Hi everybody, I was offline this morning because I was traveling. I know a lot of you are sick and tired of talking about Trump, so feel free to ignore this. But if you can be civil about the topic, I’d like to pose a serious (= I genuinely want to know) question to readers who count themselves as Trump supporters, or at least enemies of Trump’s enemies.
Pat Buchanan writes a slashing column denouncing Rod Rosenstein, the deputy AG, for putting Robert Mueller on the Trump/Russia case. Excerpts:
Why did Rosenstein capitulate to a Democrat-media clamor for a special counsel that could prove disastrous for the president who elevated and honored him?
Surely in part, as Milbank writes, to salvage his damaged reputation.
After being approved 94-6 by a Senate that hailed him as a principled and independent U.S. attorney for both George Bush and Barack Obama, Rosenstein found himself being pilloried for preparing the document White House aides called crucial to Trump’s decision to fire Comey.
Rosenstein had gone over to the dark side. He had, it was said, on Trump’s orders, put the hit on Comey. Now, by siccing a special counsel on the president himself, Rosenstein is restored to the good graces of this city. Rosenstein just turned in his black hat for a white hat.
Democrats are hailing both his decision to name a special counsel and the man he chose. Yet it is difficult to exaggerate the damage he has done.
What kind of damage?
As did almost all of its predecessors, including those which led to the resignation of President Nixon and impeachment of Bill Clinton, Mueller’s investigation seems certain to drag on for years.
All that time, there will be a cloud over Trump’s presidency that will drain his political authority. Trump’s enemies will become less fearful and more vocal. Republican Congressmen and Senators in swing states and marginal districts, looking to 2018, will have less incentive to follow Trump’s lead, rather than their own instincts and interests. Party unity will fade away.
And without a united and energized Republican Party on the Hill, how do you get repeal and replacement of Obamacare, tax reform or a border wall? Trump’s agenda suddenly seems comatose. And was it a coincidence that the day Mueller was appointed, the markets tanked, with the Dow falling 372 points?
Markets had soared with Trump’s election on the expectation that his pro-business agenda would be enacted. If those expectations suddenly seem illusory, will the boom born of hope become a bust?
A White House staff, said to be in disarray, and a president reportedly enraged over endless press reports of his problems and falling polls, are not going to become one big happy family again with a growing office of prosecutors and FBI agents poking into issues in which they were involved.
Read the whole thing. Buchanan blames Rosenstein’s alleged treachery for Trump’s miseries. This is a common theme among Trump defenders: that all his troubles have been caused by his many enemies.
Here’s my question: At what point do Trump defenders hold the president himself accountable for these travails?
There is no doubt that Trump has many enemies in Washington. Yet almost everything bad that has happened to him since his inauguration is his own fault. Trump knew about Michael Flynn’s very serious ethical problems (for example) concerning his relationship to foreign governments, but he still made him National Security Adviser. Trump fired the FBI director under suspicious circumstances, and charged Rosenstein with writing an argument for dismissing him for poor performance in office. But a day or two later, Trump slipped up and admitted to NBC’s Lester Holt that he had the Russia investigation in mind when he canned Comey — exactly what Team Trump was trying to get people to ignore.
Yesterday, Rosenstein told a group of US senators that he knew Trump was going to fire Comey before he drafted the sleight-of-hand memo upon which, according to the official story, Trump based his decision. As I recount here, Team Trump knew it couldn’t plausibly fire Comey until it got someone of Rosenstein’s probity into the deputy AG position, so it could do its dirty work on Comey while hiding behind Rosenstein’s reputation. Rosenstein must have felt used, which is no doubt why he appointed Mueller, the ramrod-straight shooter, to handle this tainted investigation.
Why Buchanan thinks that Rosenstein should harm himself and (arguably) the public interest by running interference for Trump, the man who destroyed the cover story (and harmed Rosenstein’s reputation) on national TV is a mystery.
