The Corner

Politics & Policy

Trump, Without Blinders

Charles Cooke writes below:

Along with “that’s why Trump won,” which pithy insistence serves now as a catch-all reaction to Democratic silliness, many of the Right’s pundits seem to have settled on a reflexive rejoinder to any criticism of the White House: “I don’t,” they will say, “think that anyone in Cuyahoga County cares about that.”

A bit further on he writes:

But there is a difference between saying “I don’t think anyone in Cuyahoga County cares about that” and “I don’t think anyone in Cuyahoga County cares about anything,” and that difference is often blurred. If, in four years, Trump’s administration has been marked by frequent departures, by simmering scandals, and by never-answered questions about pecuniary conflicts of interest, the Democrats will have a clear — and potently apolitical — campaign message with which to run: To wit, “this guy is corrupt and chaotic and he can’t fix anything.

I agree with all that (though I think there’s another distinction to be made: whether anyone in Cuyahoga County should care about X; I normally celebrate voter ennui and apathy, but not when X = Everything).

Anyway, I’ve been saying for a while now that the cumulative effect of these controversies can become a major problem down the road. In politics, scandals-of-the-day and even scandals-of-the-week can be dismissed, but at some point, a critical mass is reached and people look backward and connect what were once isolated dots. Those dots become the narrative of a presidency, and it is very difficult for a president to change that narrative once written in the public mind. It’s happened to every president of my lifetime, and I assume every one before I was born. That narrative, I should add, can emerge very quickly, leaving a lot of politicians who held their tongue for too long scrambling to compensate.

But I’d like to inter a different common retort: that Trump is playing ten moves ahead; that he’s playing 4D chess; that he’s brilliantly distracting the media by creating this or that controversy. I’m willing to concede that there are times when he’s deftly sent the media chasing their tails. But the idea that Trump’s brilliant master plan is unfolding just as he intended is frick’n bonkers.

Reasonable people can disagree about the merits of the travel ban, Flynn’s resignation, the umpteen tweet controversies, etc. On Flynn, I tend to agree with Rich that, to borrow Charles Krauthammer’s phrase of the day, “it’s a cover-up without a crime.” On the other hand, who knows what revelation will come next.​

But the fact that Trump lost one of his favorite and most loyal and important aides three weeks into his administration puts the lie to the idea that the Mastermind has everything well under control. Unless you believe that every negative story is “fake news” — even when heavily sourced, often on the record, from members of his own team — this has been obvious for a very long time. Trump campaigned saying the establishment was full of idiots and that everything would be incredibly easy. He is now coming to grips with the fact that he was simply wrong:

Being president is harder than Donald Trump thought, according to aides and allies who say that he’s growing increasingly frustrated with the challenges of running the massive federal bureaucracy.

In interviews, nearly two dozen people who’ve spent time with Trump in the three weeks since his inauguration said that his mood has careened between surprise and anger as he’s faced the predictable realities of governing, from congressional delays over his Cabinet nominations and legal fights holding up his aggressive initiatives to staff infighting and leaks.

Again, I know that I will be inundated with complaints on Twitter and e-mail from people insisting that Politico just makes this stuff up. But neither Politico nor “the failing New York Times” made up Flynn’s resignation or the chaotic events that led up to it.

Now, saying that Trump misled voters — and himself — by repeatedly suggesting this job would be a cakewalk from one win to another is not an argument for Trump supporters or the GOP generally to abandon the guy. It is an argument for a bit more skepticism from the faithful and a call for the grown-ups in the GOP to take a bit more control and responsibility (For instance, the White House should farm out as much of the Gorsuch nomination process to Mitch McConnell’s office as possible). It might also suggest to some of my friends on the right that pointing out the hypocrisies and failings of the mainstream media is not the full job description of a conservative journalist. “What about when Obama did X and the New York Times said Y” is rapidly becoming the lowest form of right-wing punditry. But unlike “he’s playing ten steps ahead!” such whataboutism isn’t wrong. It’s just not particularly interesting.

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