This post has been updated.
The cries for help inside the Trump administration are growing louder.
First came Bob Woodward's book, which quotes a number of White House and Cabinet officials (based upon anonymous sources) deriding Trump and describing his presidency as a lost cause. Now comes a highly unusual anonymous New York Times op-ed from a “senior administration official” in which the official cops to being part of the “resistance inside the Trump administration” — protecting against Trump's worst impulses (of which there are many) and even undermining him allegedly for the good of the country.
It's hardly a secret that serving Trump isn't always fun; The Fix has labeled the administration as where one's pride goes to die. But increasingly, the picture painted by reporters such as Woodward and now this anonymous official is that it amounts to something approaching a hostage-kidnapper relationship. Staffers and even Cabinet officials think the whole thing is beyond repair, and yet they feel compelled to carry on, either because they can't quit, they crave power, or they worry about what happens without them.
The senior official who writes in the Times that “many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations."
“Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back,” the official says. He or she claims Trump's “instability” was so concerning that there have been internal discussions among the Cabinet about invoking the 25th Amendment.
It is in some ways the op-ed we always expected someone to write — given long-standing whispers about just such an arrangement. And it's a logical conclusion of what we see in Woodward's book and in previous reporting, in which aides seem anxious to separate their brands from Trump. Some have a tough time explaining why they stick around.
Chief among them was former chief White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, who publicly criticized Trump's assertion that “both sides” were to blame in Charlottesville. In Woodward's telling, Cohn actually tried to resign at the time.
Trump likened Cohn's attempted resignation to “treason” but then talked him out of it — at least for a few months. Chief of Staff John F. Kelly later told Cohn, “I would have taken that resignation letter and shoved it up his ass six different times,” according to Woodward. Kelly, of course, has also threatened to resign.
Kelly has long been Case Study No. 1 in this. Based upon anonymous sources, Woodward quotes him as saying of serving Trump: “It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.” (Kelly denies calling Trump an “idiot,” and the White House says Woodward's book is full of fabrications.)
Former White House staff secretary Rob Porter is quoted (again via anonymous sources) in the Woodward book as saying, “It felt like we were walking along the edge of the cliff perpetually.” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reportedly ignored a decision by Trump to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Cohn took to literally stealing documents off Trump's desk, justifying the move to another aide as being necessary for national security.
So, in Woodward's telling and now in the telling of this anonymous official, Trump's top advisers basically have to deceive or ignore him to prevent crises. They have to resort to subterfuge and pretend he isn't president to get by. They constantly resent Trump for making their jobs impossible.
The op-ed writer says, “Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.”
Some of this could certainly just be aides spouting off — reflecting their stressful jobs and their stress-inducing boss. It's also possible some of them are emphasizing their differences with Trump to insulate themselves from whatever calamity may lay ahead. It's somewhat convenient to serve the man but also ask, anonymously, to have people believe you're not really a Trumper. (The self-serving nature of the op-ed is its chief drawback.)
But either way, it's clear they are worried. The op-ed in particular illustrates that they stick around because of the authority at Trump's fingertips — both because they share in that authority and because they are afraid of what he might do with it.