THE MORNING PLUM:
Politico reports Thursday that a number of lawmakers met with a Yale psychiatrist in December to receive a briefing on her view of President Trump’s mental state. “He’s going to unravel, and we’re already seeing the signs,” the psychiatrist, Bandy Lee, says. “Trump is going to get worse and will become uncontainable with the pressures of the presidency.”
The meeting, Politico notes, was attended almost exclusively by Democratic lawmakers. Only one Republican came, and he remains unnamed.
This blog does not place great stock in clinical evaluations of Trump’s mental stability. We prefer to say Trump has demonstrated himself as unfit to serve in other ways — while the rage-tweeting about nuclear weapons is obviously a cause for concern, the broader case against him includes his racism, serial self-dealing and degradation of governing norms, contempt for the rule of law, and seeming inability to grasp that his office carries with it grave responsibilities to the American people and that institutional constraints on his power are there for good reasons, as opposed to being mere inconveniences. All these are deeply entangled with valid questions about his temperamental unfitness for the presidency, whatever his sanity.
But the Politico story presents a jumping-off point for the question: How many Republicans are genuinely concerned about where this broader unfitness to serve could end up taking the country, even if privately?
A just-published piece by author Michael Wolff based on reporting from his new book, “Fire and Fury,” should make that question more urgent. While there has been much focus on Stephen K. Bannon’s claim that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting in Trump Tower was “treasonous” and “unpatriotic,” the book also paints a vivid picture of a president who is surrounded by people who know he does not temperamentally belong in that office.
The piece paints a White House in chaos, riven by factional warfare among aides, with even his loyalists denouncing him as wholly uninterested in, or unable to keep pace with, the substantive details of the job. And there’s this:
Reigning over all of this was Trump, enigma, cipher and disruptor. How to get along with Trump — who veered between a kind of blissed-out pleasure of being in the Oval Office and a deep, childish frustration that he couldn’t have what he wanted? Here was a man singularly focused on his own needs for instant gratification, be that a hamburger, a segment on “Fox & Friends” or an Oval Office photo opp. “I want a win. I want a win. Where’s my win?” he would regularly declaim. He was, in words used by almost every member of the senior staff on repeated occasions, “like a child.”
Wolff’s conclusion after talking to numerous people close to Trump: “My indelible impression of talking to them and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency, is that they all — 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.”
By all means, we should retain healthy skepticism about such reporting, particularly in its details. But reporters who closely follow the White House know many people around him really do believe this:
There will be questions about the reporting but a surprising number of people in WH, referenced in this book, basically say this – he’s not capable of being President. These are not his political enemies. https://t.co/MgkfJYZhrw
— Katty Kay (@KattyKayBBC) January 4, 2018
Among GOP lawmakers, there’s been a kind of two-track response to all of this. On Track One, we already know many Republican lawmakers privately agree he’s basically “incapable of functioning in his job.” When Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) explosively charged that Trump is a global danger who must be constrained by his inner circle from unleashing unspeakable damage, few joined Corker in this charge, but how many Republicans stepped up to refute it? This overall response confirms the point: They know he’s right but won’t say so out loud.
On Track Two: Publicly, Republicans have offered shifting assertions to the effect that Trump is new at the job and merely has to get the hang of it. In this genre, Bloomberg reports that many Republicans see an upside to Trump’s break with Bannon:
Republican strategists see Bannon’s removal from Trump’s orbit as improving the odds the president takes a more traditional role in helping congressional Republican leaders to protect their majorities in the House and Senate, and hope he’ll be less likely to resort to his more combative instincts.
But this constant hope for a Trumpian evolution has gone on since the beginning. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has said: “The president’s new at this.” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) has opined that Trump is merely being “crude, rude and a bull in a china shop.” Other Republicans have hand-waved that Trump is merely “used to being the CEO” and simply has to adjust. All of that was seven months ago.
