How to Torture Trump

Who’s less popular than Elton John?

Let’s be trivial for a minute. Forget our endless supply of critical problems and just try to think of a good way to torture Donald Trump.


Reasoned criticism never works. We have to go down to his level if we want to get his attention. Not by making fun of his hair or his girth or the orangish glow of his face. Deriding people for their looks is beneath us. Besides, he seems so confident he’s a charmer nothing is going to shake him.

If we want to really make him crazy, we ought to start a rumor that he can’t draw a crowd.

You know how obsessed Trump is with this subject. Whenever he holds a rally — which seems to be pretty much every other day — he brags about the enormous number of people thronging in to see him:

“There have never been crowds like this, just so you understand, in the history of politics.”

“This is some record crowd.”

“I’ve broken more Elton John [attendance] records, and I don’t have a musical instrument.”

The other is that Elton John is a way bigger draw.

Trump can’t bear suggestions that he’s not a crowd megamagnet. Every time he gets on a stage, he seems compelled to claim the audience is of epic proportions. The place is packed! Not to mention the masses waiting outside!

Back in February, he did an event in El Paso on the same day Beto O’Rourke was holding his own rally. The one-sided fight over who had the biggest crowd became sort of insane — not to mention sort of phallic. “We have, let’s say, 35,000 people tonight and he has 200 people, 300 people. Not too good!” the president of the United States crowed.

The beat-Beto obsession went on and on. O’Rourke, in one of the better moments of his political career, said that analysis “just shows you how sick this guy is.” It also showed how bad Trump is at math — local fire officials said that the capacity of his auditorium was around 6,500, and there were, at the most, 10,000 more people standing outside. O’Rourke had crowd estimates of up to 15,000.

If only there were headlines all around Texas announcing, “Trump Audience Size Disappointing.” Or better yet: “Did Beto Draw Better?” Can you imagine how miserable that would make the commander in chief?

Maybe that’s going too far — despite the president’s complaints to the contrary, the mainstream-media reporters covering him try very hard to be fair. However, we’re in the Opinion section right now. So let’s be catty.

The El Paso crowd became a national issue last week when Trump went to visit the victims of the Walmart shooting while the whole nation wondered if the tragedy was set off by the president’s rants about Mexicans at the border.

None of the patients wanted to see him, so Trump hung out with the staff. Almost instantly, he veered off into a reminiscence about that El Paso rally. “That place was packed. … We had twice the number outside. And then you had this crazy Beto — Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot,” he burbled.

Nobody was going to challenge Trump’s numbers while standing, perhaps awe-struck, listening to the president of the United States brag about his crowd size in the wake of a terrible mass murder. And nobody was going to ask about it at his next press conference, since there hasn’t been one for more than 900 days.

Even Trump must have discovered that this was going way, way over the deep end. He refrained from saying a whole lot about attendance when he spoke in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. He did peer toward the media section and note that there were “a lot of people” for an 11 a.m. event. It was a point only slightly dulled by the fact that it was 2:42 in the afternoon.

The rally took place on the construction site of a big chemical plant. “It was the Trump administration that made it possible,” the president said of a project that was first announced in 2012. The trip was supposed to be an official White House speech about energy policy. That means you the taxpayer were underwriting his opportunity to brag about

  • his victory margin in 2016 in West Virginia,
  • make fun of Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, and
  • announce the new numbers from Florida showed his re-election campaign was “looking fantastically good.”

He spoke to a crowd of about 5,000. Analyzing his effort, the reasonable thing to do would be to point out the deep, deep fault lines in his arguments about energy and economics. But you know he’d be oblivious. What if the headlines read “Disappointing Crowd for a Presidential Visit” and the stories focused on the fact that earlier this year in nearby Pittsburgh, Trevor Noah drew a healthy turnout at an arena that seats 12,500?

Not responsible journalism. But maybe it’d shock him into reality. Or at least leave him curled up in bed, sucking his thumb while somebody else ran the government.

The Most Powerful Reject in the World

Is there anyone who wants to hang with Donald Trump?

He’s not wanted.

Not at funerals, though the Bush family, to show class and respect for tradition, held their noses and made an exception.

Not in England, where they turned him into a big, hideous blimp.

