russia investigation, that without Comey the investigation would proceed anyway,”

.. Chris Christie and Rudolph Giuliani, who “encouraged him to take the view that the DOJ was resolved against him; it was all part of a holdover Obama plot.”

.. the concern of Charles Kushner, Jared’s father, “channeled through his son and daughter-in-law, that the Kushner family [business] dealings were getting wrapped up in the pursuit of Trump.”

.. Jared and Ivanka “encouraged him, arguing the once possibly charmable Comey was now a dangerous and uncontrollable player whose profit would inevitably be their loss.”

Jared and Ivanka were urging the president on, but even they did not know that the axe would shortly fall. Hope Hicks . . . didn’t know. Steven Bannon, however much he worried that the president might blow, didn’t know. His chief of staff didn’t know. And his press secretary didn’t know. The president, on the verge of starting a war with the FBI, the DOJ, and many in Congress, was going rogue.

.. Wolff was surely right to stress the momentousness of the decision to get rid of the “rat”— Trump’s term for Comey.

.. five months after Comey’s firing, Bannon was predicting the collapse of Trump’s Presidency.

.. In any event, there would certainly not be a second term, or even an attempt at one. ‘He’s not going to make it,’ said Bannon at the Breitbart Embassy. ‘He’s lost his stuff.’ ”

‘We’re Losing on the Central Promise of Trump’s Campaign.’

Planning for the wall should have begun on Nov. 9, and a spade should have been put into the earth to begin building it the day after Trump’s inauguration. Now, it’s 100 days later, and we still don’t have the whisper of a prospect of a wall.

Moreover, this isn’t one random bill funding Planned Parenthood (which this bill does). This is the budget deal. There won’t be another one like it until next October.

.. It’s theoretically possible that Trump could still build a wall, but he’s just massively lengthened the odds of ever prevailing. Sure, you can let the other team build a 20-point lead in first half and still come back to beat them, but it’s a lot easier if you don’t go into halftime 20 points down.

… Remember? There would be so much winning, we were going to get “sick and tired of winning,” and beg him, “Please, please, we can’t win anymore. … It’s too much. It’s not fair to everybody else.”

We’re not winning. We’re losing, and we’re losing on the central promise of Trump’s campaign.

At 100 days, Trump’s big talk on the economy lacks substance

When you look at what Donald Trump has actually accomplished in the first 100 days of his presidency when it comes to adding American jobs, stimulating the economy and fixing the tax system, a four-word phrase comes to mind: big hat, no cattle.

.. Meanwhile, several of Trump’s big economic promises — eliminating the Import-Export Bank because it supposedly promotes crony capitalism, labeling China a currency manipulator, quickly unveiling a trillion-dollar infrastructure program — have not been fulfilled. He excoriated the Federal Reserve’s low-interest-rate regimen during the campaign, but now he likes it.

.. As someone who’s written about Trump on and off since the 1980s, I am surprised by none of this. He’s always been great at talking but not so great at doing. He routinely boasted about his New Jersey casinos — but they ultimately went through five Chapter 11 bankruptcies under his leadership. He touted his purchase of New York City’s Plaza Hotel, which also went into bankruptcy. He routinely exaggerated the floor count in some of his high-rise buildings.
.. most, if not all, of U.S. hiring and expansion plans for which Trump has claimed credit were already in the works or had nothing to do with him.
.. Meanwhile, thousands of cashiers, the second-largest job category according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are disappearing without Trump doing or saying a thing about it that I can see.
.. Obamacare added millions of new patients to health-care rolls without expanding the supply of doctors and nurses to keep pace with an expanded patient population. That’s a problem, too.
.. I saw a proposed tax cut on high-income people who are paying tax surcharges to help lower-income people get Obamacare coverage. Those cuts and cuts in other Obamacare-related taxes would have been paid for by trimming subsidies and benefits to Obamacare recipients and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, leaving 24 million people without health insurance.
.. 89 percent of households pay more Social Security and Medicare tax than federal income tax

Jonah Goldberg: First 100 Days

There’s nothing wrong with a newly elected president trying to translate his mandate into legislation or otherwise spending his political capital when it’s at its highest. Nevertheless, there is an unpleasant cult of action implicit in the First 100 Days that I’ve never liked. After all, that was why FDR proposed it in the first place. He wanted to tell everyone to back off and let him have a free hand in his “bold, persistent experimentation.” That’s not really how our system is supposed to work. Presidents shouldn’t be able to say, “Hold my beer while I fundamentally transform America on my own.”

