A dominant news story last week was the controversy over whether Secretary of State Rex Tillerson actually called President Trump a “moron.” But even if he didn't, there's now an increasing volume of people who have worked closely with Trump offering similarly dim depictions of him — and doing so publicly.
The most recent came Sunday, when Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) fought back against Trump's criticisms of him by tweeting that the White House has turned into an “adult day-care center.”
Before that tweet, Corker had told reporters last week that Tillerson, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis were there to “help separate our country from chaos.” He expanded upon those comments in a New York Times interview later Sunday, saying he worried Trump's frequent threatening of other countries could set us on a path to Word War III. "I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him," Corker said.
A couple of weeks back, it was Trump's former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon suggesting Trump was basically duped into endorsing appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) in a special election. “I have to tell you,” Bannon said, “I think at some time later, after [the special election], a real, you know, review has to be done of how President Trump got the wrong information and came down on the wrong side of the football here.” Bannon's preferred candidate, Roy Moore, won the race against Strange.
And on Sunday, shortly before Corker's tweet, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney also weighed in on that information flow. He told “Meet the Press” that before Kelly came onboard, Trump was getting information that “just wasn't ready for the president”:
MULVANEY: What I can tell you has changed is the flow of information to the president, the flow of information from different people, from different sources. It is a much more orderly and aligned West Wing than it was previously. And I think the president is extraordinarily well-served by that — and, more importantly, likes it. I was surprised to hear you say in your intro that folks are talking about John Kelly leaving. That’s the very, very first I’ve ever heard that.
CHUCK TODD: I only ask it because it got sparked in a story on this. I guess let me ask you this: was the president getting bad information before? Was that an issue? When you said the flow of information, was he getting bad info?
MULVANEY: It wasn’t bad info. It just wasn’t ready for the president.
MULVANEY: Not contradictory. Folks would wander in. You’ve heard there were several stories — and those stories were actually true — about folks would just come in and there was an open-door policy and they could wander in and talk to the president about anything. That’s probably not the most effective way to get information about very, very complex issues in front of the president of the United States. So what John has done is really refined that flow of information, so that we know, before the president sees it, it’s right, it’s accurate and it’s ready for him to act on.
Mulvaney's comments are certainly more diplomatic than the rest, but he's also talking about the president of the United States here — and he's talking about him as if Trump can't process information well unless it is sufficiently narrowed and tailored to him. And his and Bannon's characterizations of Trump's level of informational sophistication confirm all kinds of previous (anonymously sourced) reports that suggested Trump is highly susceptible to what the last person he spoke to has told him and needs constant minding. (Dan Drezner has done a nice job keeping track of these.) Wars have reportedly been fought in the White House over who can tell Trump what — as if he can't decide these things for himself.
Also important here: the four people we're talking about. This is one of Trump's top Cabinet secretaries, his former top White House strategist, a leading adviser on tax and budget issues in Mulvaney, and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Corker. Corker's Tennessee colleague, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R), once said Trump was closer to Corker than any GOP senator.
“There is no senator — no Republican senator — who President Trump talks to more than Bob Corker,” Alexander said in late August. “I know that for a fact.”
Perhaps Corker's comments could be dismissed as a personal feud — the comments of a senator who isn't running for reelection and doesn't have to deal with the consequences of knocking the president. But the totality of these remarks don't paint a flattering picture of the president at all, and they come from people who would know best.