President Trump's top economic adviser publicly rebuked his response to the tragedy in Charlottesville. One of his top media allies publicly tried to talk him out of firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, calling the notion “very dangerous.” The senator Trump has leaned on perhaps more than any other has now publicly questioned Trump's stability — repeatedly. And his aides anonymously admitted Trump misled the country about his involvement in Donald Trump Jr.'s Russian lawyer controversy.
Increasingly, those around Trump are opting to plead with him through the media, hoping that will do what private conversations cannot. They are all unmistakable cries for help. But now, for the first time, we have a very public cry for help from someone who is extremely close — personally — to Trump.
Michael Kranish's fascinating, must-read interview with decades-long Trump friend Tom Barrack is a case study in the exasperation and desperation felt by those close to Trump. Yet again, they see him fomenting pointless controversies and alienating people unnecessarily. And yet again, they apparently see no course but to splash it across the front page in hopes that it will actually register with Trump.
Barrack clearly still has Trump's ear privately, as Kranish reports. They speak weekly, and Barrack assures us that Trump takes criticism. Yet Barrack for some reason still felt it necessary to publicly criticize his friend in some pretty remarkable ways.
Here's a sampling:
- Barrack says he has been “shocked” and “stunned” by some of Trump's inflammatory rhetoric.
- He publicly criticized Trump's travel ban on certain Muslim countries and his push for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
- He says Trump has too many “yes men” around him.
- This quote: “He thinks he has to be loyal to his base. I keep on saying, ‘But who is your base? You don’t have a natural base. Your base now is the world and America, so you have all these constituencies; show them who you really are.’ In my opinion, he’s better than this.”
That last quote — “He's better than this” — was a headline waiting to be written. But perhaps the most telling quotes from the whole interview might be when Barrack relays how Trump responds to his critiques.
“It is not always fun, and no, he doesn’t come back and say, ‘By the way, your idea was right or brilliant,’ ” Barrack admits. He adds at a different point that Trump often says to him: “I love you, but if I listened to you, I’d still be on ‘The Apprentice.' "
If I'm allowed to read into those quotes, it suggests Barrack is hugely frustrated by his friend's unwillingness to take his advice. And it explains why Barrack would go public.
Of course, saying these things publicly also only adds to the circus that is the Trump administration. But Barrack — and plenty of others — have made the calculated decision to say them even if it increases the perception of discord in the White House. They've clearly decided this is the best, highly imperfect method for getting through to Trump. That's desperation, pure and simple.
If someone like Barrack can't prevail upon Trump using that method, it's unlikely anyone will. And by Barrack's description of Trump, I wouldn't hold my breath.