People who think they are invincible tend to find out that they are not in the harshest way possible... one could understand Trump’s behavior if he was doing nothing but winning — except that he isn’t. Most of the coverage suggests Trump feels liberated in particular by his decisions to levy steel and aluminum tariffs and plan on a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. But let’s review those two moves. The former is bad policy and bad politics, and it failed to win the Pennsylvania special election for the GOP. The latter may or may not happen, but it is very likely to not end well.
The best interpretive framework through which to understand Trump’s leadership is psychological rather than ideological. One would think that a president with historically low poll numbers, facing an investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III of growing seriousness, heading (in all likelihood) toward a disastrous midterm repudiation that could lead to his impeachment, and presiding over an administration run on the management principles of Maximilien Robespierre might be acting out of desperation. On the contrary, White House insiders indicate that Trump’s increasingly flailing decisions are the function of a president gaining in confidence. Having decided that he has gotten the hang of the job, Trump has lost patience with opposition and constraints. He seems not frightened but giddy.
.. Trump feels he’s winning because he is not losing as much as everyone has claimed.
None of the crazy stuff Trump said or did — from boasting about the size of his nuclear button to firing the FBI director running the investigation into his campaign — merited more than a shrug from investors. And when the market finally did hit a turbulent patch, in early February of this year, it wasn’t because of anything Trump had done; it was triggered by a boring old economic indicator, an upbeat jobs report that made investors worry the Federal Reserve might raise interest rates. Even Trump’s globe-shaking announcement last week of big tariffs on imported steel and aluminum only had a temporary effect. Stocks initially plunged on fears of a disastrous trade war, but they recovered nearly all the ground they had lost in just three days, as traders figured Trump would water down the actual policy.
.. White House staffers have been counseling presidents against rash actions since the invention of White House staff. The way they do this is by warning of dire consequences if their advice is not followed.
Indeed, this was the tactic that Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin used to try to forestall the tariffs.
- predictions of a crashing economy if he was elected, the economy is still chugging along. Despite dire warnings that the
- tariffs would trigger a trade war and a global economic scare, that has not happened yet, either. Despite much clucking about
- the impropriety of shifting from “maximum pressure” on North Korea to a planned summit, no alliance has been torn asunder.
.. I am not saying any of Trump’s moves are great ideas. But they haven’t triggered immediately catastrophes either. If an adviser keeps warning you that bad things will happen and then they have not yet come to pass, you would start to doubt their worth as well.
.. If Trump thought about it he would probably realize some of his self-initiated moves, like
- firing James B. Comey, have been calamitous. And as White acknowledges, it is possible “Trump really does pose a massive systemic risk, and
- markets just can’t see it or can’t price it.”
- A botched summit could lead to war on the Korean Peninsula.
- All of Trump’s myriad miscues could come back to haunt him in the midterms.
But nothing bad has happened yet, so Trump will continue to feel emboldened. Essentially, he is acting like he is invincible. And people who think they are invincible tend to find out they are not in the harshest way possible.
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.
The New York Congressman Who Could Lead an Impeachment Charge Against Trump
When House Republicans impeached Bill Clinton, in 1998, for lying about his affair with the former intern Monica Lewinsky, Nadler emerged as one of Clinton’s most ardent and public defenders, trading his obscurity for a brief moment in the national spotlight. The impeachment, he warned in the House Judiciary Committee, was a spectacular misuse of the power granted to Congress by its founding fathers, a “partisan coup d’état.”
.. The #MeToo movement had just claimed the eighty-eight-year-old congressman John Conyers, of Michigan, who resigned after multiple women came forward to accuse him of harassing and propositioning them.
.. That left a prime opening to succeed Conyers as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, which would oversee an impeachment of Trump if Democrats were to win control of the House in November’s midterm elections.
.. a leaflet he wrote and handed out to Democratic members said he was “the strongest member to lead a potential impeachment.”
.. Nadler, a stubborn seventy-year-old who spent the better part of two decades battling to stop Trump from rerouting the West Side Highway.
.. if and when it comes to impeachment, he will in no way be a neutral arbiter of the President’s fate but an implacable foe who has already pronounced judgment on Trump’s fitness for office.
.. After Trump fired the F.B.I. director, James Comey, last spring, Nadler said that there was a “very strong case” that it constituted obstruction of justice.
.. saying, “This President presents the greatest threat to constitutional liberty and the functioning of our government in living memory.”
.. he believed that Trump’s refusal to retaliate for the Russian intervention was as serious as if an American Commander-in-Chief had failed to respond to the 1941 Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
.. “It’s a fundamental attack on our way of life. It’s a very fundamental attack on the U.S.
.. “What if Roosevelt had said, after Pearl Harbor, ‘We’re not sure who did it. Maybe it was the Chinese. Maybe it was somebody else’? And used that as an excuse not to respond?”
.. A vocal and growing minority of House Democrats is not waiting for the results of Mueller’s investigation to make that judgment on impeaching Trump.
.. a resolution to begin the process of impeachment authored by Congressman Al Green, of Texas, has twice been put to a vote. In early December, it received fifty-eight Democratic votes.
