Why you should care
Powerful words in print — and not of the tweetable variety — are taking the White House by storm.
When he’s gone, the swamp will carry on. One day, Donald Trump will no longer be the U.S. president, and some of those around him evidently are preparing for and even hastening that day. These are the mostly Republican members of Permanent Washington: the military leaders, political operatives, policy thinkers in powerful positions throughout government. Don’t confuse them with the “deep state” Trump often rails against — the career employees in the Environmental Protection Agency or Justice Department who lean left but serve across administrations. No, these are the people pining for a President Pence or President Rubio so they can have their tax cuts and regulation rollbacks in peace.
Famed journalist Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear, and an opinion piece in The New York Times from an anonymous “senior administration official” this past week offered new and significant windows into this erratic presidency. You had the striking image, via Woodward, of former top aide Gary Cohn taking papers off Trump’s desk to prevent him from pulling out of a trade deal with South Korea. You had the “official” describe remarkable internal machinations over whether the cabinet should invoke the 25th amendment of the constitution and remove the president for being unfit to serve.
Permanent Washingtonians appear eager to sidestep a potentially harsh historical judgment of the Trump era.
Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury told a similar story. But what’s new here are the details and the format. Woodward is famously meticulous in his research, and he has receipts in the form of tapes. Meanwhile, the opinion piece was, in long form, what White House insiders have been leaking to the press since Inauguration Day. “Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back,” the official writes in words that mirror what the Times’ news pages regularly reveal — not to mention Trump’s own Twitter feed.
We are already seeing leaks about the leaks. Reportedly, Trump is raising the prospect of using lie detector tests to ferret out the author of the Times piece, which he is calling “treason.”
Hardly. This is a tradition as old as Washington itself: image burnishment and CYA — cover your ass. Since the start of the Trump presidency, eager leakers have sought to portray their efforts to rein in a madman president as heroic. The news site Axios last year described the posse of generals and others as the “Committee to Save America,” protecting Trump from himself. House Speaker Paul Ryan, in an exit interview with the Times — he is set to leave Congress — described his pride in being able to say “I avoided that tragedy, I avoided that tragedy, I avoided that tragedy,” with Trump, but declined to give specifics.
Permanent Washingtonians appear eager to sidestep a potentially harsh historical judgment of the Trump era, with Woodward penning one of the more influential early drafts. Better to get ahead of the story by casting themselves as the heroes, so they can have decent jobs in the next administration or lobby with heads held high. For now, they are not quitting their jobs, claiming a sense of duty, obligation, fear — or all three.
But their actions here don’t exactly serve Trump or the nation. They simply feed his distrust, leaving the president feeling more and more isolated. But at least now, perhaps, Trump will keep a closer eye on the papers on his desk.