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.
When Trump Takes Charge
.. more important he was constrained institutionally, in roughly the ways that Republican politicians had promised that he would be — surrounded by a conventional Republican cabinet and (after a while) a conventional White House that essentially governed for him, letting him play the authoritarian on Twitter while the business of the presidency was conducted elsewhere.
.. Donald Trump: a septuagenarian cable-TV addict ill-suited for the responsibilities of his office but still fully capable of attempting to exercise its powers. Which meant that the containment game had to last, not weeks or months, but three more long years to work.
.. And it may not last that long. From his exciting new steel tariffs to his promised summit meeting with Kim Jong-un, Trump has been acting lately like a man less inclined to listen to his handlers — and now those handlers have begun to disappear.
.. it seems less like something happening to Trump and more like chaos orchestrated from the Oval Office: “The narrative of Trump unglued is not totally wrong but misses the reason why — he was terrified of the job the first six months, and now feels like he has a command of it. So now he is basically saying, ‘I’ve got this, I can make the changes I want.’”
.. What would Trump becoming a real president mean in practice? In terms of personnel, it might mean that instead of easing out the hacks and cranks and TV personalities, as his staff managed to do during the year of constraint, Trump will begin to usher out his more qualified personnel and replace them with, well, TV personalities — Cohn with Larry Kudlow, perhaps, or H. R. McMaster with John Bolton.
.. But it also promises to further multiply the number of important vacancies within the government
.. will encourage Trump to take more counsel from the shadow Trumpland of his campaign, where his more misfit-toy advisers tend to congregate.
.. the main Trumpian qualities that have been constrained to date are his impulsiveness and anger and impatience with rules and norms and limits.
.. if he actually begins to exercise the full powers of his office, it’s not so much that the odds of any particular policy course go up as that it becomes more likely that we get more extreme and destabilizing outcomes, somewhere.
That could mean war with North Korea, or it could mean some sort of unexpected and possibly disastrous treaty with Kim Jong-un’s regime; both become more likely the more Trump alone takes responsibility for our peninsular diplomacy.
.. It could mean the real détente with Russia that Trump’s harshest critics think he’s obliged by some corrupt bargain to seek out … or it could mean the kind of military conflict with Moscow that we sometimes seem to be stumbling toward in Ukraine and Syria.
.. different coterie of advisers find new ways to contain and soothe their boss.
.. Maybe Mike Pompeo .. and some combination of TV personalities can do better at managing the president in the long run than the Cohns and Tillersons and McMasters, because Trump will feel that he picked them all by himself.
.. Maybe this president will spend his administration going through periodic frenzies of “I’m in charge” activity, before subsiding back into the virtual presidency of his Twitter feed and Fox injections.
.. if the first year of Trump’s presidency vindicated Republicans who argued that he could be contained, it didn’t tell us anything definitive about whether he will be.
.. a week like this one, with a president chafing against his bonds and snapping some of them, is how a descent from farce to tragedy might begin.