Last week, Trump declared that 10 minutes before a planned strike on Iran, “I stopped it” because it was “not proportionate” to Tehran’s downing of an unmanned U.S. drone. Thus did the coolheaded Trump overrule a rash escalation ordered previously by a warmonger named — I’ve got it here somewhere — Donald J. Trump. “We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights” he said (presumably meaning “locked” not “cocked,” and “sites” not “sights”).
Before that, Trump announced that he had “indefinitely suspended” tariffs on all Mexican goods, which had terrified U.S. businesses and Trump’s fellow Republicans. Thus did he rescue America from a ruinous trade war cooked up a couple of weeks earlier by that villainous protectionist, Donald J. Trump.
That Trump is, in each case, essentially countermanding himself apparently caused some cognitive dissonance in the Trumpian brain, for on Saturday he tweeted out a defense of his decision not to attack Iran: “I never called the strike against Iran ‘BACK,’ as people are incorrectly reporting, I just stopped it from going forward at this time!” A crucial distinction, no doubt.
He has even turned against his own advisers, as though they were the ones giving the orders, over his objections. “These people want to push us into a war, and it’s so disgusting,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal, referring to “advisers in his inner circle,” the paper reported.
And what kind of idiot hired “these people”? Oh, wait.
Personnel is another area in which Trump finds himself attempting to solve problems he created. It seems he picked Cabinet-level appointees as casually as he ordered up a strike on Iran. Axios published Sunday a voluminous leak of vetting reports of Trump administration officials, compiled by the Republican National Committee, that were generally provided to Trump before he interviewed candidates. In these reports, we see that many of Trump’s appointees were predisposed toward the kind of unethical behavior that would recur during the Trump administration.
It is often said that the Trump administration failed to vet candidates adequately, and in some cases that appears to be true. But the Axios documents suggest that the vetting itself, in many cases, wasn’t the problem. It’s that Trump ignored the warnings, repeatedly tapping people who were flagged for having business conflicts of interest, dubious ethical records and other behaviors endemic to the Washington swamp. Owned a bank accused of “racist lending practices”? Did business with the agency he would oversee? Accused of ties to white supremacists? Called Hillary Clinton the anti-Christ? No problem! (But David Petraeus, flagged for being “opposed to torture,” didn’t get tapped.)
Trump was warned (or would have been warned if he read the vetting documents) that:
Former interior secretary Ryan Zinke “was accused at least twice of misusing taxpayer funds for personal travel”; former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt appeared to be improperly cozy with energy interests; former health and human services secretary Tom Price had been accused of improperly blending campaign contributions and his legislative record; Kris Kobach, tapped to run Trump’s voting-fraud commission, was criticized for his alleged ties to white-supremacist groups and racially inflammatory rhetoric; businesses owned by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross included an investment company fined for misleading investors and a coal mine that had hundreds of safety violations and a deadly explosion; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was seen as “looking to make profits from the ruins of the housing bust”; Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao had potential conflicts of interest because of her “large network of business associations”; and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s “foreign entanglements” (even a paid speech to a group that had been listed as a “foreign terrorist organization”) were detailed at great length. And there were several others.
Trump evidently ignored the warnings. Since then, he has had to part with Zinke, Pruitt, Price and Kobach, while headlines about Ross, Mnuchin, Chao and Giuliani have caused headaches for the White House.
Not surprisingly, Axios reports that Trump has withdrawn one nominee for every 11 confirmations and has withdrawn twice as many as President Barack Obama had by this point. Several more, such as defense secretary pick Patrick Shanahan, were withdrawn before they were formally nominated. Turnover on the job, similarly, has been historically high, as Trump now attempts to dissociate himself from appointees who probably wouldn’t have been there in the first place if Trump had paid attention to the vetting reports.
It’s another case of saving the world from himself. Failure, you might say, was cocked and loaded.