The Corner

White House

Picking the Best

Donald Trump and Omarosa Manigault attend a church service, in Detroit, Mich., September 3 2016. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Has there ever been a more Aesopian plot line in the ongoing Trump Show than the Revenge of Omarosa?

Everyone knew that Omarosa was like a reality-show villain. No, scratch that. She wasn’t “like” a reality-show villain, she actually was one.

More about that in a moment.

I’ve been making the point for a while now that Trump skeptics should be taking more credit for the president’s judicial appointments. Trump never cared about constitutional issues or the courts until it was made clear to him that he should. In other words, Trump’s greatest selling point for traditional conservatives — his Supreme Court picks — is the result of movement conservatives and establishment forces imposing their will on Trump. But Trump skeptics cede the rhetorical ground to the president’s most ardent cheerleaders who try to make it sound like he picked Gorsuch or Kavanaugh because of his deep study of their records and his adamantine commitment to the principles of the Founding.

I think you can make a similar case about much of Trump’s policy agenda, but that’s a topic for another day.

Instead it’s worth noting that this dynamic applies not just to judicial appointments, but to his appointments generally. Broadly speaking, Trump’s appointments came from five places:

  • The traditional GOP establishment (Tom Price, Spicer, Priebus, Walsh, et al)
  • The conservative-movement establishment (Sessions, DeVos, Kudlow, Bolton, Pruitt, et al)
  • The Bannonite “counter-establishment” (Bannon, Gorka, Miller, Hahn, Navarro)
  • The military or business communities (Mattis, McMaster, Tillerson, Kelly, et al)
  • Trump world (Omarosa, Scaramucci, Ivanka, Hicks, and Jared)

Obviously, there’s some overlap between some of these categories. Wilbur Ross comes from the business community, but he’s also from Trump world. Nikki Haley (for whom my wife works) is from both the GOP and conservative establishments. Flynn was military but also super-Trumpy and Bannony.

This isn’t an exact science, but when you think about it, the worst appointments come from Trump world and the Bannonistas. (Again, I think that’s largely true as a policy matter, as well, particularly on trade.)

But it’s definitely true in terms of the things Trump cares about most: loyalty and making the boss look good. Bannon, for instance, leaked like a sieve, deliberately sowed discord, and bad-mouthed the president to reporters such as Michael Wolff. When he left the administration, he created even more headaches for Trump because he cared more about his “movement” than he did about Trump.

More to the point: Where is the drama — specifically the narrative of betrayal — primarily coming from? Trump world. Omarosa is pure Trump. Nobody thought it was a good idea to bring this woman into the White House. But they deferred to the president’s supposedly superhuman good judgment and the weird fable that he hires the best people (Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, and Corey Lewadowski were unavailable for comment).

Allahpundit has a very good point about the nature of people who come from a purely Trumpy background:

You’re left to wonder if the habit she and Michael Cohen share of recording people is a coincidence or a lesson they independently gleaned about how TrumpWorld operates. If the boss is mercurial, if you might be ostracized and lied about ruthlessly by falling out of his favor, if you’re constantly jockeying with rival power centers for his attention, basic self-preservation requires you to generate some leverage. Even if it’s a national-security disaster in the making.

When you come from Trump world, self-interest (or family interest) is everything which means that, when the tide turns, self-preservation is everything for someone like Cohen and self-promotion is everything for someone like Omarosa. Say what you will about the tenets of Bannonism, at least it’s an ethos.

(Indeed, it’s telling that the other major narrative of betrayal coming out of the Trump administration right now is coming from the president himself. Trump craves his own Roy Cohn and feels that Jeff Sessions has stabbed him in the back by not playing that role — and at least one of Trump’s most embarrassing supporters want him to go to jail for it. In other words, Sessions’s great sin is failing to act like he comes from Trump world.)

Whenever Trump’s cabinet secretaries contradict him, Trump’s defenders fall back on the argument that he’s a disrupter who was elected to do things differently. “Of course, the establishment is against him,” we hear — even though we’re talking about Trump’s own appointees. The truth of the matter is that most of Trump’s policy successes were given to him or imposed on him by either the GOP or the conservative establishment and nearly all of his personnel successes come from those sources. Meanwhile, his biggest failures on both fronts come when his judgment and instincts are given free rein.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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