Stone-Cold Loser

Roger Stone has always lived in a dog-eat-dog world.

So it was apt that he was charged with skulduggery in part for threatening to kidnap a therapy dog, a fluffy, sweet-faced Coton de Tuléar, belonging to Randy Credico, a New York radio host.

Robert Mueller believes that Credico, a pal of Julian Assange, served as an intermediary with WikiLeaks for Stone. Mueller’s indictment charges that Stone called Credico “a rat” and “a stoolie” because he believed that the radio host was not going to back up what the special counsel says is Stone’s false story about contacts with WikiLeaks, which disseminated Russia’s hacked emails from the D.N.C. and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Stone emailed Credico that he would “take that dog away from you,” the indictment says, later adding: “I am so ready. Let’s get it on. Prepare to die (expletive).”

As the owner of two Yorkies, Stone clearly knows how scary it is when a beloved dog is in harm’s way. When he emerged from court on Friday, he immediately complained that F.B.I. agents had “terrorized” his dogs when they came to arrest him at dawn at his home in Fort Lauderdale.

.. Always bespoke and natty, living by the mantra that it’s better to be infamous than never famous, Stone looked strangely unadorned as he came out of court to meet the press in a navy polo shirt and bluejeans.

He has always said Florida suited him because “it was a sunny place for shady people,” borrowing a Somerset Maugham line. But now the cat’s cradle of lies and dirty tricks had tripped up the putative dognapper. And it went down on the very same day that Paul Manafort — his former associate in a seamy lobbying firm with rancid dictators as clients, and then later his pal in the seamy campaign of Donald Trump — was also in federal court on charges related to the Mueller probe. Manafort’s hair is now almost completely white.

.. One of Stone’s rules — along with soaking his martini olives in vermouth and never wearing a double-breasted suit with a button-down collar — is “Deny, deny, deny.” But his arrest for lying, obstructing and witness tampering raised the inevitable question about his on-and-off friend in the White House, the man who is the last jigsaw-puzzle piece in the investigation of Trumpworld’s alleged coordination with Russia: Is being Donald Trump finally about to catch up with Donald Trump?

Stone, who famously has Nixon’s face tattooed on his back, is the agent provocateur who is the through line from Nixon, and his impeachment, to Trump, and his possible impeachment.

For Trump, the Reality Show Has Never Ended

Mr. Trump’s West Wing has always seemed to be the crossroads between cutthroat politics and television drama, presided over by a seasoned showman who has made a career of keeping the audience engaged and coming back for more. Obsessed by ratings and always on the hunt for new story lines, Mr. Trump leaves the characters on edge, none of them ever really certain whether they might soon be voted off the island.

“Absolutely, I see those techniques playing out,” said Laurie Ouellette, a communications professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied reality television extensively. “Reality TV is known for its humiliation tactics and its aggressive showmanship and also the idea that either you’re in or you’re out, with momentum building to the final decision on who stays and who goes.”

.. dismissed Mr. Corker on Tuesday by mocking his height and suggesting he had somehow been conned. “The Failing @nytimes set Liddle’ Bob Corker up by recording his conversation,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Was made to sound a fool, and that’s what I am dealing with!”

.. Mr. Trump later denied that he had demeaned his secretary of state. “I didn’t undercut anybody. I don’t believe in undercutting people,” he told reporters, in a comment that must have amused the many people he has undercut since taking office.

.. “With Jemele Hill at the mike, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have ‘tanked,’ in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.

.. Andy Cohen, the creator of the “Real Housewives” reality television show franchise, found that too rich. “This is actually happening,” he wrote on Twitter. “All the wives are fighting. Even I AM SPEECHLESS.”

.. This has exceeded what would have been allowed on ‘The Apprentice,’” she said. “It’s almost a magnification. It’s like reality TV unleashed. Yes, he was good at it, but I always felt like he had to be reined in in order not to mess up the formula. Here, he doesn’t have that same sort of constraint.”

