A Very Stable Genius: A Conversation with Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker


Watch as The Washington Post’s White House Bureau Chief Philip Rucker and National Investigative Reporter Carol Leonnig discuss their new book, “A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America.” Subscribe to The Washington Post on YouTube: https://wapo.st/2QOdcqK

 

Beginning of Topic Question

He consciously storms in an tells a lie.  And the result of telling that lie: he won the moment. He won the day.  As much as we may say ..

Are they actually out of control or is all this strategic planning from a president who may be completely shameless, but a president none the less.

I wouldn’t use the phrase “strategic planning”

.. or by design.

It’s very much by design in that moment.  And Trump is reacting in that moment to try to win the day without thinking about the long-term ramifications or without following following a plan that has been carefully crafted.

But are there long term ramifications?  He may live there another 4 years.

He might because what he is doing, day to day, is winning as he defines winning, which is galvanizing his supporters, making them even more loyal, more fierce in their adoration of him and mobilizing them for the election.  And he does this largely by gut.

His lawyers can put together a 10 month plan about how to deal with the Mueller Investigation but he’s going to act every 24-hours how he thinks is in his best interests in that moment given the news cycle and what he’s hearing on Fox News and what Sean Hannity or whoever else is telling him at night.

Then what has actually been the cost of this circus or all these lies?

I’ve been literally sitting here thinking about what that is for so long. Here’s what I think is most worrying to as a professional journalist and Phil and I talked about it a lot.

The falsehoods that he’s injected into our bloodstream are repeated again and again on Fox News and amplified and believed. People are absorbing them and thinking that that is true:

That Robert Mueller was out to get him.

That FBI agents have an insurance policy to make sure he wasn’t elected.  That’s not actually what the texts are about.

There were people really worried at the FBI that President was .. forgive me .. very worried about Donald Trump the candidate.

There were people at the FBI  who were very concerned about the Russian contacts from the Kremlin to sort of minions in the campaign.  Super anxious about that.

But he’s been able to inject into our either and into a lot of the country the assumption that the FBI had a tainted investigation to try, not only unmoore him and keep him from being elected, but to surveille which .. you know.. nobody wiretapped Donald Trump. But I literally meet people who say: “You know they wiretapped Donald Trump”

And I’m like “No they didn’t.”

It’s just amazing and that is..

We’re no longer in Walter Cronkite days. The consequence is people don’t agree on facts. And Phil and I have an extra job in addition to bringing you facts and that extra job is something the Post also takes really seriously with is now we got to show you how we made the cake. We’ve got to show you how we did the reporting or else you’re not going to believe us. And that’s our new chore.

The truth matters, but only if you hear it.

I want to talk more about the show that he puts on.

You talk in the book about a phone call the president had with Anthony Scaramucci, who was press secretary for famously 11 days.

Anthony, “The Mooch”, goes on Bill Mahr one night and says “I’ve known Donald Trump for 20 years. This is all an act. This is a show he’s putting on.”

And afterwards the President calls him on the phone and says: “Why did you do this. I can’t believe you did this.” And Anthony says “It’s the truth. You know it.”

And Trump says “You’re right. It’s all an act. I can’t believe they believe it.”

Yeah, you know, Trump is, first foremost, a showman and he learned this in real estate cause he wasn’t just a real estate developer he was a tabloid sensation because he made himself a tabloid sensation. He posed as his own publicist to leak gossip about himself into page 6.

So much of his energy and time and time and resources in New York as he was rising through the business ranks was built around the show — built around creating a Trump persona, the Trump brand, “The Apprentice”– and becoming president I think in Trump’s view is the capstone of that.  He acutally lays out that career are in a tween in which ..

Everyone Knows the Truth About Politics

The Democrats are scrambling, Trump is a screwball and the sane center is getting ignored.

‘Everybody knows everything.” That mordant observation is the first of Burnham’s Laws. James Burnham was a significant mid-20th century figure, a public intellectual and political philosopher who started out on the left—as a young follower he carried on an extensive personal correspondence with Leon Trotsky —and became in time an eloquent foe of totalitarianism in whatever its manifestation. While at National Review, which he helped found, he gave his colleagues 10 maxims or laws about the realities of life. No. 5 is the wholly true, “Wherever there is prohibition there’s a bootlegger.” No. 10 has become well known: “If there’s no alternative, there’s no problem.”

