Why Trump Can’t Tweet His Way Out of This

On impeachment and Syria, Congress and the news media at last care more about what the president does than what he says.

October 07, 2019

Jack Shafer is Politico’s senior media writer.

You needn’t believe the hype about President Donald Trump being a 21st-century media wizard to concede he has a special talent for powershifting through the gears of the news cycle to blow past whatever current event might threaten his presidency. Whether it’s a function of Trump’s volatility or a measure of his craft, he has a knack for freezing out damaging news by creating his own news storms that transfix the press. He fires members of his Cabinet and staff, over-reaches with executive orders, picks fights with a Gold Star mother and football players, engages in ad hominem, and insults entire friendly countries.

In recent days as bad news has swelled around him, Trump has taken to screaming “treason” and “coup” at full volume to divert the news flow. But this time Trump’s hydraulics don’t seem to be working. Instead of Trump flooding the news cycle, the news cycle has begun to flood Trump. His special talents—if they really exist—have begun to fail him, and he seems to know it. In two recent press sprays, with the Finnish president and on the White House lawn, Trump’s peach complexion has gone scarlet with rage as he dodged and parried all the bad publicity.

You’d go scarlet, too, if you were Trump. Democratic members of the House of Representatives have begun marshaling evidence to prove Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors as part of the House’s formal impeachment inquiry against the president. Two whistleblowers have come forward to allege abuse of power by Trump in his dealings with Ukraine’s president. An IRS whistleblower has filed a complaint alleging that a political appointee at the Treasury Department attempted to interfere with the annual audit of the president or vice president’s tax returns. A federal judge has ordered Trump to turn over his tax returns to the Manhattan district attorney. In recent days, three Republican senators (Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska) have broken ranks with their cowardly colleagues to directly criticize Trump for urging China to investigate Joe Biden and Hunter Biden.

Even the president’s closest ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has turned on him. On Monday, Graham phoned into “Fox & Friends” to denounce Trump’s decision to dump the Kurds and embrace the Turks. The move is “shortsighted and irresponsible” as well as “unnerving,” Graham said, and his anger was shared by other Republican legislators. Inside the Pentagon, the brass also appeared to favor Graham’s position over Trump’s.

At the rate all this bad news is surging, Trump must be pining for the good old days when a new development in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation was his greatest source of grief, and a nasty blast from his Twitter feed was potent enough to repel bad tidings. But suddenly Trump’s best-defense-is-a-good-offense talents are no longer sufficient to fend off the damage. In recent days, Trump has sought and failed to stall the impeachment express with tweets attacking Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., but the press has largely ignored these pathetic lines of defense. In the old days, journalists would have rushed to their keyboards to dissect the Pelosi and Schiff tweets and placed under their magnifying glass Trump’s Monday tweet about the Kurds and Turks in which he referred to his own “great and unmatched wisdom.”

But as the Smiths once sang, that joke isn’t funny anymore. These days, the press seems more interested in charting the course of impeachment and the accumulating evidence than playing “go fetch” with Trump’s tweets. Not even Pat Robertson, a Trump stalwart if ever there was one, wants to follow the president on this one. Trump “is in great danger of losing the mandate of Heaven” if he spurns the Kurds, Robertson said.

Trump’s old techniques are failing—and not just due to the volume of the bad news. What’s unique about this phase of his presidency is that he’s being attacked with so much damning information from so many directions and so many different power centers that he can’t keep up. Not even a street fighter with Bruce Lee’s skills could repulse this sort of pile-on.

As somebody who has never counted Trump out, I believe he could restore his good fortune with some self-discipline. Midway through the first year of Trump’s presidency, columnist (and doctor of psychiatry) Charles Krauthammer took to calling the “general hysteria” the press and the political classes expressed for the president “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” According to Krauthammer and others, this reflexive, partisan hatred for Trump crippled people’s judgment of the man. Krauthammer urged us to stop listening to Trump’s id and pay more attention to what Trump was doing and what he had done. Finally, it appears, the press and Democrats have independently taken Krauthammer’s advice. As we enter impeachment autumn, the only principal still acting deranged is Trump himself.

How Elizabeth Warren Learned to Fight

She was Betsy to her mother, who expected her to marry. Liz to fellow high school debaters, whom she regularly beat. Now, the lessons of an Oklahoma childhood are center stage in the presidential race.

OKLAHOMA CITY — It was 1962 in Oklahoma City and Liz Herring, a new student at Northwest Classen High School, was feeling insecure. She was good at school, had skipped a grade, and now, as a skinny freshman with glasses and crooked teeth who had grown up in a town south of the capital, she was hungry to fit in.

She joined the Cygnet Pep Club to show her school spirit and the Courtesy Club to help visitors find their way around the school. She became a member of the Announcers Club, reading messages over the school’s central sound system. But it was the debate club where she really found herself. At a time when Home Ec and preparing for marriage were priorities for young women, debate was a place where they could compete on equal ground.

