Yes, I have. Several years ago, I was invited to be a tag-along at a dinner with The Donald by some very influential friends in the Boca Raton area. I wouldn’t say I was particularly excited, but hey, who doesn’t love a little dinner theatre every now and again?
He. Would. Not. Shut. Up. About. Himself.
The entirety of the two-hour dinner (amazingly, in retrospect, not at a Trump-branded establishment) was devoted to a single speaker and a single subject: The Donald, as narrated by The Donald. His business acumen. His latest coup of a deal. His fabulous lifestyle, his plane, his prowess with the ladies (Melania was not in attendance, and he leered at any server with a skirt). Any time anyone tried to get a word in edgewise to perhaps discuss a business deal or a point of common interest, he would immediately turn it back onto himself, with phrases like “Oh, that reminds me of when I…”
He is exactly the man I met years ago. The media portrays him as a self-absorbed, narcissistic buffoon, and that is who I found him to be. He did actually speak entirely in complete sentences during the dinner; I believe that when he takes the podium, he is actually terrified, and his brain leaps from topic to topic, attempting to gain applause. Perhaps that’s why he seems so scattered. He was less so at dinner, but then again, there were only 12 of us in total, and most at the table were ardent fans from whom he had to win no approval. I was not. He probably hated me for it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I found him to be a cravenly self-seeking yet painfully ordinary man. Were it not for his “pedigree,” he would be the guy permanently seated at the far end of the bar that nobody wants to talk to. Yes, money talks, but that doesn’t mean you have to listen. I did, but I wouldn’t have missed anything had I not.
If Trump’s attempt to disassociate himself from lawyer Michael Cohen’s hush-money payment proves untenable — and who believes Cohen paid for this out of the goodness of his heart? — will the religious mop-up squad give him a second mulligan for lying? Maybe they should find out how many paid-off women are out there before offering more absolution.
.. The price one pays for defending Trump is self-humiliation, as one aide and ex-aide after another have learned.
.. After Mnuchin whined that Todd was focusing on the “wrong things” instead of the economy, Todd bore down:
TODD: You keep saying that’s what we should be focused on, then why can’t the president be focused on that, sir?
MNUCHIN: I think the president has been very focused on that.
TODD: Would you call last night’s speech a focused speech on that?
MNUCHIN: I wasn’t at the campaign rally, as you know. But again don’t take these campaign rallies and focus them on that’s what it is, okay.
TODD: So should we stop covering the campaign rallies? Do you think it’s a mistake then for us to cover them at all? That it doesn’t matter what he says? If it doesn’t matter what he says there. If we are to dismiss everything he says at a campaign rally as I think you’re trying to imply, then are you saying we should cover these things?
MNUCHIN: No, you’re putting words in my mouth. I wasn’t in any way saying you should dismiss that whatsoever. . . .
TODD: When he uses vulgarity to talk about individuals, what are they supposed to tell their kids?
MNUCHIN: Well again, I’ll be with my kids this morning, and I’ll be focused on them on what the president is doing to protect the United States, it’s citizens, and more importantly it’s economy.
TODD: So he’s not a moral– don’t worry about his values, don’t worry about him as a role model.
MNUCHIN: I never said that whatsoever. So I don’t know why you’re putting these words in what I’m trying to say. Okay. So again, I am very comfortable with what we’re doing, okay? And again I think you’re trying to take this out of perspective, and implying something I’m not saying.
TODD: Fair enough, what do you…what are you supposed to say when he’s using these vulgarities, to kids?
MNUCHIN: Again, I think you should be focused on what the policies are. He’s using these vulgarities in the context of a campaign rally and obviously there were a lot of funny moments on, on, on that rally.
TODD: Yeah, they were hilarious. Anyway, Secretary Mnuchin. I appreciate you coming on, again.
.. His record of normalizing Trump will define his tenure as secretary just as much as his role in passing a tax bill.
.. Evangelical leaders, Mnuchin, the hordes of GOP apologists, Trump’s current and former White House staff — all of them — have chosen to ignore, minimize or even defend Trump’s vulgarities, lies, racism, misogyny and anti-democratic antics. If they think they can escape accountability by peers and by history — not to mention by future employers — because, well, “because Gorsuch” or “because corporate tax cuts,” they may be surprised. Their ongoing buffoonish defense of Trump may turn out to be the most memorable thing they have done in public life.
The Right needs an unsentimental, realistic view of this presidency.
But the book’s most damning and consequential revelation lies in its depiction of a president who barely understands the office he occupies and isn’t interested in learning: “He didn’t process information in any conventional sense. He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-literate. He trusted his own expertise — no matter how paltry or irrelevant — more than anyone else’s.”
.. If Trump is an ignorant, egomaniacal buffoon, he’s not enough of one to stop good policy from passing or the country’s condition from improving.
.. The riot and death in Charlottesville demonstrated that Trump can take the easiest layup in American politics — denounce those marching under the Nazi banner! — and botch it completely.
.. Perhaps the stakes of the Trump presidency require conservatives to confront the coming months and years with an unsentimental cost-benefit analysis. Applaud President Trump when he’s right, criticize him when he’s wrong, and ride the horse as far as he can take you — and the moment he can carry you no further, leave him behind. If Trump proves incapable of resisting temptation and irreparably sabotages his own presidency, conservatives shouldn’t strain any muscles to defend him.
.. Don’t buy into the ex post facto justifications that his angry tweets are some irreplaceable communications tool, that his mercurial nature is strategic unpredictability, that his ignorance is feigned, and that he’s playing some secret seven-level chess, with plans within plans, all building up to some ultimate victory that’s just around the corner.
.. There is no secret master plan, no elaborate grand scheme with pieces slowly falling into place.
.. It’s not like what Trump has to do is a mystery. He has to calm down and stop worrying about what’s said about him on television. He has to pay attention in his briefings. He needs to tweet less — a lot less. He needs to think deeply about what his top legislative priority before the midterm elections ought to be, and once he’s decided on that, he needs to work tirelessly to build a majority of votes to pass it. One of Trump’s most popular moments of 2017 was his address to Congress, where he sounded downright normal for a Republican president. Perhaps what Americans want is just to wake up each morning and not have to worry, “What is the federal government going to try to do to me today?”
If Trump can just calm down, focus on governing, and stop acting like he’s hosting a twist-filled reality show, he will be a successful two-term president. But if he keeps indulging his worst impulses and living down to the frightening portrait presented in Wolff’s book, conservatives don’t need to stick with him.