The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Comey–Trump Dance

(Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

I never thought the Comey book would make much news for the simple reason that it would be outrageous if it did. If Comey knew something relevant and important about the Russia investigation that we didn’t already know, he couldn’t possibly put it in his book. Let’s say he did have something big on the president. He’d have to give it to Mueller, who would probably insist that it remain secret as he conducts his investigation. And if it was really big, it would have probably leaked from congressional Democrats anyway. But even if it didn’t leak and Mueller couldn’t impress upon Comey to keep it out of his book, there’s no way Comey could have included it in his book. I mean, how do you write a book on “ethical leadership” and how you epitomize it, but hold onto damning information the American people — never mind elected representatives and DOJ investigators — need to know just so you can monetize it for book sales? Hiding some “smoking gun” from the public just so you can move books would be highly unethical, to say the least.

So I always expected more atmospherics and finger-wagging than new facts. And that’s what we got.

In this sense, I agree with most of the sensible Comey critics: He hasn’t helped his reputation, which, by his own account, seems to be what he cares about most.

However, the reaction from President Trump, the RNC, and the president’s most ardent critics seems to be counterproductive. Comey is clearly baiting the president, and the president is taking the bait, daily. Earlier today, I got the latest RNC email attacking the book under the subject header: “The Reviews Are In: Phony Comey’s Book Is A Flop.” Yesterday, Conrad Black wrote at NRO:

It has been a good week for President Trump. Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz provided indisputable evidence that former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe lied at least four key times and was fired by the attorney general for cause — and that Mr. Trump had nothing to do with it.

It’s a fine point on the substance — but as analysis of the political media climate, I think it misses the fact that the Comey book, and Trump’s response to it, has crowded out the McCabe story almost completely. (In fairness, the Michael Cohen story helped too.) So determined to follow the president’s lead to attack Comey, Kellyanne Conway went so far as to say, “This guy swung an election.” Why on Earth parrot that Democratic talking point? When Republican operatives start endorsing Lanny Davis’s messaging, it’s time to rethink your media strategy.

Comey’s book, which had an initial print run of 850,000 copies, remains a huge bestseller. But it will probably ultimately under-sell the publisher’s inflated expectations. Yet it would do even worse if the president had ignored it and his supporters had followed suit. Of course, for some, the real goal is to hope that the mud thrown at Comey will also get on Mueller’s shoes. For others, it’s simply a loyalty test. The president hates Comey and expects others to share in that hatred. Which is why Comey and Trump will remain in a symbiotic relationship for a good while longer.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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