The ‘Good Old Days’ of the Trump Presidency

you can’t have it both ways. You can argue that all of the chaos is part of Trump’s strategy. But you can’t cherry-pick the chaos you like and claim the media is making up the rest.

.. I’ve talked to people in the White House. I’ve talked to congressmen and senators off the record. And I’ve talked to far more people who’ve talked to such people. They all say that things behind the scenes in Trump World are nuttier than Mr. Peanut’s stool sample.

.. Just this week, the president’s body man was ejected from the White House on a freezing cold day, and he wasn’t even allowed to get his coat (presumably, he knows stuff — because he was instantly hired by the Trump reelection campaign).

Trump fired his secretary of State over Twitter.

Roll back the clock another week or two, and you have the sudden resignation of Hope Hicks and the revelation that Rob Porter couldn’t get a security clearance because of credible allegations that he was an abusive husband.

I can’t remember the last time Trump humiliated his attorney general, but it feels like we’re due. There was also some stuff about executing drug dealers and calling Chuck Todd a son of a b****. Oh, and there was that stuff about how trade wars are good.

..  Trump loves controversy but hates confrontation. That’s why he wants to force Sessions to quit

  • That’s why he fired James Comey while the FBI director was giving a speech in California, and it’s why he wanted to
  • fire Rex Tillerson while the secretary of State was in Africa.
  • .. when Democrats are in the room, Trump tells them he’d go for comprehensive immigration reform and preens about how he’d like to “take the guns first, go through due process second.”

.. Recently, people close to Mr. Trump say that he has begun to feel more confident that he understands the job of president. He is relying more on his own instincts, putting a premium on his personal chemistry with people and their willingness to acknowledge that his positions are ultimately administration policy, rather than on their résumé or qualifications for the job.

My friend and chicken-wing consultant Steve Hayes argues that Pompeo is in fact “the real Trump whisperer.” He reports:

“I’ve seen a dozen times when Pompeo has talked the president out of one of his crazy ideas,” says a senior administration official involved in the national security debates.

Let that sink in. It’s not quite as reassuring as it sounds. If Haberman is right, then even if Pompeo had success in the past constraining Trump, he might not be able to going forward, given how Trump is more inclined to let his freak flag fly.

.. One of the great divides on the right these days is over the question of whether the policy wins of the Trump administration occurred because of Trump or despite him.

With the possible exception of Ted Cruz, I don’t think any other Republican would have

  • moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem,
  • opened ANWR to drilling, or
  • pulled out of the Paris climate accords and
  • TPP (though I think the TPP move was a mistake).

Most of Trump’s policy successes, however, have been accomplished thanks to party and movement regulars in the administration and in Congress

  • Judicial appointments have been outsourced to the Federalist Society and Mitch McConnell, thank God.
  • Tax reform was Paul Ryan’s baby.

I am generally baffled when people say, “He’s gotten so much accomplished.” From where I sit, so much has been accomplished despite him.

He also gets “credit” for the fire sale of conservative credibility on countless conservative positions and arguments

.. The GOP’s tax-cut message did not have the salience Republicans hoped

.. Trump is increasingly toxic in normally Republican-friendly suburbs. His rallies may energize the GOP base — but they energize Democrats more.

.. Many of his preferred policies and most of his antics divide Republicans, while they unite Democrats.

.. Let’s also assume Mueller doesn’t find evidence of “collusion” that directly implicates Trump but that he does find enough to land Jared, Don Jr., and Michael Cohen in the dock. Paul Manafort is already looking at spending more than two centuries in jail.

What happens when

  • Democrats get subpoena power? What happens when
  • they start drafting articles of impeachment? What happens if
  • Mueller reveals that Trump isn’t really as rich as he claims and that
  • his business is mostly a Potemkin village of money-laundering condo sales? What happens
  • if Stormy Daniels — or the retinue of super-classy ladies reportedly looking to follow her lead — releases embarrassing pictures of the president?

How do you think unconstrained Hulk Trump reacts? Heck, how do you think the beleaguered skeleton crew at the White House behaves? Everyone is gonna lawyer up

Normal administrations are crippled by zealous investigatory committees; is it so crazy to think that Donald Trump might not show restraint?

Might he be tempted to give the Democrats the store to hold off investigations, impeachment, whatever? Everyone defends the Jerry Falwell Jr. caucus on the grounds that they have a “transactional” relationship with Trump. Well, what if other transactional opportunities take precedence?

..  in the next couple of years, a tsunami of tell-all books and more-in-sorrow-than-anger reputation-rehabilitating memoirs will probably come out.

.. “character is destiny.” And I’ve never been more confident that that destiny is coming, and it won’t be pretty.

 

White House lurches into crisis mode, again

Chief of staff John Kelly was forced to publicly insist he’s remaining in his job as he tried for a fourth day to contain the damage following allegations that a senior aide abused two ex-wives. 

The relentless chaos has prompted some senior officials to leave the administration in recent weeks. The latest is Rachel Brand, the number three official at the Justice Department, who resigned on Friday to join Wal-Mart, telling friends that she was concerned that her association with the Trump administration could hurt her reputation.

