It has been an awful press week for Donald Trump. On Monday, a new book was published by Bob Woodward called Fear: Trump in the White House. This book claims to feature a number of sources close to the President outlining the chaos and disunity at the heart of Trump’s administration. Among other things it says:
- Aides have hid government papers from the President to “protect the country”.
- Trump’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly, described the President as “unhinged” and it said it was the worst job he had ever had.
- Trump failed a practice interview with the US Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, and would have perjured himself if the interview were real.
These are startling revelations of the dysfunctionality of the Trump White House and the lack of faith that Trump’s staff, including his closest advisors, have in his leadership.
The usual defensive manoeuvre of Trump is to go immediately on the attack. His first salvo is usually to attack the credibility of the person commenting on or criticising him. True to form, he did this on Twitter:
However, it is difficult to attack a journalist with the credentials that Bob Woodward has. Alongside Carl Bernstein it was Woodward who exposed the Watergate Affair in the 1970s, an event that would eventually see the downfall of President Nixon.
Importantly, Woodward has written books about numerous Presidents, both Republican and Democrat. Trump’s suggestion that Woodward is a Democratic operative does not stick when some of Woodward’s harshest criticisms have been directed towards Democratic Presidents, like Bill Clinton.
Trump has become used to criticism from the press. Every time he brandishes any form of criticism as “fake news”, the media form an ever more united front. Trump’s supporters rally against the media in response. This book from Woodward is different. Woodward is journalistic royalty. He does not tweet regularly, he does not do salacious gossip, his work is research based and he is broadly admired and respected as the epitome of what American journalism should be. Trump cannot win a war of credibility with Bob Woodward.
Things got even worse for Trump on Wednesday when an anonymous White House Senior Official wrote an op-ed for the New York Times. In the article it started by saying:
“ President Trump is facing a threat to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader. It’s not just that the special counsel looms large. Or that the country is bitterly divided over Mr. Trump’s leadership. Or even that his party might well lose the House to an opposition hellbent on his downfall. The dilemma – which he does not fully grasp – is 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”
Particular points made in the article are that:
- The President acts in a “manner that is detrimental to the health of the republic”
- The root of the problems are due to the President’s “amorality”
- Trump’s “impulses are generally anti-democratic”
- Members of the Cabinet have whispered about invoking they 25th Amendment, one of the few mechanisms through which a President can be removed from office.
The article is truly extraordinary. Of course, attention has turned to who could be behind the article. There are even suggestions that the author could be Vice-President, Mike Pence. This suggestion is due to the use of the unusual word “lodestar” in the article, a word that it is known that Pence uses frequently. In any normal circumstances it would be inconceivable that a Vice-President would write such an article about a sitting President. However, these are not normal circumstances. Donald Trump’s administration is unique.
The atmosphere in the West Wing is consistently described as toxic. Since becoming President, Donald Trump has lost 35 of his Senior Staff, as illustrated by this graphic:
The pressure is already growing on Trump. If the Democrats can flip the House of Representatives in the November Mid-Terms, it will become worse.