Trump: The Presidency in Peril

If Donald Trump leaves office before four years are up, history will likely show the middle weeks of May 2017 as the turning point.

.. If Trump has nothing to hide, he is certainly jumpy whenever the subject comes up and his evident worry about it has caused him to make some big mistakes.

.. Though younger and more composed, Kushner is a lot more like Trump than is generally understood.

  • Both of them moved their father’s businesses from the New York periphery to Manhattan.
  • Like his father-in-law, Kushner came to Washington knowing a lot about real estate deals but almost nothing about government.
  • Both entered the campaign and the White House unfamiliar with the rules and laws and evidently disinclined to check them before acting.

.. Thus, Kushner has reinforced some of Trump’s critical weaknesses.

.. Kushner, who has a high self-regard, has taken on a preposterous list of assignments.

.. He was able somehow (likely through his own leaks) to gain a reputation—along with his wife, Ivanka Trump—as someone who could keep the president calm and prevent him from acting impulsively or unwisely.

.. Richard Nixon, who was a lot smarter than Trump is, similarly misread the way the public would react when he arranged for the firing of his special prosecutor, Archibald Cox

.. Mueller’s investigation is limited to considering criminal acts.

.. His purview doesn’t include determining whether Trump should be held to account for serious noncriminal misdeeds he or his associates may have committed with regard to his election

.. of the three articles of impeachment adopted by the Judiciary Committee against Richard Nixon in 1974, the most important was for “abuse of power.”

.. Unless a single act is itself sufficiently grave to warrant impeachment—for example, treason—a pattern of behavior needs to be found. That could involve, for example, emoluments or obstruction of justice.

 .. Many of what seemed disparate acts—well beyond the famous break-in in the Watergate complex and the cover-up—were carried out in order to assure Nixon’s reelection in 1972, and they amounted to the party in power interfering with the nominating process of the opposition party. That way lay fascism.
.. By definition, impeachable offenses would appear to concern conduct only during a presidency. But a number of constitutional law scholars, including the Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, who was dubious at first, believe that if a president or his associates working on his behalf acted corruptly and secretly to rig the election, then the preinaugural period should be included.
.. Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation only on February 13, after stories about Yates’s warning appeared in the press—and then, two days after he fired him, the president called Flynn “a wonderful man.”
.. weirdly, recently told aides that he’d like to have Flynn back in the White House.
.. Flynn, in conversations with outgoing national security adviser Susan Rice during the transition, asked that the Obama administration hold off on its plan to arm Kurdish forces to help the effort to retake Raqqa, the ISIS capital in Syria. Since Flynn was a paid lobbyist for the Turkish government, which strongly opposed the plan, this action could possibly lead to a charge of treason.
.. Flynn was leading the Russians to believe that they’d receive much better treatment under a President Trump and the Russians went along.
.. A big question is whether Flynn discussed such important policy matters with the Russians without the knowledge of the president-elect.
.. Trump tweeted: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin)—I always knew he was very smart!”
.. Brennan testified he was worried that the Russians may even have recruited some Americans to cooperate with their effort to tilt the election.
.. Intelligence analysts picked up conversations by Russians in which they bragged that they’d cultivated Flynn and Manafort and believed they would be useful for influencing Trump. (This doesn’t prove guilt on the part of either man.)
.. Laurence Tribe is gathering what he believes are impeachable offenses committed by Trump.2
.. Tribe sees Trump flouting the constitutional ban on accepting “emoluments”—
.. Trump’s firing of Comey for, as he ultimately admitted, “this Russia thing.”
.. Trump’s saying to Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and to Ambassador Kislyak, of firing Comey: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
.. There were also Trump’s efforts very early in the administration to get Comey to pledge “loyalty” to him
.. In another form of pressure, Trump asked Comey when the FBI would announce that he wasn’t under investigation. Comey didn’t respond.
.. Before it was revealed that Comey had taken notes of their conversations, Trump made a not-very-veiled threat that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations.”
.. Where are all the leaks coming from? Many Republicans want to make this the issue rather than what the leaks reveal, but the fact that they keep coming is a sign of the state of near collapse of the White House staff.
.. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Trump has the most unhappy staff ever, with some feeling a higher duty to warn the public about what they see as a danger to the country.
.. Trump is a nearly impossible person to work for:
  • he screams at his staff when they tell him something he doesn’t want to hear;
  • he screams at them as he watches television news for hours on end and sees stories about himself that he doesn’t like, which is most of them.

.. Leaks are also being made by the intelligence community, many of whom see Trump as a national menace.

.. McMaster has yet to recover his reputation from having emphatically refuted things the Post story didn’t say.

.. Trump’s reckless act is believed to have endangered the life of an Israeli intelligence asset who had been planted among ISIS forces, something extremely hard to pull off.

.. Rosenstein found himself in a meeting with Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who had supposedly recused himself from any dealings on the campaign and the Russia matter) and under pressure to write a memo expressing his own strong negative views of how Comey had handled Hillary Clinton’s e-mail case. The choices before Rosenstein were to write the report, knowing that Comey was going to be fired anyway, or refuse to and resign or be fired. Then what use could he be?

.. he spoke melodramatically of his anguish in having to decide between two choices: to “speak” or to “conceal.” But many observers believed that he had a third choice: quietly to get a warrant and check out some of the e-mails that had traveled from Clinton’s laptop to her close aide Huma Abedin’s to that of Abedin’s then-husband Anthony Weiner before reopening an investigation, much less announcing one and perhaps affect the outcome of the election.

.. Comey’s testimony also angered Democrats by wildly exaggerating the number of Clinton’s e-mails that had landed on Weiner’s laptop—“hundreds and thousands,” he said, when actually there had been just a handful.