But most arresting, and richest in inference, is No. 1, which I always pare down to EVERYONE KNOWS.

The big secret is that it isn’t a secret.

In its personal application Burnham’s No. 1 Law suggests you can’t successfully or forever conceal anything bad about yourself and your nature, it will all come out and probably has. People see more than you know. Don’t focus on concealment but creation. In political terms it suggests: everyone knows your essential position and future necessities; your close-hold campaign strategies are actually obvious.

For instance:

Everyone knows Donald Trump can be taken in 2020, but everyone doubts the ability of the current Democratic field to do it. Everyone knows Elizabeth Warren has successfully created and inhabited a persona—the determined, high-energy fighter full of plans—and is killing it. She knows she has gone too far left for the general electorate and will introduce nuance and an air of greater moderation once she gets the nomination. Everyone knows this.

Everyone knows the Democratic moderates are going nowhere and cluttering up every stage, but no one minds their being there because they make the party look sane.

Joe Biden may have about 30% in the polls, but that means all the candidates to his left have about 70%. Mr. Biden’s front-runner status as a perceived moderate (changes in his stands leave him to the left of Hillary Clinton ) doesn’t demonstrate that the party’s primary-goers tilt moderate. It shows they’re mostly progressive, and the perceived moderate is getting that part of the base. The Democratic Party really HAS gone sharply left, and everyone knows.

Shall we be rude? Oh, let’s. Everyone knows Donald Trump is a mental case, including I believe Donald Trump. Why else does he keep insisting he is an “extremely stable genius”? It’s as if he knows a lot of people are certain he’s neither.

It would be nice here to say, “I don’t mean mental case. I mean his mind is a raucous TV funhouse; that he is immature, unserious, and at the mercy of poor impulse control; that he doesn’t exercise power intelligently but emotionally, and with an eye, always to personal needs.” But mental case will do.

He just fired his third national security adviser, by Twitter , under contested circumstances. They had apparently argued: the president was going to invite the Taliban, that band of gangsters, mooks and morons who housed the terrorists who killed 3,000 of us 18 years ago this week, to Camp David. Camp David! The august retreat where presidents host great nations and great allies. Where FDR met with Churchill and Reagan walked with Thatcher.

No one who knows what history IS would do this. No one who knows the American people would do it. No one who felt 9/11 in his bones would do it. But a guy going for a cheap handshake and a triumphant photo would. It’s the kind of idea a mental case might readily entertain.

By my observation something is going on with Mr. Trump’s supporters. They now concede much more about him in private than they did in the past. They use words like “unpredictable” or “emotional” or “a little chaotic.” They say, “Well, he may be crazy but maybe that’s what’s needed to keep his enemies hopping.” He may not be a good man, they concede, but the swamp has defeated good men.

What is interesting is that they no longer say what they used to—“You’ve got it wrong, he’s stable, a successful businessman, a realist.” And they no longer compare him to Reagan.

His most frequent public defenders now believe he’s a screwball, which is why they no longer devote their time to lauding him but to attacking his critics.

They’re uncomfortable. He is wearing his own people down.

To Thursday night’s debate:

The great question isn’t who got the most time or who got in a good shot, those things are rarely as important as they seem at the moment. The real question is: Did the candidates in the row of podiums show any sign that they are aware they’re going too far left? That they have come across in previous debates as extreme and outside the mainstream?

Maybe a little. There seemed to be some recalibrating. No one bravely declared they’ll outlaw all private health insurance. Ms. Warren in fact repeatedly and rather brazenly ducked the question. It must be showing up in her polls that telling more than 100 million people you’ll take away their health insurance isn’t a “popular idea.” No one called for open borders, or federal funding for abortions for transgender women. There was a lot of identity politics and autobiography.

My first impression was that so many of the contenders are such accomplished TV performers with such rounded, practiced sentences that are so dramatically delivered. It is hard to remember but JFK and Nixon were a little shy to be on TV in their 1960 debate, and a little formal. Jimmy Carter, too, 20 years later, with Reagan—they had a certain muted tone. Up until 2000 or so, national TV was a place where you would appropriately feel nervous. Now candidates are so smooth, so TV-ready. Performers in their natural habitat.

