Tuesday, September 04, 2018


As I predicted, the hype for the new Bob Woodward book began today. The Washington Post and CNN have near-identical stories on the book's contents; the Post also has a recording and transcript of a phone call in which Woodward tells Trump that he regrets not being able to interview the president for the book, despite repeated efforts to arrange the conversation.

Will the book matter? It should: It's more confirmation that Trump is nasty, ill-informed, reckless, and dishonest. Terrible policy changes are prevented by aides who secretly remove papers from his desk. The president's aides and lawyers think he's a simpleton and a congenital liar. It's not a pretty picture.

And yet those MAGA-hat-wearing diner customers in rural Pennsylvania won't be the least bit disillusioned.

Primarily, that's because Trump's reckless behavior is so on brand. When aides steal papers from Trump, it's to prevent decisions that sensible observers would consider reckless, but that Trump fans would regard as simple, clear, cut-through-the-BS acts of manly resolve:
Former chief economic adviser Gary Cohn saw a draft letter he considered dangerous to national security on the Oval Office desk.

The letter would have withdrawn the US from a critical trade agreement with South Korea. Trump's aides feared the fallout could jeopardize a top-secret national security program: the ability to detect a North Korean missile launch within just seven seconds.

Woodward reports Cohn was "appalled" that Trump might sign the letter. "I stole it off his desk," Cohn told an associate. "I wouldn't let him see it. He's never going to see that document. Got to protect the country."
Cohn made a similar play to prevent Trump from pulling the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, something the president has long threatened to do. In spring 2017, Trump was eager to withdraw from NAFTA and told [then-staff secretary Rob] Porter: “Why aren’t we getting this done? Do your job. It’s tap, tap, tap. You’re just tapping me along. I want to do this.”

Under orders from the president, Porter drafted a notification letter withdrawing from NAFTA. But he and other advisers worried that it could trigger an economic and foreign relations crisis. So Porter consulted Cohn, who told him, according to Woodward: “I can stop this. I’ll just take the paper off his desk.”
Just withdraw from the South Korea trade agreement! Just withdraw from NAFTA! Conservatives have always loved presidents who have simple answers to problems -- think of Ronald Reagan or first-term George W. Bush. They hate pantywaist liberals with their silly nuance. (CNN tells us that "Trump called President Barack Obama a 'weak dick' for not acting in Syria, Woodward reports." "Weak Dick" is going to start showing up on right-wing sites as a name for Obama, and everyone in the tribe will immediately get the reference. By contrast, after the chemical attack in Syria in April 2017, Trump had to be prevented from assassinating Bashar al-Assad: “'Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them,' Trump said, according to Woodward." I'm not sure what Vladimir Putin is thinking as he reads this, but wanting to "kill the fucking lot of them" is very on brand for a Republican president.)

Trumpers will see the paper-stealers (and Jim Mattis, who put the kibosh on the idea of killing Assad) as "establishment"/"elite"/"swamp" saboteurs who want to prevent Trump from expressing his true essence as a Man of Action. They'll see the lawyers who want to keep Trump from testifying before Robert Mueller the same way, even though it's obvious that the lawyers are right:
In one revelatory anecdote, Woodward describes a scene in the White House residence. Trump's lawyer, convinced the President would perjure himself, put Trump through a test — a practice interview for the one he might have with Mueller. Trump failed, according to Dowd, but the President still insisted he should testify....

But Trump seemed surprised at Dowd's reaction, Woodward writes. "You think I was struggling?" Trump asked.

Then, in an even more remarkable move, Dowd and Trump's current personal attorney Jay Sekulow went to Mueller's office and re-enacted the mock interview. Their goal: to argue that Trump couldn't possibly testify because he was incapable of telling the truth.

"He just made something up. That's his nature," Dowd said to Mueller....

Despite Dowd's efforts, Trump continued to insist he could testify....

Dowd's argument was stark: "There's no way you can get through these. ... Don't testify. It's either that or an orange jump suit."

What he couldn't say to Trump, according to Woodward, was what Dowd believed to be true: "You're a fucking liar."
You and I know that Trump is a fucking liar. The guys in the diner believe everyone else in the process is a liar and Trump is the great truth-teller, and should testify if he wants to because he'll destroy the whole witch hunt in the process.

Trumpers will see Woodward himself as a saboteur. Woodward says he contacted quite a few people in an effort to arrange a Trump interview for the book, but the interview never happened. In the conversation he and Trump had after the book was off to the printer, Trump says that the lack of an interview means that the book will be a hit job -- if Woodward had only managed to talk to Trump, the book would have been laudatory:
Trump: ... I’m just hearing about it. So we’re going to have a very inaccurate book, and that’s too bad. But I don’t blame you entirely.

BW: No, it’s [?] — it’s going to be accurate, I promise.

Trump: Yeah, okay. Well, accurate is that nobody’s ever done a better job than I’m doing as president. That I can tell you.
The one item that could conceivably give a few Trumpers pause is this:
A near-constant subject of withering presidential attacks was Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump told Porter that Sessions was a “traitor” for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, Woodward writes. Mocking Sessions’s accent, Trump added, “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. ... He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.”
A Democrat who said something like that would face serious consequences, but I think Trump will skate. Trumpism is a cult. Trump insulted John McCain during the campaign and veterans voted for him by a 2-to-1 margin. These days, Southern Trumpers are Trumpers first -- they know they're supposed to love Trump and hate Sessions, so they'll shrug this off.

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