THE MORNING PLUM:
Newly leaked audio has emerged that captures President Trump boasting about his ability to make up information for sport in a private conversation with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. To put it mildly, it is unsettling to reflect on what this tells us about Trump’s approach to important domestic policy issues and international alliances.
But let’s put that aside for the moment. This revelation is also remarkable because of its exquisite timing: It comes just as Trump and his lawyers are preparing for the likelihood of an extended Trump interview with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Even more exquisitely, Trump’s lawyers are worried about his tendency to … make up information for sport.
The Post obtained audio of a 30-minute speech that Trump delivered to Republican donors in Missouri, in which he recounted his conversation with Trudeau about his tariff plan in the tightly composed phrasing that has become a hallmark of his rhetorical style:
“Trudeau came to see me. He’s a good guy, Justin. He said, ‘No, no, we have no trade deficit with you, we have none. Donald, please,’ ” Trump said, mimicking Trudeau, according to audio of the private event in Missouri obtained by The Washington Post. “Nice guy, good-looking guy, comes in — ‘Donald, we have no trade deficit.’ He’s very proud because everybody else, you know, we’re getting killed.
“… So, he’s proud. I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. … I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid. … And I thought they were smart. I said, ‘You’re wrong, Justin.’ He said, ‘Nope, we have no trade deficit.’ I said, ‘Well, in that case, I feel differently,’ I said, ‘but I don’t believe it.’ ”
We actually have a trade surplus. Now, for all we know, Trump is lying about having boasted about his ability to lie. But still, this provides one of the most unvarnished looks at Trump’s view of his relationship with the truth that we have yet seen.
As such, it is almost eerily precise in demonstrating the very tendency that Trump’s lawyers are so worried about as they prepare for him to face Mueller. As we have already learned, they fret about the prospect of an extended, open-ended interview, because of his history of prolific self-contradiction and unprecedented, serial lying.
Today Politico adds more reporting on this front, noting that Trump’s lawyers face a major challenge — getting Trump to prepare for the Mueller interview. They may run mock sessions to prepare him, Politico notes, but Trump “resists following scripts” and “has deep trust in his own improvisational instincts”:
Trump is not known for studious preparation. He is an impatient reader and spent little time preparing for the 2016 presidential debates. That raises the question of how challenging it might be for his lawyers to ready him for a high-stakes session with Mueller and his crack team of prosecutors.
Trump plainly views the act of lying, or making things up, or contradicting himself with relentless abandon, as an assertion of power — that is, the power to render reality irrelevant, the power to roll right over constraints normally imposed by expectations of consistency or fealty to basic norms of reasoned, factual inquiry.
As Jacob T. Levy has written, these “demonstrations of power undermine the existence of shared belief in truth and facts.” The whole point of them is to assert the power to say what the truth is, or what the truth should be, even when — or especially when — easily verifiable facts dictate the contrary. The brazenness of Trump’s lying is not a mere byproduct of his desire to mislead. It is absolutely central to the whole project of declaring the power to say what reality is.
Trump’s boast about making stuff up in his meeting with Trudeau comes close to an open admission of this. He lied, or made stuff up, because he could, yes, but also because what one wants to be true actually can be made true.
Trump’s lawyers want us to believe they fear a Mueller “perjury trap,” i.e., that Mueller will bait Trump into lying by accident about something relatively trivial. But it’s far more likely that they fear Trump has good reason to lie about something very important — to cover up serious misconduct. After these new comments about Trudeau, perhaps they should be a lot more worried that Trump — who already sees the Mueller probe as a major affront at best and as illegitimate at worst — will discard whatever coaching they give him to evade tough questions about that misconduct, and will instead put his instinctual trust in his power to declare what’s true by brute rhetorical force. That is, by lying.
* REPUBLICANS CAN’T SHAKE TRUMP: The New York Times reports that Republicans, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), are interpreting their failure in Pennsylvania in a rather surprising manner:
Few seemed willing to come to grips with how much Mr. Trump is energizing Democrats and turning off independent voters. Some of them even argued that Mr. [Rick] Saccone had managed to make the race close only thanks to the president’s rally in the district on Saturday. “The president came in and helped close this race and got it to where it is right now,” said Mr. Ryan.
Other Republicans said they can’t run from the president, because it will alienate conservative voters. The Trump trap!
* WHY REPUBLICANS CAN’T SHAKE TRUMP: Carl Hulse explains why Republicans won’t distance themselves from Trump, even on the tariff plan they oppose:
Congressional Republicans are … aware that, among the conservative Republican base, Mr. Trump is more popular than they are. … Republicans have also continued to shy away from talk of the president’s personal conduct and management of the White House. … party leaders express little enthusiasm for directly taking on Mr. Trump even though they worry the new tariffs could roil the economy and undermine what they see as their best argument for re-election: tax cuts.
Republicans won’t take on Trump over the tariffs even though they think they’ll hurt the economy, because they are even less popular than he is and it would make conservative voters mad.
* A HUGE SWING AGAINST TRUMP: The analysts at Sabato’s Crystal Ball look at Conor Lamb’s apparent victory and tally up the average swing toward Democrats, relative to what happened under previous presidents:
Lamb’s apparent victory margin of 0.3 points in Tuesday’s special election equaled a swing of 22.8 points toward Democrats relative to the district’s 2016 lean. The average swing for the GOP in U.S. House specials during President Donald Trump’s tenure is -13.7 points and the median swing is -18.4 points. These marks are worse than every modern president save Gerald Ford.
It’s another way in which Trump is besting so many of his predecessors. Meanwhile, Republicans can’t run from Trump, either.
* BANK BILL EXPOSES DEMOCRATIC SCHISM: The Senate passed a bank deregulation bill late yesterday that Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown claim is a giveaway to Wall Street. Demcrats from Trump states supported it:
For the first time since Trump became president, the divisions lurking within the Senate Democratic Caucus burst into full view … the debate highlighted how the political imperatives for red-state Democrats can collide with those of liberals such as Warren, who’s seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2020, creating the potential for conflict that could flare anew in future.
It’s odd that Democrats think they need to support this bill to win reelection in states that economic populist Trump won by appealing to anger at economic elites.
*GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES SPEND AT TRUMP PROPERTIES: CNN scoops:
Defense Department employees charged just over $138,000 at Trump branded properties in the first eight months of Donald Trump’s presidency, according to a CNN review of hundreds of records. Charges on the department-issued Visa cards, which span from Honolulu to Washington, DC, are the most recent evidence that taxpayer money flows to Trump’s company.
This all goes back to Trump’s refusal to divest. And because he won’t release his tax returns, we’ll never know the full extent of his profiting off the presidency.
* OIL LOBBYISTS SPEND AT TRUMP HOTEL: Politico scoops:
The oil industry’s top lobby group is holding a two-day board meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., before its executive committee goes to the White House to voice concerns about President Donald Trump’s proposed steel tariffs … The … meeting … could involve up to 200 people representing various oil and gas companies … paying to stay at Trump’s hotel.
Anyone else noticing a pattern here? Good thing congressional Republicans are exercising robust oversight.
* AND MULTIPLE OFFICIALS ARE MIRED IN ETHICS MESSES: The Post steps back and sums up the big picture:
At least a half-dozen current or former Trump Cabinet officials have been mired in federal investigations over everything from high-end travel and spending on items such as a soundproof phone booth to the role of family members weighing in on official business. … Revelations about repeated use of chartered airplanes forced the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price … Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has continued to wrestle with the fallout of news that taxpayers covered the expenses for his wife during a 10-day trip to Europe last year.