.. What’s interesting to me is that I don’t think Trump truly realized it was going to be like this until pretty late in the game. He said in a Reuters interview just yesterday that he was surprised by how hard the job was. “I thought it would be easier,” the president said.

.. But Trump also says that he thought his old job would be harder than being the president of the United States. And I believe him. There are a lot of stories around Washington that jibe with this. Trump wanted to be something of a ceremonial figure, a bit like a British monarch in the 19th century, who gives some direction to the prime minister, but otherwise serves as an emblem of national greatness. It turns out that there’s more to the job than going around giving MAGA speeches and riffing on the media.

.. I’ve written a lot of late about how we now know Trump has no coherent ideological program. “Trumpism” is a psychological orientation, not a political philosophy. It’s actually far more similar to FDRism than a lot of people realize.

.. For instance, as Amity Shlaes reminds us, Franklin Roosevelt personally set the price of gold every morning: “One day [Treasury Secretary Henry] Morgenthau asked FDR why the president had chosen to drive up the price of gold by 21 cents. The president cavalierly said he’d done that because 21 was seven times three, and three was a lucky number.”

.. Now, FDR did have a philosophy but not a very deep one. As Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said, Roosevelt had a “second-class intellect but a first-rate temperament.”

.. In short, he’s doing better than I thought he would. But this is a remarkably low bar. It’s not quite like saying that Greta is the “sexiest East German weightlifter alive” or “this is the most exciting show on C-SPAN” but it’s not that far off.

.. What vexes me about the First 100 Days, however, isn’t what it has revealed about Trump, but what it reveals about his biggest fans. This time last year, it was easy to find people who parroted — sincerely — Trump’s claim that fixing everything would be “easy.” They loved to hear him say that everyone in Washington was dumb and that he had the “best brain.”

.. Any time he did or said something ridiculous, Trump’s defenders would either defend it on the non-existent merits or explain that his critics didn’t see the genius behind his strategy. Or they would mock the notion that anyone would take what he says “literally” when all enlightened people merely take him “seriously.”

.. But now Trump’s biggest boosters — and much of his base according to polls — insists that they never thought it would be easy, that Trump is doing great, even though he hasn’t been remotely able to accomplish the things he wanted to in his First 100 Days, and even Trump admits that this is all so much harder than even he thought it would be. As an unnamed White House staffer told Politico, “I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here. But this sh** is hard.”

.. the signature image of the Trump presidency so far is a goalpost on wheels.

.. But if your yardstick for a Republican president — not candidate, but president — is now “He’s better than Hillary,” then you’ve filed down the yardstick to a couple inches. “Better than Hillary” strikes me as the minimum requirement for a conservative president, not an omnibus justification for anything he does.

.. As Richard Neustadt argued a half century ago, the chief power of the president is persuasion. Lasting conservative victories can come through legislation, to be sure. But even greater ones come from changing public attitudes so that voters want to see those victories endure.

FDR’s New Deal was a very mixed bag, at best. But the main reason so much of it remains intact, alas, is that he fundamentally changed American attitudes toward government.

.. Barack Obama famously wanted to be a liberal Reagan or FDR, fundamentally transforming political orientations in this country. The ultimate verdict on that isn’t in yet, but right now it looks like Obama failed fairly spectacularly. It’s early yet, but how is Trump doing in this regard? Who outside his “base” has been convinced of the rightness of conservative policies? Consider that support for Obamacare, free trade, and immigration are at all-time highs.

Trump has learned a lot. But he’s neglecting a huge part of American leadership.

The real problem the United States confronts is not that it will be overtaken by China or another contender, but that it will face a rise in the power resources of many others — both states and nonstate actors. Our problem will be entropy — the inability to get work done. We will face an increasing number of new transnational issues that will require as much power with others as it does power over others.

This is a world that requires networks, institutions and the soft power of attraction. In a world of growing complexity, the most connected states are the most powerful.

Trump’s Phenomenal First 100 Days

One poll has Trump’s approval number back up to 46 from the thirties.

.. You are associating Trump with the Republican Party, and that’s the mistake you’re making.

.. But don’t lay that off on Trump. You have to separate Trump from the Republican Party.”

.. But the things that Trump can do on his own that he is doing are numerous and they are substantive

.. So he’s found ways around this that are even more effective in vetting bad actors than the travel bans would have been.

.. I think, on balance, Trump is having a phenomenally successful first 100 days here.

.. if Trump were a Democrat and what he was doing was a Democrat agenda, it’s all you’d be seeing. They would have killed if Obama had had this much success early on in unraveling conservatism and implementing his liberalism and in retransforming the country.