.. Comey’s comment that the thought that his actions may have affected the election made him “mildly nauseous” enraged Trump.

.. Everyone who hewed to the White House line that the firing had been based on Rosenstein’s memo, including Pence, was now embarrassed and lost credibility with the press and the public.

.. the respected Cook Report anticipates substantial Republican losses in the House. Republicans are starting to panic.

..Their challenge is how to overcome the twin blights of

  1. Trump’s chaotic governing and
  2. his lack of achievements on Capitol Hill

.. unlike Nixon, he can also make use of social media, Fox News, and friendly talk shows to keep them loyal.

.. Trump is, for all his deep flaws, in some ways a cannier politician than Nixon; he knows how to lie to his people to keep them behind him.

.. The critical question is: When, or will, Trump’s voters realize that he isn’t delivering on his promises,

  • that his health care and tax proposals will help the wealthy at their expense,
  • that he isn’t producing the jobs he claims?
  • His proposed budget would slash numerous domestic programs, such as food stamps, that his supporters have relied on heavily. (One wonders if he’s aware of this part of his constituency.)


Trump’s one consistent policy: Chaos

it would seem the incoming Trump administration plans to handle its affairs — domestic and foreign — in a manner that meets the dictionary definition of a “rogue state” as one “that conducts its policy in a dangerously unpredictable way.”

.. According to foreign government accounts, Trump praised Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign against drug users and dealers, which has killed at least 4,500 people in five months. And he hailed Kazakhstan dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev for his “fantastic success” that can be called a “miracle.”

.. Trump is now open to keeping the Paris climate pact, after calling climate change a hoax. He campaigned against Goldman Sachs as a symbol of corruption and is now stocking his administration with Goldman bankers. He pledged to reinstate waterboarding and to repeal Obamacare but is rethinking both. He riled supporters with a pledge to prosecute and imprison Hillary Clinton but has reconsidered. He dropped his pledge to ban Muslims or those from terrorism-prone countries from entering America in favor of better vetting of all immigrants. He now says his border wall may be a fence in parts, and he dropped his talk of mass deportation of illegal immigrants.

.. His nominee to be commerce secretary assures Americans that “tariffs are the last thing” to which the Trump administration would resort — only to be contradicted by Trump himself, who tweeted Sunday that here will “soon” be a 35 percent tariff on imports from companies that offshore jobs.

.. Some suggest that there is a method to Trump’s madness, that he is trying to make would-be adversaries think he is irrational and capricious, thereby making foes and rivals wary of pushing him too far. This is why North Korea’s Kim Jong Un gets a wide berth. On a lesser scale, this also underpinned Richard Nixon’s “Madman Theory” during the Vietnam War

What a professor who studies outside leaders has to say about Donald Trump

Who were some of the best unfiltered presidents?

Abraham Lincoln’s only national political experience was one term in the House of Representatives. He was an extreme dark horse candidate for the Republican nomination. Basically no one expected him to get it because he was a relatively minor figure.

He was such a success because he did things that, if people had known he was going to do those things, they would never have voted for him. That knowledge link is key. Lincoln positioned himself in the campaign as the least anti-slavery Republican — the Republican most likely to conciliate the South. And then when he went into office, of course, he wasn’t that at all.

.. I do not expect [Trump] to follow through on many of his campaign promises because one of the hallmarks of unfiltered leaders is that precisely because they don’t have a record, they can promise anything in order to get to power. They have more freedom to deviate because those promises have no reflection of their underlying beliefs. That can work out to their benefit. But that being said, the people who are thinking that “gee, this is normal” are deluding themselves.

.. What it demonstrates is the idea that people will be moderated by being in power is almost always false. When you are trying to gain power you say things meant to please the people who will decide whether or not you’re going to get power. That’s your goal. You want to please them in order to gain office and gain power. Once you’re in office, that’s what you have. You have power. Power is not a moderating force. Power is a liberating force.

.. That being said, if you were to pick an unfiltered person to be the president of the United States, it would be hard to imagine someone with worse odds of being a success than Donald Trump.

.. You write about charismatic leaders, particularly narcissistic ones, and their ability to, again, either be extreme successes or failures. You call charisma an “intensifier.” What does that mean?

Intensifiers basically make good things better and bad things worse. Charisma is a classic example. I define charisma as the ability to persuade people to do things through force of personality that you cannot persuade them to do [otherwise]. If the ideas you are trying to persuade them to are good ones, then charisma is incredibly valuable. If they are bad ones, than charisma is incredibly dangerous.

.. Clearly a very large proportion of the American population is affected powerfully by [Trump’s] charisma. He himself said this his followers are so committed that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and they would still vote for him. That’s a pretty remarkable charismatic hold: That’s almost classically the definition of a charismatic leader who gets extraordinary amounts of adulation from their followers. You should expect that level of charisma to enable him to do things that a normal political leader simply could not even contemplate.

.. You will find that being a leader is much much harder than telling people how much better a job you would do if you were the leader. So you should take the advice of people who are experienced and the counsel and the help of people who have been there before. You should take it incredibly seriously.

The Medicare Killers

The transition team’s point man on Social Security is a longtime advocate of privatization, and all indications are that the incoming administration is getting ready to kill Medicare, replacing it with vouchers that can be applied to the purchase of private insurance. Oh, and it’s also likely to raise the age of Medicare eligibility.

So it’s important not to let this bait-and-switch happen before the public realizes what’s going on.

.. First, the attack on Medicare will be one of the most blatant violations of a campaign promise in history.

.. since 2010 Medicare outlays per beneficiary have risen only 1.4 percent a year, less than the inflation rate. This success is one main reason long-term budget projections have dramatically improved.