Yes, CNN host Jake Tapper has ripped President Trump on air. “He hates that which is honest and ethical and precise. Ask yourself, why might that be,” riffed Tapper on a November edition of his afternoon show “The Lead.” There’s a lot more of such material in the CNN archive, including a moment in October when he accused Trump himself of being the country’s leading source of “fake news.”
Should anyone get the idea that Tapper opposes the Trump agenda, well, the host has a response. “Whenever anybody says that to me, I say, you can’t find any evidence about what I think about his tax plan or repealing Obamacare or DACA or immigration or trade or any of these issues — terrorism or ISIS or Syria,” said Tapper on a recent edition of “The Axe Files” podcast with former Obama White House aide David Axelrod. “I’m agnostic on that. I want to have full and interesting and provocative debates and call balls and strikes. But I’m not putting out there an immigration proposal.”
“Decency and truth — those are the two areas where I draw a line,” says the host.
On trade, for instance: Tapper says that Trump’s idea that the U.S. approach to this topic has tilted in favor of Wall Street and against American workers is by no means “crazy.” Beefing up border security, too, falls into the same basket — a topic worthy of debate.
The problem is that Trump isn’t a policy president. Numerous are the accounts — vivid ones, too, especially in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” — that portray a commander in chief with no patience for briefing papers, or for listening to thorough presentations on complicated matters. The specialty of Trump lies precisely in trampling norms of truth and decency, meaning that Tapper has his hands full.
Said Tapper in his chat with Axelrod: “Amazingly, he continues to make subject for debate whether or not it’s acceptable to march with Nazis. Or whether or not someone who has been credibly accused by several women of molesting young teenagers should be a Senate candidate. Or this last week, whether or not somebody who’s been credibly accused by two ex-wives of domestic violence should be referred to as if he’s about to be nominated for a sainthood. Or whether he should be condemned. … It’s just not decent.”
As far as Trump-era guidelines go, Tapper’s make good sense. They break down a bit, however, on the practical level. That’s because Trump’s indecency and falsehoods infect his attempts to push his policy agenda. That is, he belittles his political opponents with junior-varsity-level nicknames, tweets falsehoods about his pet projects and otherwise observes precisely no boundaries in his professional misconduct.
“This is a very challenging environment for everybody in it,” said Tapper on “The Axe Files,” which is co-sponsored by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN. “It’s challenging for Speaker Ryan, it’s challenging for Chuck Schumer, it’s challenging for Jeff Flake. Everybody’s trying to figure out how do we respond to this Trump brand of, I guess you could say, disruption.”