Aides warned Trump not to attack North Korea’s leader personally before his fiery U.N. address

Senior aides to President Trump repeatedly warned him not to deliver a personal attack on North Korea’s leader at the United Nations this week, saying insulting the young despot in such a prominent venue could irreparably escalate tensions and shut off any chance for negotiations to defuse the nuclear crisis.

.. Some of Trump’s top aides, including national security advisor H.R. McMaster, had argued for months against making the attacks on North Korea’s leader personal, warning it could backfire.

But Trump, who relishes belittling his rivals and enemies with crude nicknames, felt compelled to make a dramatic splash in the global forum.

.. A detailed CIA psychological profile of Kim, who is in his early 30s and took power in late 2011, assesses that Kim has a massive ego and reacts harshly and sometimes lethally to insults and perceived slights.

It also says that the dynastic leader — Kim is the grandson of the communist country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, and son of its next leader, Kim Jong Il — views himself as inseparable from the North Korean state.

.. As predicted, Kim took Trump’s jibes personally and especially chafed at the fact that Trump mocked him in front of 200 presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and diplomats at the U.N.

.. John Park, a specialist on Northeast Asia at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said the tit-for-tat insults have created a “new reality” and probably have shut off any chance of starting talks to curb North Korea’s fast-growing nuclear arms program.
.. U.S. experts assess that North Korea is six to eight months away from building a small nuclear warhead robust enough to survive the intense heat and vibrations of an intercontinental ballistic missile crossing the Pacific and reaching the continental United States.
.. “There is no one on the North Korean side who is going to entertain or pursue discussion about a diplomatic off-ramp, because that individual would be contradicting the leader, which is lethal,” Park said.
.. Trump has returned to rhetoric he’d used during the campaign, when he called Kim a “madman playing around with nukes” and a “total nut job.”
.. But Trump also praised Kim at the time, saying during a Fox News interview last year that Kim’s “gotta have something going for him, because he kept control, which is amazing for a young person to do.”

The Limits of Bullying

Trump’s opponents have often been accused of naïveté for their appeals to norms and civility. But early Friday morning, at least, that faith was rewarded.

After Donald Trump implied Ted Cruz’s wife was ugly and accused his father of helping to kill President John F. Kennedy, Cruz still worked the phones for him. Trump humiliated “liddle” Marco Rubio, who endorsed Trump anyway. Trump implied Ben Carson was a child molester, and then appointed him to his cabinet. Trump ran a campaign in which he exhorted audiences to call for Hillary Clinton’s imprisonment, and she showed up to his inauguration. Trump rose to prominence by questioning whether the first black president was even American, and won the opportunity to destroy a huge part of that president’s legacy.

All of that made former First Lady Michelle Obama’s memorable line about going high when the other side goes low seem dangerously naive. Trump belittled, humiliated, threatened, and smeared his opponents (and sometimes his supporters) nearly every day since the beginning of his candidacy for president. His opponents appealed to precedent, to norms, to comity, and to decency. Today, Trump sits in the White House.

.. Then early on Friday morning, as the moment neared for a crucial vote on the last of the Republican proposals for repealing all or part of the Affordable Care Act neared, McCain went against his party. Along with Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, he denied the Republicans the bare majority they needed for a partial repeal

.. While it might have been a long shot given her earlier votes, Republicans might have still salvaged Murkowski’s support. But that chance was probably lost when the Trump administration threatened the entire state of Alaska to try to coerce her into backing repeal. By the wee hours of Friday morning, as Republican senators huddled around her trying to win their votes, it was too late.

Collins seemed opposed to full repeal from the beginning of this process. But if anything, Texas Republican Blake Farenthold’s threat to duel her solidified her position rather than weakening it.

.. At one point President Trump, who had mocked McCain’s capture, torture and imprisonmentduring the Vietnam War just a little more than two years ago, implored McCain to change his vote with a last-minute phone call.

.. And McCain himself seemed to relish the drama, telling reporters as he walked in for the final vote, “Watch the show.”