“She is very smart, accomplished, and talented, and wants to protect her career,” said one Brand associate.

.. The list largely consisted of portfolio reassignments and title changes, doing little to allay concerns that Kelly has been unable to recruit fresh faces to replace senior officials who have left.

.. Even though he was previously aware of some of the allegations facing his staff secretary, Kelly’s allies say he didn’t fully understand the severity of the issue until he saw photographs of one of Porter’s ex-wives with a bruised eye. White House aides also assert that Kelly and other top officials felt misled by Porter’s own defense against the allegations.

In fun-house mirrors of Trump White House, disarray can look like victory

President Trump’s week ended with the sudden departure of a speechwriter who had been accused of brutally attacking his wife, the president’s defense of another staffer who allegedly assaulted two ex-wives

..  The president learned at a very early age that what humiliates, damages, even destroys others can actually strengthen his image and therefore his bottom line.

.. The White House lets it be known that Kelly is in the doghouse. Yet the president himself goes out of his way to speak publicly in defense of the ousted aide, without so much as a nod toward what the women have suffered.

1) Always double down on your position.

Trump has regularly argued in favor of men on his side who’ve been accused of bad behavior against women, whether that was

  • Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama;
  • Fox News figures Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly; last week’s case du jour,
  • Rob Porter; or
  • Trump himself. He weathered the “Access Hollywood” tape that many of his aides thought would sink his campaign, and he successfully batted away
  • allegations from more than a dozen women that he was guilty of sexual misconduct toward them.

Saturday morning, the president tripled down. “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” he tweeted. “There is no recovery for someone falsely accused — life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”

2) The president must always be the focus of attention. Aides who get too big for their britches won’t be around for long.

.. Whether or not Kelly leaves, he has been knocked down several notches, especially in the public’s view. He’s been shown who’s boss, in case he had harbored any doubts.

Trump, contrary to the caricature he fostered on his reality TV show, “The Apprentice,” rarely excommunicates close aides forever. They almost all remain in his orbit even if he has publicly humiliated them or sent them off for a long vacation.

.. But they must always learn that those who attempt to grab some of the limelight will be dealt with.

.. When erstwhile chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon made the cover of Time — for Trump still a vital marker of making it big, even as the magazine’s influence has severely waned — he was done for, at least for now.

.. He learned in the 1970s from his mentor Roy Cohn that when you face criticism, justified or not, “you tell them to go to hell and fight the thing,” as Cohn said.

.. Trump instead leaned hard on the accelerator, ratcheting up his rhetoric, pressing for a convention lineup that doubled down on appealing to his base — Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty,” the chief of Ultimate Fighting Championship, music by Southern, white classic rock acts.

.. In the 1980s, Trump not only didn’t push back when tabloid newspapers turned the collapse of his first marriage into a daily soap opera; Trump actively participated in the scripting of the drama, calling gossip writers, dishing out salacious morsels almost by the hour.

.. “The show is Trump,” he said then, “and it is sold-out performances everywhere.”

.. Trump had discovered in painting oneself as the rich celebrity ordinary Americans aspire to be.

Obama called it “the unfounded optimism of the average American — ‘I may not be Donald Trump now, but just you wait; if I don’t make it, my children will.’ ”

..  he recognized that bad behavior and the notoriety it generated didn’t undermine that image. For many people, it actually enhanced it.

.. visionary business leaders succeed “because they are narcissists who devote their talent with unrelenting focus to achieving their dreams, even if it’s sometimes at the expense of those around them.”

Trump and Kelly deserve each other

Trump’s first definition, in the person of Reince Priebus, was as an executive who preferred to surround himself with toadies constitutionally incapable of standing up to him and prepared to pay the price of slathering him with praise. The most vivid illustration came during Trump’s first full Cabinet meeting, in June, when Priebus gushed, “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.”

Just as Priebus revealed Trump’s insatiable desire for stroking, Kelly illustrated his unsettling attraction to strongmen.

.. The problem, as it turned out, was that Kelly not only reinforced some of Trump’s worst instincts — he displayed them himself. Where Trump resisted condemning white separatists protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville last summer, Kelly followed a few months later with a paean to Lee as “an honorable man” and asserting that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.”

.. Kelly seems to share Trump’s inclination to escalate and allergy to apology. After Kelly attacked Florida Democrat Rep. Frederica S. Wilson as an “empty barrel” and a video showed that he had misrepresented her comments, Kelly vowed he would “never” apologize.

.. He cared more about keeping one of the few capable people inside the West Wing at his side than about having an accused abuser on the staff.
.. When the Porter story broke, Kelly’s response was classic, Trumpian bravado: to urge Porter to fight on and issue a statement praising him as “a man of true integrity and honor.”

Second White House official departs amid abuse allegations, which he denies

A White House speechwriter resigned Friday after his former wife claimed that he was violent and emotionally abusive during their turbulent 2½ -year marriage

.. The abrupt departure of David Sorensen, a speechwriter who worked under senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, came as The Washington Post was reporting on a story about abuse claims by his ex-wife, Jessica Corbett.