This isn’t new, of course. But each cycle it seems a little more so, and a little more unsettling.

Ms. Warren was relatively quiet, almost recessive during the first half, and emerged unscathed as Bernie Sanders and Mr. Biden went at each other. Mr. Biden was fine. As Mr. Sanders spoke and gesticulated in his wide and ranty way I remembered that sometimes the thing that works against you is also what works for you. He comes across like your angry Menshevik uncle in the attic, but like that uncle he means what he says, is sincere and convinced, and that has its own power.

***

I close with a last thing everyone knows, if they only think a minute. When we talk about politics we all obsess on alt-right and progressive left, those peas in a sick pod, and no one speaks of the center, which is vast and has something neither way-left nor way-right has, and that is a motivating love for America itself, and not for abstractions and ideologies and theories of the case. As a group they are virtually ignored, and yet they are the center of everything. They include those of the left who are no longer comfortable in a new progressive party. And rightists not comfortable with Mr. Trump, or with the decisions and approaches of the Bush era. It includes those experiencing ongoing EID—extreme ideological discomfort.

In this cycle they continue to be the great ignored. And everyone knows.

The ‘genius’ of Trump: What the president means when he touts his smarts

The genius in the White House has always believed that what makes him special is his ability to get things done without going through the steps others must take.

In school, he bragged that he’d do well without cracking a book. As a young real estate developer, his junior executives recalled, he skipped the studying and winged his way through meetings with politicians, bankers and union bosses. And as a novice politician, he scoffed at the notion that he might suffer from any lack of experience or knowledge.

.. doubled down on his belief that smashing conventions is the path to success but underscored his lifelong conviction that he wins when he’s the center of attention.

.. “To go into those campaign rallies with just a few notes and connect with people he wasn’t at all like, that takes a certain genius. His genius is he’ll say anything to connect with people. He won by telling the rally crowds that the people who didn’t like them also didn’t like him.”

.. familiar tactics: a bold, even brazen, drive to put on a show and make himself the star.

..  he tweeted that he did use “tough” language — a long-standing point of pride for the president, whose political ascent was fueled by his argument that, as a billionaire, he is liberated to say what some other Americans only think.

.. “He needed to be stroked all the time and told how smart he was,”

..  The way we got things done was to approach him with an idea and make him think it was his. It was so easy.”

.. “Donald was always a forest person; he never knew anything about the trees. He knew concrete was brought in on trucks, but he really didn’t know how to run a project. What he had was street smarts — good instincts about people.”

.. he has always encouraged people around him to view him as someone who could see things that others could not.

.. “He means, okay, he didn’t hit the brains lottery, but he’s brilliant and cunning in the way he operates. He’s amazing at taking the temperature of the room and knowing how to appease everyone. You want that kind of instinct in your quarterbacks, in your generals. It’s not what we’ve ever thought of as what makes a great president, but he’s never going to be the guy who makes great speeches. This is who he is.”

.. Being something of a genius was central to Trump’s self-image
.. Everyone around him learned to cater to that — even his father
.. In the first major newspaper profile of Trump, in the New York Times in 1976, his father, Fred Trump, describes his son as “the smartest person I know.”
.. Throughout his life, Trump has believed that his instincts and street smarts positioned him to succeed where others might struggle.
.. His father often told Trump that “you are a king,” instructing him to “be a killer.”
.. Fred Trump was a student of Dale Carnegie
.. and an acolyte of Norman Vincent Peale .. who preached a gospel of positive thinking.
.. “I know in my gut,” he said in an interview last year. “I know in 30 seconds what the right move is.”
.. “He can’t collaborate with anybody because he doesn’t listen to anybody,”
.. “He doesn’t trust anybody, except his family. That’s why [his former wife] Ivana was involved in everything and why now his children are too.”
.. also believed he had something more: a genius for showmanship, a knack for surrounding himself with the trappings of success, thereby creating the perception that he was uniquely capable of big, bold action.
.. Genius and ego were both essential elements of success on a grand scale, Trump said
.. every great person, including Jesus and Mother Teresa, found the path to success via ego:
.. In Trump’s vocabulary, “genius” is perhaps the highest praise, and it refers to a street-level ability to get things done.
.. Trump often referred to his lawyer and early mentor Roy Cohn as “a total genius” or a “political genius,” even if he was also “a lousy lawyer.”
.. Trump explained in one of his books that his own true “genius” was for public relations: Rather than spending money on advertising, he said, he put his efforts toward winning news coverage of himself as a “genius.”
.. Trump has also had moments of extreme self-doubt. Biographer Harry Hurt described a period around 1990 when, as his marriage to Ivana Trump was breaking up, he occasionally spoke about suicide