.. Had Democrats met that vote by attacking McCain, he might not have voted no last night. He might not have been so immune to the entreaties of his colleagues. He might not have resisted the arm-twisting of the president who never spent a day in public service before winning an election, who mocked him so cruelly two years ago.

.. While repeal supporters’ bullying might have solidified opposition to the bill, this time, Democrats’ comity almost certainly bought them goodwill among the Republicans they needed to flip. Eventually, people get sick of being bullied.

Maybe not most of the time, maybe even not much of the time. But every once in a while, going high instead of going low pays off.

s Snubs and slights are part of the job in Trump’s White House

White House press secretary Sean Spicer was giddy at the thought of meeting Pope Francis during President Trump’s first trip abroad, telling acquaintances that for him, a devout Catholic, the moment would fulfill a bucket-list dream.

But when the White House finalized the lucky list of staff and family members who would accompany Trump into his private audience with the pontiff at the Vatican last week, Spicer’s name was nowhere to be found.

Enduring public humiliation has become a defining characteristic of Spicer’s tenure

.. In Trump’s White House, aides serve a president who demands absolute loyalty — but who doesn’t always offer it in return. Trump prefers a management style in which even compliments can come laced with a bite, and where enduring snubs and belittling jokes, even in public, is part of the job.

.. But others consider Trump’s comments pointed reminders to those who work for him that he is in charge — barbs from the boss that keep aides on guard and off kilter, and can corrode staff morale.

.. And during the transition, Trump would make a point of noting that Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s crowds paled compared to his, teasing that even his daughter Ivanka and son Eric attracted more attention, said two people familiar with the comments, which they considered demeaning. (Pence offered a similar quip on the campaign trail.)

.. Critics say the president often demeans those in his orbit, a tendency they say reflects a broader fragility beneath his bluster.

.. “Trump is so deeply insecure that not even becoming president of the United States quenched his need to make others feel small to build himself up,” said Tim Miller, a former spokesman for an anti-Trump super PAC. “Choosing to work for him necessitates a willingness to be demeaned in order to assuage his desire to feel like a big, important person.”

.. When he decided to fire his FBI director, James B. Comey, the president did so in an especially humiliating way. Like a scene out of “The Godfather,” Trump first sent Keith Schiller, his former head of security, to deliver the message to Comey at FBI headquarters.

.. As Comey was delivering a speech to FBI field employees, he initially laughed as news flashed across the TV screens that he had been fired. “How’d you guys do that?” he asked, according to someone briefed on the moment.

.. Mark Burnett, the creator of “The Apprentice,” introduced Trump, who went on to make a few tone-deaf jokes about Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had replaced him as the show’s host.

“The ratings went down the tubes,” the president said. “It’s been a total disaster and Mark will never, ever bet against Trump again. And I want to just pray for Arnold if we can, for those ratings, okay?”

.. At a private dinner shortly before he was inaugurated, Trump took aim at his incoming vice president and his incoming secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

.. “Where’s our Rex?” Trump asked. “Wow. What a job. Thank you very much, thanks, Rex. I think it’s tougher than he thought. He’s led this charmed life. He goes into a country, takes the oil, goes into another country. It’s tough dealing with these politicians, right?”

.. Trump also sometimes reminds even his senior advisers, in ways big and small, that he has the power to demote them at any time.

.. But the president soon ordered up a change, said someone who witnessed the moment, telling Bannon to give up his seat for the junior staff member and relegating his top strategist to the couch.

.. “How do you all like Nikki? ” he asked, as she looked on. “Otherwise, she can easily be replaced.”

.. The president was livid about the leak — but had no problem being viewed as a bully, believing he was simply standing up for his nation’s best interests.

.. shoved aside a Balkan prime minister to get in front for a group photo and needled his allies about the cost of a new building for the alliance.

.. During his first in-person meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump’s typically aggressive greeting became a duel of one-upmanship as the two men clenched their jaws and tightened their faces during an intense, white-knuckled handshake.

Macron, France’s newly elected 39-year-old leader, later said he wanted to show Trump that he would not be pushed around or demeaned.

“I don’t believe in diplomacy by public abuse,” he said.