She loved learning about the big topics of the day — Medicare, unions, nuclear disarmament. She began carrying around a large metal box with hundreds of index cards with quotes and facts written on them.

She was competitive and had extraordinary focus and self-discipline, spending hours after school each day practicing. Joe Pryor, a high school friend and debate teammate, remembers her “ruthlessness in preparation.” By the time they were juniors, he said, “she was just flat out better than me.”

The Jordan Peterson Moment

My friend Tyler Cowen argues that Jordan Peterson is the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now, and he has a point. Peterson, a University of Toronto psychologist, has found his real home on YouTube, where his videos have attracted something like 40 million views.

In his videos, he analyzes classic and biblical texts, he eviscerates identity politics and political correctness and, most important, he delivers stern fatherly lectures to young men on how to be honorable, upright and self-disciplined — how to grow up and take responsibility for their own lives.

.. His worldview begins with the belief that life is essentially a series of ruthless dominance competitions. The strong get the spoils and the weak become meek, defeated, unknown and unloved.

For much of Western history, he argues, Christianity restrained the human tendency toward barbarism. But God died in the 19th century, and Christian dogma and discipline died with him. That gave us the age of ideology, the age of fascism and communism — and with it, Auschwitz, Dachau and the gulag.

.. Since most conflict is over values, we’ve decided to not have any values. We’ll celebrate relativism and tolerance.

.. Chaos, the eternal feminine, is also the crushing force of sexual selection. Women are choosy maters. … Most men do not meet female human standards.”

.. Life is suffering, Peterson reiterates. Don’t be fooled by the naïve optimism of progressive ideology. Life is about remorseless struggle and pain. Your instinct is to whine, to play the victim, to seek vengeance.

.. “The individual must conduct his or her life in a manner that requires the rejection of immediate gratification, of natural and perverse desires alike.”

.. Instead, choose discipline, courage and self-sacrifice.

.. Much of Peterson’s advice sounds to me like vague exhortatory banality. Like Hobbes and Nietzsche before him, he seems to imagine an overly brutalistic universe, nearly without benevolence, beauty, attachment and love. His recipe for self-improvement is solitary, nonrelational, unemotional. I’d say the lives of young men can be improved more through loving attachment than through Peterson’s joyless and graceless calls to self-sacrifice.

Why Trump’s White House Won’t Stop Leaking

Sorry, Anthony Scaramucci. Your mole hunt is doomed.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve worked in dozens of political organizations that all leaked to varying degrees. In 2008, I was the national press secretary for the Republican National Committee when internal concerns about vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin turned the final weeks of John McCain’s presidential campaign into a gusher of leaks.

.. In contrast, last year I was the communications director on Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, an organization that proudly rarely leaked.

.. To borrow from Tolstoy: Political organizations that don’t leak are all alike; every one that does leak is leaky in its own way. In some leaky organizations, people leak to advance agendas or undermine opponents. Some leakers seek to enhance their egos or curry favor with reporters. Sometimes people leak without even realizing it, speaking carelessly to journalists or lobbyists, who then repeat the story to others. The common thread is that unauthorized leaks are a symptom of political organizations that have a broken culture: They lack unity, trust and self-discipline.

.. But mole hunts inevitably lead only to more moles, and more leaks.

.. Trump’s White House is not leaky because of a few bad apples. The No. 1 reason why it leaks is because his team lacks unity. It’s not without irony that many of the leaks are about the very staff infighting that is causing the leaks.

..  in the White House, Trump has failed to unite his team (let alone the American people) around an organizing principle that is larger than defending the president’s own reputation. Without a common purpose, factions feel the need to leak against one another.

.. If Trump wants loyalty from his Cabinet and staff, he must recognize that loyalty is a two-way street and show them more respect than he has to date. With his attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he’s demonstrating precisely the opposite: Even his most loyal supporters cannot expect loyalty in return.

.. The temptation to curry favor with powerful influencers is real, especially for aides with big egos or little experience. Obviously, this White House has plenty of both, which makes it even more important that Trump model the behavior he wants to see in others.

.. Instead, the president’s tweets and interviews show a lack of discipline. It is no secret that he continues to have off-the-record conversations with the news media and sometimes shares more than he should. In this environment, it’s not realistic to expect discipline from staff when the boss sets a poor example.

.. However, his presidential campaign leaked like a sieve for many of the same reasons that his White House does. The problems are more acute now only because his team lacks the shared goal of winning an election.

.. “You are either going to work inside the culture the way the president wants it or you’re gonna be on Pennsylvania Avenue out here selling postcards to the tourists,” Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, said on Fox News this week.

With all due respect, he has it backward. The leaks will stop only if President Trump instills a culture of unity, loyalty and self-discipline in his administration.