 

s Trump has already authored his own tell-all

Trump is damaged most, not by sabotage, but by self-revelation.

.. The president has recently taunted FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for “racing the clock to retire with full benefits,”

  1. attacked the “Deep State Justice Department,” taken credit for the lack of commercial airline crashes,
  2. urged“Jail!” for former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, called for the sacking of two journalists,
  3. claimed the news media will eventually “let me win” reelection to keep up their ratings,
  4. displayed a sputtering inability to describe his own health-care reform plan,
  5. claimed that a cold snap disproves global warming,
  6. boasted of having “a much bigger & more powerful” nuclear button than Kim Jong Un,
  7. tried to prevent the publication of Wolff’s book,
  8. and insisted he is “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius.”

.. More likely, Trump is exhibiting a set of compulsions and delusions that have characterized his entire adult life. You can’t have declining judgment that never existed. You can’t lose a grasp on reality you never possessed. What is most striking is not Trump’s disintegration but his utter consistency.

.. If the secret tape of a president threatening a private citizen with jail were leaked, it would be a scandal. With Trump, it is just part of his shtick.

.. The president’s defenders, in perpetual pursuit of the bright side, argue for the value of unpredictability in political leadership — which is true enough. But Trump is not unpredictable. He is predictable in ways that make him vulnerable to exploitation.

He is easy to flatter, easy to provoke and thus easy to manipulate.

.. The Chinese have made an art of this

.. “I like very much President Xi,” Trump has said. “He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China.” Contrast this with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has treated Trump like an adult with arguments and criticism. Big mistake.

.. Trump has revealed a thick streak of authoritarianism. “I have [an] absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” he insists.

  • .. “Libel laws are very weak in this country,”
  • Rivals are not only to be defeated; they should be imprisoned.
  • Critics are not to be refuted; they should be fired.
  • Investigations are not to be answered; they should be shut down.

.. we are depending on the strength of those institutions, not the self-restraint of the president, to safeguard democracy.

.. At the beginning, they could engage in wishful thinking about Trump’s fitness. Now they must know he is not emotionally equipped to be president. Yet, they also know this can’t be admitted, lest they be accused of letting down their partisan team.

.. GOP leaders are engaged in an intentional deception, pretending the president is a normal and capable leader.

.. they will, eventually, be exposed. And by then, the country may not be in a forgiving mood.

 

How Actual Smart People Talk About Themselves

Hint: not by discussing IQ

.. Virtually none of them (need to) say it. There are a few prominent exceptions, of talented people who annoyingly go out of their way to announce that fact. Muhammad Ali is the charming extreme exception illustrating the rule: he said he was The Greatest, and was. Most greats don’t need to say so.* It would be like Roger Federer introducing himself with, “You know, I’m quite graceful and gifted.” Or Meryl Streep asking, “Have you seen my awards?”

.. They know what they don’t know. This to me is the most consistent marker of real intelligence. The more acute someone’s ability to perceive and assess, the more likely that person is to recognize his or her limits. These include the unevenness of any one person’s talents; the specific areas of weakness—social awkwardness, musical tin ear, being stronger with numbers than with words, or vice versa

.. To read books seriously is to be staggered by the knowledge of how many more books will remain beyond your ken. It’s like looking up at the star-filled sky.

.. the clearest mark of intelligence, even “genius,” is awareness of one’s limits and ignorance

.. On the other hand, we have something known as the Dunning-Kruger effect: the more limited someone is in reality, the more talented the person imagines himself to be.