.. Sorensen’s resignation comes two days after another administration official, staff secretary Rob Porter, departed after two ex-wives said that he physically abused them.

.. he said that during her marriage to Sorensen, he

  • ran a car over her foot,
  • put out a cigarette on her hand,
  • threw her into a wall and
  • grasped her menacingly by her hair while they were alone on their boat in remote waters off Maine’s coast, an incident she said left her fearing for her life.

.. She said she did not report her abuse allegations to police because of Sorensen’s connections to law enforcement officials.

.. Corbett said several of the incidents involved alcohol and acknowledged that she slapped Sorensen a number of times after he called her a vulgar term.

.. She gave The Post a photo of her hand bearing a scar she said was from the cigarette burn.

.. Sorensen alleged that Corbett punched him on multiple occasions. After one such episode, he said, he attempted to leave in his car and she ran after him as he was pulling away, injuring herself in the process.

In another incident, he said, she grabbed the steering wheel as he drove on a highway and punched him in the face during an argument.

.. Sorensen provided photos of what he said were injuries his ex-wife inflicted upon him during their fights, including bruises and scrapes.

.. “this incident is an opportunity to highlight the grossly underreported and unacknowledged issue of female-on-male domestic violence.”

.. Corbett maintained that her violence never escalated beyond slapping him.

.. “Everyone can think you’re the most wonderful guy, but you’re throwing women into walls by night,” she said.

.. Sorensen said that “like many domestic abusers, she was especially adept at controlling her rage so that no others witnessed her physical attacks.”

..  Sorensen’s career was on the fast track. On Nov. 18, a month after Lauren LePage’s wedding, the governor hired Sorensen as a policy adviser whose portfolio included domestic violence. Gov. LePage has called domestic abuse, which he suffered as a child,“the most heinous of all crimes in society.

Rob Porter Is Donald Trump’s Kind of Guy Rob Porter Is Donald Trump’s Kind of Guy

On Wednesday, we learned that during a 2017 background check for the former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, his two ex-wives both told the F.B.I. that he had abused them

  1. His first wife, Colbie Holderness, gave the F.B.I. a photo of her with a black eye, a result, she said, of Porter punching her in the face during a vacation in 2005.
  2. Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, shared a 2010 emergency protective order she’d received after he punched in the glass on her door while they were separated.

.. The White House chief of staff John Kelly reportedly knew about these allegations, which are said to be the reason the F.B.I. never gave Porter a full security clearance,

.. Porter’s past was apparently not considered a problem inside the White House until it became public. This tells us quite a bit about how seriously this administration takes violence against women.

.. Kelly reportedly urged Porter not to resign

.. President Trump’s press secretary Sarah Sanders read a statement from Porter calling his ex-wives’ accounts “simply false” and part of a “coordinated smear campaign.”

.. In what was perhaps a rare outbreak of candor by omission, she didn’t bother with a pro forma statement that the White House condemns domestic violence.

.. “I was exposed to a far wider array of classified and sensitive information in the White House job than as the top lawyer at the National Security Agency,”

.. It’s hard to see why Kelly, who was supposed to be the disciplined adult in this administration, would cover for Porter. Unless, that is, he genuinely couldn’t grasp that domestic violence is a big deal.

.. the abuse charges were the origin of Trump’s derisive nickname for Bannon: “Bam Bam.”

.. Andy Puzder, the former head of Carl’s Jr. and Trump’s first nominee for labor secretary.

.. Trump himself was accused of domestic assault by his first wife, Ivana Trump

.. Hurt wrote that Donald Trump became enraged after scalp reduction surgery left him in pain, and blamed his then-wife, who had recommended the doctor.

.. Hurt describes Trump pinning back Ivana’s arms and ripping out her hair by the handful “as if he is trying to make her feel the same kind of pain that he is feeling.” Then, she told friends, Trump raped her.

.. residents create administrative cultures:

.. Willoughby described confiding in a Mormon official about her husband’s fits of rage. She was told to think about how Porter’s career might suffer if she spoke out. Powerful people in Washington seem to have been similarly worried, first and foremost, about protecting the ambitious and pedigreed young man.

.. Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, and in The Daily Mail, the senator categorically dismissed the accusations and, whether he meant to or not, the women making them.

.. “Shame on any publication that would print this — and shame on the politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins that would attempt to sully a man’s good name,” he said.

.. Later, after the black-eye photograph of Holderness was published, Hatch issued a statement saying that domestic violence is “abhorrent.” But after that, he gave an interview in which he said he hoped Porter would “keep a stiff upper lip” and not resign. “If I could find more people like him, I would hire them,” said Hatch

.. It’s not really a surprise that Hatch, who once said that Trump’s presidency could become the greatest ever, would treat serious allegations of abusing women as a personal foible unrelated to one’s professional capabilities. You basically have to see things that way to support Trump in the first place.