My point is, this is Trump’s fault. Comey was a pain in the butt to him, for sure, but he didn’t have to fire him. In fact, if Trump said the things Comey says he did to him in private, and Comey’s notes bear that out, then Trump was an impetuous fool to fire him. (And if Trump really asked the FBI director for a pledge of personal loyalty, and asked him to lay off of Mike Flynn, he screwed up massively.) And Trump sure didn’t have to go on TV, post-firing and spill the beans. But he did these things.
Last week’s shocking report of Trump inadvertently leaking ultra-secret intel to the Russians by running his mouth incautiously was denied by the White House’s spokesmen, including H.R. McMaster, in a supremely lawyerly statement. And maybe they’re right. Maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe the sources of the story are lying, though McMaster did confirm that Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert contacted the CIA and the NSA about the disclosure after the fact, as reported. McMaster speculated that Bossert did so from “an overabundance of caution,” though he had not spoken to Bossert to find out why.
Again, maybe the official story is true. But we know that Trump doesn’t focus well on his work, and we also know that he has a habit of departing from script and saying things he shouldn’t say (e.g., in the Holt interview). It is entirely plausible that Trump did exactly what the leakers of the story said he did. In an ordinary administration, one would have reason to give the president the benefit of the doubt, versus unnamed leakers. But this administration has little right to the public’s trust.
There’s a reason why people are suspicious of Donald Trump: Donald Trump.
What a lot of Trump defenders seem to be missing is that the Trump White House is leaking like a sieve. In other words, the people Trump hired are talking to the media. In his column today, David Brooks writes:
Even before Inauguration Day, the level of leaking out of this White House was unprecedented, as officials sought to curry favor with the press corps and as factions vied with one another.
But over the past 10 days the atmosphere has become extraordinary. Senior members of the White House staff have trained their sights on the man they serve. Every day now there are stories in The Times, The Washington Post and elsewhere in which unnamed White House officials express disdain, exasperation, anger and disrespect for their boss.
As the British say, the staff is jumping ship so fast they are leaving the rats gaping and applauding.
Trump, for his part, is resentfully returning fire, blaming his underlings for his own mistakes, complaining that McMaster is a pain, speculating about firing and demoting people. This is a White House in which the internal nickname for the chief of staff is Rancid.
And as Brooks says, when Mueller’s work begins, the atmosphere in the White House is going to get much, much worse. Trump still has not fully staffed the executive branch with presidential appointments. Who would want to work for him now, given how bad it already is, how worse it is likely to get, and in the face of the culture of instability fomented by the president himself?
Who is forcing the people on Trump’s staff — the people Trump hired — to leak to reporters? Nobody. Why are they doing it? There are no doubt many reasons, but the one that unites them all is: they do not respect the president.
If many of the people who are around him all day, and see him up close, don’t respect him enough to keep his secrets and defend his mission, what does that tell you? Something is very, very wrong here.
At some point, you have to admit that yes, even though the president has real enemies, the fact is that he his none more deadly to his presidency than … himself. Right?
So where is that point for you who are still defending Trump now? What’s your tipping point? When do you start to blame him for this mess — a mess that threatens to consume the GOP and its legislative agenda.
Think about it: there are Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and a Republican president at the other end of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And little or nothing is going to get done with all the drama coming out of the White House. Not only that, the more chaotic it becomes, the greater the chances of the Democrats taking back one or both houses of Congress. It would be one thing if conservatives had to overlook Trump’s ethics problems for the sake of doing good and important things in terms of policy. But none of that is coming from Trump. Now, under this Commander in Chief, the US has bombed pro-Assad forces in Syria, infuriating the Russians and causing the Syrians to say, with just cause, that the US has no right to establish a base on its sovereign territory. Trump was supposed to be the president who would keep us from getting more entangled in wars that aren’t our business. So much for that.
I agree with my boss Bob Merry: there is no good way out of this horrible situation. If Trump stays, or if he is forced out, there’s going to be hell to pay. Trump didn’t come from nowhere. He is a symbol of a dysfunctional polity. Still, even though he is hated by the same people his supporters hate, there has to be a point, if only theoretical right now, where Trump crosses a line — where the threat he poses to national security, to the GOP, to conservatism, to the common good, and what have you, becomes intolerable.
Where is that line for you?