During the election, Rich Lowry noted that Donald Trump is incapable of basic “defensive politics.” Unsurprisingly, that deficiency has followed him to the White House.
Arguendo, let’s assume that Trump fired James Comey for appropriate reasons — he wanted a fresh start, say, or he didn’t believe that Comey was doing a good job, or he was concerned that trust in the F.B.I. was at a dangerous low. Even given this assumption, Trump still screwed it up. A good politician would have anticipated and parried the attacks. Trump did not. Had he been smart, he would have spoken early and often to the leaders of both parties, and taken care to ensure that the meetings were recorded. In addition, he would have consulted some well-respected figures — people with solid reputations and roles outside the fray — who could subsequently vouch for his authenticity. When it came to doing the deed, he would have explained his thinking to Comey and thereby ensured that he knew it was coming. And perhaps, given the likelihood of uproar, he would have made a speech or given a televised address in which he justified his move to the public. “I understand that this is unorthodox,” he might have said, “but this question of James Comey continues to hang over the country, and I think it’s time to move on.” And then, having made his apology, he would have announced a bipartisan panel charged with picking the replacement.
Trump did none of these things. Instead, he unleashed chaos. By refusing to manage the announcement, he guaranteed speculation and panic. By failing to inform the firee, he made sure that there would be more leaks. And by declining to involve the Democrats, he prompted a new and lucrative fundraising drive. Over the next few months, we will see where this story goes. It could fizzle out, as it becomes clear that Trump’s primary crime is caprice. Or it could get worse and worse, ’til a smoking gun is uncovered. Either way, the president would do well to understand that he is often the author of his own falls. In politics, defense matters. Trump seems not to grasp that.