What will it take for Republicans to decide that this two-track response is no longer sustainable? That’s not meant rhetorically: We really need to know the answer to it. Worse, there are few indications that Republicans are even asking themselves this question.
* TRUMP TRIES TO SILENCE BANNON: Trump’s lawyers have sent Bannon a “cease-and-desist” letter. But The Post reports that this is nonsense:
Without legal action, specifically a lawsuit, such a letter is just a piece of paper. So should Bannon refuse to comply with the letter, Trump would have to sue to enforce it. But would Trump really want to start a court fight with Bannon? Suing Bannon would potentially require Trump to testify under oath, and would open them both up to discovery, in which all sorts of explosive revelations could come tumbling out.
And we all know that Trump’s history of following through on such threats is the greatest in history, believe me.
* BANNON THINKS TRUMP WILL COME AROUND: The New York Times reports that Bannon isn’t that worried about the open warfare between them:
But people close to him said that he believed that the president would eventually come around because Mr. Trump would need help with his base at a moment when his political muscle appeared to be on the wane. Mr. Bannon’s Breitbart site reported the contretemps but did not return fire against Mr. Trump on Wednesday.
Translation: If Trump’s approval keeps sinking, he’ll come back for more advice on new ways to use disgusting and hateful racial provocation to excite and distract his dwindling core.
* WOLFF HAS TAPES: Axios’s Mike Allen reports:
* ABOUT THOSE BONUSES: Trump keeps crediting his tax law for the bonuses companies are handing out. Landon Thomas Jr. has a good look at whether this is just a “publicity stunt”:
Economists and analysts expect much less of the tax winnings to go to permanent pay increases for employees, who, as a whole, have endured stagnant wages over the past decade. That’s especially true for larger companies. … For smaller companies, which have been experiencing a boom in the past year, wages have been marching higher, due partly to higher demand for increasingly scarce workers.
And of course, these economic trends are carrying over from the Obama years, though Trump and his supporters seem incapable of wrapping their heads around that idea.
* WE’RE HEADING TOWARD ‘THE BREAKING POINT’: E.J. Dionne Jr. points to a very serious problem in the media coverage of Trump:
There has been an inclination over the past year in both politics and journalism to separate Trump’s tweets and other outbursts from the realities of governing. … But we are past the time when we can believe any of this. Trump is, without question, doing enormous damage to the United States’ standing in the world, and his strategy for political survival is rooted in a willingness to destroy our institutions. … we must face the fact that Trump is accelerating us toward the breaking point.
Trump’s unfitness for office, and his serial degradation of our politics, does not merely exist in his tweets and outbursts, but in the actions he’s been taking to stave off accountability and hold on to power.
* VOTING COMMISSION IS DEAD, BUT THERE’S MORE COMING: Trump disbanded his sham voter-fraud commission last night, but The Post talks to one of its Democratic members, Matthew Dunlap, and reports that this is not a settled issue:
Dunlap said it may be premature to celebrate the demise of the commission, given Trump’s announcement that Homeland Security would pick up the work. The department, he said, could angle to change regulations affecting driver’s licenses and other matters affecting voting without as much public scrutiny. “I think people who are saying ‘the witch is dead’ should be very alarmed by this move,” he said. “I think that’s very dangerous.”
This is good news — the commission’s existence signaled that national efforts to restrict the vote were likely — but this is hardly over.
* AND TRUMP RAGES OVER HIS VOTER SUPPRESSION FAIL: Good morning, Mr. President:
Many mostly Democrat States refused to hand over data from the 2016 Election to the Commission On Voter Fraud. They fought hard that the Commission not see their records or methods because they know that many people are voting illegally. System is rigged, must go to Voter I.D.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2018
As Americans, you need identification, sometimes in a very strong and accurate form, for almost everything you do…..except when it comes to the most important thing, VOTING for the people that run your country. Push hard for Voter Identification!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2018
Note the reference to voter ID: At least he’s being clear that the purpose of it was always voter suppression.