The Price of Getting Inside Trump’s Head

Michael Cohen has profited from it, but we’re all Trumpologists now.

Christie argued that pesky journalists and amateur Trump watchers were always getting the President wrong, making it out as if there were some “Machiavellian” grand plan by Trump that could explain many otherwise seemingly unexplainable moves. “There is no strategy,” he exclaimed.

.. Several mentioned White House aides or outside advisers, such as Christie, who seem to have the ability to read Trump’s quirks and offer reliable guidance about what a President who delights in the appearance of unpredictability will actually do. One White House reporter, for example, said that Stephen Miller, the combative young aide who writes many of Trump’s speeches and has helped shape his hard-line immigration policy, was “an authentic reflection of his boss,” citing him as a helpful resource “if you’re looking to decode what Trump is really thinking.” Others mentioned informal advisers including Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, and Christopher Ruddy, the C.E.O. of Newsmax and another regular Trump phone buddy; journalists such as the Times’ Maggie Haberman and the Free Beacon’s Matthew Continetti

.. “The truth is, virtually everyone who claims to know what Trump is going to do has been wrong at some point,” one sharp analyst told me. “The best indicator, in my mind, is to go back and read his core campaign pledges and speeches. Those have been far more instructive than anyone in Congress, in the Republican Party, or on his own team.”

..  “All the same traits repeat themselves now,” the correspondent wrote to me. “The grandiosity, the impatience and impulsiveness, the repeated lies.

.. At the time, other observers, less schooled in Trump, wrongly thought that the heavy responsibilities of a job for which he was ill-prepared might change him. Not the Trumpologists. “He’s the same old Trump,

.. What did it mean that the former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the leader of Germany’s pro-Russia oppositionists at a time of such tensions with the West, was right there in the front row? That Putin only shook hands with three people—Schroeder, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and a splendidly attired Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill

.. Indeed, the Putin inauguration scene made the former Moscow correspondent in me realize just how much Washington these days feels like Russia.

.. Of course, there’s always an element of Kremlinology in how we cover the White House.

.. But, at least in Administrations of old, there was a process to pay attention to, meetings where actual decisions were made, policy rollouts planned in advance as a result of those decisions. “Process protects you” was a favorite line of Obama’s process-obsessed second-term chief of staff, Denis McDonough, and most of his predecessors, from Republican and Democratic Administrations alike, agreed.

.. Many of this President’s major decisions—from appointing Cabinet secretaries to pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal—are completely opaque and, in many cases, shockingly process-free.

 

Trump Likes Controversy, Conflict Less So

The distinction is important, and it is woven through Trump’s operating style during his first year in office

 He likes controversy, but he isn’t all that fond of conflict.

.. He relishes stirring up controversy, and, in fact, believes stirring the pot advances his reputation as an outside agitator and improves his position by keeping adversaries off balance. But he usually keeps controversy at arm’s length, using his Twitter feed or offhand comments to attack and posture.

By contrast, when he finally comes face-to-face with both friends and foes, his actual positions are often less contentious and rigid than his public posturing suggests. His Twitter bark is worse than his personal bite.

.. He ordered the U.S. out of the Paris accord on climate change, but told British interviewer Piers Morgan over the weekend that, thanks in part to the personal intervention of French President Emmanuel Macron, who, “as you know, I like,” he might rejoin the accord.
.. When he is standing apart from negotiations over a new immigration system, he denigrates his Democratic counterparts, saying they have no interest in securing the border and are “only interested” in obstruction. But in a room with congressional leaders he sounded ready to do a deal with them, and even provide political cover for those who agreed
.. He also complains openly about other aides, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the White House chief of staff, John Kelly. But he then promptly backs away and praises them, as if he had never whacked the hornet’s nest in the first place. When he wants someone to leave, he is more likely to drop hints he wants them to depart on their own, or have someone else send them overboard, than to fire them himself.

.. “Donald Trump enjoys controversy and to a degree thrives on it,” says Christopher Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media and a presidential friend. “Controversy helps ratings, taking a page from his very successful showbiz career.”

But, he adds: “He often stakes out very extreme positions. He does this partly for rhetorical effort or to stake out a negotiating position. It’s worked for him in business so he’s applying it to politics.”

.. The problem is that the president’s allies and enemies alike, at home and abroad, have a hard time figuring out where bluster ends and reality begins.

.. Jason Miller, who was communications director for the Trump presidential campaign and remains in touch with the White House, suggests viewing the president’s approach as a “one-two negotiating tactic…Tweets are a one-way written message delivery vehicle to lay down markers, while in-person meetings are an opportunity to show progress and cooperation that get us one step closer to the desired outcome.”

Mr. Miller advises members of Congress that “the president is only going to bring up issues he genuinely wants to find consensus on…There’s always room for compromise after policy markers are laid out.”

 

 

 

The significance of Trump’s reported order to fire Mueller

President Trump reportedly ordered the dismissal of special counsel Robert Mueller last June, but backed down after White House counsel Don McGahn said he would quit rather than carry out the order, according to The New York Times and others. In Davos, the president dismissed the report as “fake news.” John Yang reports and Judy Woodruff talks to Jack Goldsmith of Harvard Law School.

Laura Ingraham Is Ready to Rev Up Fox News

Ms. Ingraham honed her craft in college at The Dartmouth Review, the undergraduate right-wing journal that earned national recognition (and some revulsion) for stunts that, in hindsight, presaged the antics of Breitbart reporters.

.. “All the way back to Dartmouth, I was part of the insurgency,” she said.

In an era before mainstream acceptance of homosexuality, Ms. Ingraham assigned a reporter to attend a meeting of the campus gay students’ alliance and published a transcript of the proceedings, naming names. Years later, she apologized, citing in part the experience of her gay brother and his partner, who had AIDS.

.. “Laura represents her own unique brand,” said Christopher Ruddy, who runs Newsmax, a Fox News competitor. “She comes out of the milieu of talk radio, where the economics of that business have driven a lot of hosts who were moderately conservative to be a little edgier.”

.. She had been encouraged to back Mr. Brat by a producer, Julia Hahn, who went on to write for Breitbart and now works in the White House.

.. Asked if she is bringing a Breitbart viewership to Fox News, Ms. Ingraham responded: “I wouldn’t call it a Breitbart audience. I would call it America.”

“I like Tom Wolfe’s description of the country,” she continued. “There’s America. The coasts are like the parentheses. In between is the country.”