The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Democrats should wise up to Trump’s cons

President Trump speaks on tax policy during a visit on Monday to Sheffer Corp. in Blue Ash, Ohio. (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Trump makes you crazy. In fact, that is his strategy. He wants to make you so mad with his outrageous tweets, statements and actions that your anger distracts you and makes you do stupid things.

Take, for example, the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. They are about to get their wish that their memo countering the Nunes memo gets released. This memo will presumably show what many have already noted: The Nunes memo was a perversion of the committee’s mission of working with law enforcement to protect the nation.

Instead, the Nunes memo showed that the committee’s chairman and his supporters were willing not only to expose the secret FISA process, but to do so selectively to sprinkle skepticism over whatever the Russia investigation finds. But because it is coming from a partisan source, the Democratic counter-memo will have less credibility than the current criticism of Nunes’s actions, which are coming from all sides, including many Republicans.

Democrats, too, shouldn’t let Trump make them crazy with reports that his lawyers are telling him not to answer special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s questions. Trump’s lawyers are supposedly telling the president the interview presents a trap. It is true that a favorite FBI trick is to nail someone on story inconsistencies if the FBI can’t find something more serious, but it’s doubtful that Mueller wants to play that game with Trump. He’s too big a fish.

I would bet this is a completely phony story, fed to precondition the public’s response to any bad news that may result from a Trump interview with Mueller. Once again, the story-line here is: The FBI is out to get Trump. Or his lawyers could have fed these stories to make the president look “courageous” when he ignores their advice and boldly agrees to testify. Or Trump may want to raise the stakes of the interview with Mueller higher and higher by playing his little peekaboo game so that the interview doesn’t live up to the expectations of Trump opponents that Mueller will have a Perry Mason moment in the deposition where Trump is found guilty and led away in handcuffs. The danger is that Democrats will once again overreact to these Trump tactics. They’ll build up the notion that the Mueller interview is the linchpin of the whole Mueller investigation, or unwittingly feed the narrative that the FBI is setting a trap.

To calm themselves, Democrats should try the breathing technique popularized by Hillary Clinton as a way of dealing with the stress of Trump and other unfortunate events: Breathe deeply through one nostril and then alternate. Repeat.

If this doesn’t work, Democrats should try remembering that Trump is a con man, always running several cons at once. In less than a week, Trump has launched three on Democrats alone: the Nunes memo; the lawyers-telling-him-not-to-testify story; and last night’s accusation that Democrats who didn’t clap for him during the State of the Union address are traitors. All are designed to make Democrats crazy, overreact and lose the upper hand. Democrats need to remember this is what con artists do. In the words of young-adult fiction writer Leigh Bardugo, “The easiest way to steal a man’s wallet is to tell him you’re going to steal his watch.”