The Madness Of King Donald

This  Solzhenitsyn quote Jonah cites resonates with me: “You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.” Trump will carry my state, Louisiana, comfortably, and a Hillary vote from me almost certainly won’t matter. That said, whatever I decide to do with my vote, I know for whom I will not cast it, and will never cast it. 

.. What tipped me is contemplating the fact that this man, Trump, six weeks before the presidential election, found himself awake in the middle of the night and decided to tweet this:

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-9-55-15-am

Given all the outrages from Donald Trump, this is a tiny thing, but I can’t stop thinking about it. Here is a man six weeks away from the election that could make him President of the United States. He is surrounded by advisers who are trying to convince him to rein in his self-destructive impulses. And yet, he wakes up in the middle of the night, because Hillary Clinton has gotten inside his head, and sends out picayune tweets, including one encouraging the American people, the people whose leader he seeks to be, to look into a supposed sex tape from a beauty pageant contestant.

Think about that. Think about what it says about the man’s worthlessness of character, his total lack of self-discipline,  his boundless vanity — so much that he would put his presidential campaign at risk to engage in an extremely petty spat over a beauty queen. Imagine him in the White House, having to make spot decisions about matters of national security. Imagine some foreign leader having taunted him publicly, and him waking up in the middle of the night, grabbing a phone, and tweeting a response that risks starting a war. Don’t think it will happen? How does one tell the President of the United States what he can and cannot do? Don’t you think that all his campaign advisers have told him to lay off of Twitter, because he can’t handle it? Don’t you think common sense would tell any of us that?

Yet he persists. He is controlled by his passions. Electing him would be like handing the keys to a Lamborghini to a drunken teenage boy.

.. So we’re going to make the 2016 campaign about Bill Clinton’s adultery in the 1990s? Really? Aside from the world-historical stupidity of doing that (instead of focusing on trade, immigration, and the economy, which is why GOP primary voters went for him in the first place), consider: how well did making a martyr of Bill Clinton work out for Republicans back then?

.. Trump is lying. He’s baldly, boldly lying. He has bragged about his infidelities before. He’s counting on the fact that his supporters will not care that he’s lying, and lying about a matter on which he intends to fault Hillary Clinton — who, despite being cheated on by her dirtbag husband, remained faithful to her vows.

.. “She’s nasty, but I can be nastier than she ever can be,” Mr. Trump said.

Well, there you have it. He’s bragging about his cruelty and viciousness — “viciousness” in the ordinary sense, and in the sense of being the opposite of virtuous. Is this the kind of man you want in the White House? Let me put this directly to my fellow orthodox Christians: do you really want to associate yourself with a presidential candidate who says these things?

.. a Clinton presidency would be a disaster for us on this front. But Clinton’s faults, deep as they are, are the faults of a normal politician.

.. Because Congress has been so deferential over the past decades to the president in matters of war, we could easily face a situation in which President Trump decides unilaterally to send American troops into combat because he has decided that his dignity has been offended by some foreigner, or for some other petty reason. If it came to that, I would hope that the military brass would refuse the orders. But if that happened — if we got into a situation in which the US military refused a lawful order from the Commander in Chief — we would face a constitutional crisis, and a simultaneous crisis of world stability, as America’s enemies would know that the Commander in Chief did not have the confidence of and control over his military forces.

.. Again, this is a man who no master of his passions, but rather is mastered by them. When you get to the age of 70 and you cannot keep yourself from behaving like a tabloid clown, even when the US presidency is within your grasp, you are damn close to being a madman.

.. The Trump campaign built a large policy shop in Washington that has now largely melted away because of neglect, mismanagement and promises of pay that were never honored. Many of the team’s former members say the campaign leadership never took the Washington office seriously and let it wither away after squeezing it dry.

.. They put in long hours before and during the Republican National Convention to help the campaign look like a professional operation.

But in August, shortly after the convention, most of the policy shop’s most active staffers quit. Although they signed non-disclosure agreements, several of them told me on background that the Trump policy effort has been a mess from start to finish.

“It’s a complete disaster,” one disgruntled former adviser told me. “They use and abuse people. The policy office fell apart in August when the promised checks weren’t delivered.”

.. Aside from the immorality of not paying people for work done — something Trump is accustomed to doing — consider what letting your policy shop go to hell says about the attention you will pay to governing.

So much for the idea that Trump surrounds himself with smart people and listens to them. I think Trump figures he will be able to rule by decree. He won’t be able to, obviously, but he’ll smash up a lot of things in the attempt. As much as I think the GOP richly deserves the pain Trump has inflicted on them — Tucker Carlson’s jeremiad from the beginning of the year remains unsurpassed — by the time we get to the end of the Trump administration, the conservative party will likely be so discredited it may never recover.

.. What the church in America suffers from, and indeed the general moral and spiritual crisis in this nation, is not political. Our politics are a manifestation of it, not the cause of it. Donald Trump is not a solution to the problem, he’s a symptom of it. Politics will not fix what is broken within us.