.. forty-one per cent of Americans support impeachment
.. “We started this knowing it’s a marathon and not a sprint,” Steyer told me. “And that it has to do with the information reaching the American people so that people understand this is a deeply unfit and dangerous American President.”
.. But Steyer’s rallying of the Trump-hating party base has put him at odds with Nadler and other Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, who believe it is both premature and politically damaging to call for impeachment now.
.. Bernie Sanders has publicly pleaded with Steyer and others to avoid “jumping the gun” and pushing for Trump’s removal before it’s possible to achieve it. Other Democrats, especially the campaign strategists who have to advise the Party’s candidates in the midterm elections, fear that impeachment is a political loser with voters, who will cast ballots on more traditional pocketbook issues.
.. “But I would also quote Nelson Mandela: ‘Everything is impossible until it happens.’
.. He considers Steyer’s Need to Impeach campaign “premature at best,” he told me. “I don’t think it’s constructive. We don’t have the evidence now that would be convincing enough to people to justify impeachment.”
.. As a political matter, Nadler added, “I don’t think the election campaign should be fought on the basis of impeachment or no impeachment.
.. In Nadler’s reading of history, Nixon was forced from office because Democrats enlisted enough Republicans in the impeachment case to make Nixon’s presumed conviction in the Senate, by a two-thirds majority, likely; then and only then did Nixon step aside.
.. In the Clinton case, conversely, Democrats stuck together and voted en masse against the House impeachment, and Republicans were unable to secure a conviction on the basis of just their own party’s votes in the Senate.
.. Removing the President is a dramatic move against the popular will; in effect, Nadler said, “you are nullifying the last election,” which is not something to be undertaken “without having buy-in, at least by the end of the process, by an appreciable fraction” of Republicans as well as Democrats.
.. The alternative? “Twenty or thirty years of recriminations. Of almost half the country saying, ‘We won the election; you stole it from us.’ You don’t want to do that. Which means you should not impeach the President unless you really believe that, by the end of the process, you will have not only Democrats agreeing with you but a good fraction of the people who voted for him.”
.. he successfully urged Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on just what would constitute an impeachable offense, an exercise that convinced him that “the real test for an impeachable offense is, is this a threat to the constitutional order, to the protection of liberty, to the checks and balances system that the Constitution sets up?”
.. “The impeachment clause was put into the Constitution as a political tool with which to defend the republic, to defend the constitutional order, to defend against a would-be tyrant.”
.. he expected that Mueller, like previous special counsels before him in the Clinton and Nixon cases, would deliver a report to Congress laying out his evidence related to the President, and he promised it would have to be sufficiently serious and specific.
.. I would certainly have to be convinced if I were going to help lead it—that the President has committed impeachable offenses, and that those impeachable offenses are so serious that the constitutional order is threatened if he is not impeached and removed from office,” Nadler said. “That’s the real test.”
Inside the FBI: Anger, worry, work — and fears of lasting damage
In the 109 years of the FBI’s existence, it has repeatedly come under fire for abuses of power, privacy or civil rights. From Red Scares to recording and threatening to expose the private conduct of Martin Luther King Jr. to benefiting from bulk surveillance in the digital age, the FBI is accustomed to intense criticism.
What is so unusual about the current moment, say current and former law enforcement officials, is the source of the attacks.
The bureau is under fire not from those on the left but rather conservatives who have long been the agency’s biggest supporters, as well as the president who handpicked the FBI’s leader.
.. Wray’s defenders say there is a more strategic reason for the new director’s approach — by relying on long-standing law enforcement policies and procedures, he believes the FBI can navigate through the current political storms and get back to a position of widespread trust across the political spectrum, according to people familiar with his thinking.
.. “Following established process is important,” one person said. “Process can protect us.”
.. Comey’s firing shocked the FBI’s workforce. In the aftermath, many employees posted pictures of him at their desks or other workspaces.
.. Others express doubts about emulating Mueller’s detached approach, worried that Wray’s calculation not to publicly spar with the president may lead to a gradual erosion of the bureau’s reputation and clout.
.. On Friday, over Wray’s objection, Trump authorized the release of the Nunes memo and declared, “A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that.’’
.. He has called his own attorney general “beleaguered” and claimed the bureau’s reputation was “in tatters.”
.. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said on Fox News there was “evidence of corruption — more than bias but corruption — at the highest levels of the FBI,” and pointed to texts between two key officials who were once assigned to both the Clinton and Trump probes suggesting a “secret society” at the FBI. Those messages about a “secret society” are now widely seen to be a joke, but that has not diminished Republicans’ fervor
.. it conducts criminal investigations independently and without regard to the will of the chief executive. Trump has defied that norm. He asked Comey for a vow of loyalty, then inquired with Andrew McCabe, who replaced Comey after Trump fired him, for whom he voted.
.. The memo itself, though, doesn’t prove the case. It doesn’t have the kind of evidence in it that you would need to see to say that there was an abuse of that authority.”
.. While the president might now feel he wants the bureau under his firm control, Hosko said, he might regret that if a like-minded president took office and ordered investigations of Trump or his family.
.. Current and former law enforcement officials expect the struggle for control of the FBI to intensify.
.. “Republicans think this is just part of the war they are fighting.”