Not by moderate Republicans, or at least the shrinking club with a tenuous claim to that label, who pushed him away during the midterms as they fought for their survival and clung to their last shreds of self-respect.

And not by a 36-year-old Republican operative who is by most accounts the apotheosis of vanity and ambition — and who just turned down one of the most powerful roles in any administration, a job that welds you to the president’s side and gives you nearly unrivaled access to his thoughts.

Nick Ayers didn’t see enough upside to the welding. He could do without those thoughts. He said no to becoming Trump’s next chief of staff, and this wasn’t just the latest twist in “As The White House Turns.”

It was, really, the whole story — of a president who burns quickly through whatever good will he has, a president who represents infinitely more peril than promise, a president toward whom a shockingly small and diminishing number of people in Washington feel any real affection, a president more tolerated than respected, though even the tolerance wanes.

.. He’s forever fixated on how wanted he is (“My crowds!” “My ratings!”), but what’s more striking is how unwanted he is. And that’s not merely a function of the crests and dips that every president encounters. It’s not really about popularity at all.

.. It’s about how he behaves — and the predictable harvest of all that nastiness. While other presidents sought to hone the art of persuasion, he revels in his talent for repulsion: how many people he attacks (he styles this as boldness); how many people he offends (he pretties this up as authenticity); how many people he sends into exile.

.. Careerists who would normally pine for top jobs with a president assess his temper, behold his tweets, recall the mortifications of Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson, and run for the hills. Trump sits at the most coveted desk in the world, but almost no one wants to pull up a chair.

.. What happened with Ayers, who is finishing a stint as Mike Pence’s chief of staff, speaks pointedly to the president’s diminished state. Bear in mind that Trump had already started telling people that Ayers would succeed John Kelly as chief of staff, so Ayers’s decision was doubly humiliating. Bear in mind who Ayers is: not just any political climber but someone whose every breath is focused on his enhanced glory, a trait frequently mentioned by Republicans who have watched his rise (and who sense in him more than a bit of Trump).

They still groan and titter about the blast email that he sent out, unsolicited, after he signed on to manage Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. It crowed about all the riches in the private sector that he was passing over. It hinted that his services had been sought by Pawlenty’s competitors: Sorry, guys. It assumed a broad, edge-of-seat audience for the minutiae of his mulling and maneuvering. In fact there were news stories that mockedthe self-aggrandizement of his announcement.

.. At most other times, under most other presidents, someone like Ayers would jump at chief of staff, no matter the job’s infamous rigors. It catapulted such political heavyweights as Dick Cheney, James Baker, Leon Panetta and Rahm Emanuel to greater recognition and relevance.

.. So Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump counted on Ayers’s interest and connived to shove Kelly out — he’ll leave by year’s end — so that they could shimmy Ayers in. They counted wrong. Ever clueless and oh so useless, they didn’t adequately factor in Trump’s toxicity, and the president now looks every bit as isolated as he is.

.. “Trump was left at the altar,”

.. Administration officials like Steven Mnuchin and Mick Mulvaney practically put out news releases to make clear that Trump shouldn’t ask them to be chief of staff. He has no Plan B, just B-list options like Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general.

.. As leaders go, he has never been much of a magnet. He unequivocally romped in the Republican primaries, but since then? He got nearly 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton did, a gap so remarkable that he had to claim a conspiracy of illegal voting to console himself. When he first filled his cabinet, he hardly had his pick of the litter.

Many top Republicans wanted no part of him. Some who did enter the administration agonized beforehand: Were they helping the country or indulging someone who didn’t deserve it?

When Barbara Bush died in April, it was clear to Trump that he shouldn’t travel to Texas to pay his respects. When John McCain died in August, Trump was told to skip the funeral.

The heads of countries that share America’s purported values (pre-Trump, at least) reproach and recoil from him. Prominent corporate leaders rebuke him, despite his administration’s business-friendly policies.

.. By one analysis of the midterms, the overall vote count for Democratic candidates for the House was 8.6 percentage points higher than for Republican candidates.

His wife takes public shots at him. Old friends tattle to prosecutors; new friends don’t exist. Talk about a twist: He sought the presidency, as so many others surely did, because it’s the ultimate validation. But it has given him his bitterest taste yet of rejection.