It’s not only the Trump presidency that’s coming undone. It’s the president himself.
Trump lately has the haggard look of a man who knows his myriad secrets and lies are finally catching up with him. His former fixer Michael Cohen is probably heading to prison, and Paul Manafort, once a Trump campaign manager, allegedly lied to the FBI and special counsel’s office, possibly breaching his cooperation deal.
Sure Trump will keep posting delusional tweets proclaiming his innocence, but that’s just his regular serving of Kool-Aid for his facts-be-damned supporters. All the caps, exclamation points, and typos Trump can fit into 280 characters can’t shield him from the mounting evidence of an inconvenient truth: To avoid a scandal he feared could scuttle his presidential ambitions in 2016, he directed payouts to two women with whom he is alleged to have had affairs.
What Trump calls “a simple private transaction,” federal prosecutors call conspiracy to dodge campaign finance laws.
Still, here’s a bitter laugh: Trump bought insurance he probably didn’t need. During his campaign, he mocked a disabled reporter; disparaged Senator John McCain’s service in a war Trump aggressively avoided; and was heard on an audiotape boasting about sexually assaulting women. The polls barely budged. Few would have cared that a man who cheated on his first two wives likely cheated on his third wife.
Yet as is often the case, it’s the cover-up, not the crime, that leaves the lingering stench. And this one is clinging to Trump like a cheap spray tan.
His unraveling got a very public airing during a Tuesday meeting with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer. Trump threatened to shut down the government unless Congress funds a border wall. (Yes, the same one he often claimed Mexico would pay for.) “I am proud to shut down the government for border security. . . . I will take the mantle of shutting it down,” he said.
When Pelosi said, “This is spiraling downward,” I don’t think she was only referring to that fractious meeting. The president has jumped the track.
This is also why Trump’s recent attack on Rex Tillerson, his former secretary of state, was especially nasty. In his lengthiest comments since he was fired by tweet last March, Tillerson called Trump a “pretty undisciplined” man who can’t be bothered to read anything, including briefing reports. What likely set Trump off was Tillerson’s comment that he would warn the president that some action he demanded “violates the law” or “violates a treaty.” This isn’t only about Trump’s ignorance of the law; it’s about his willingness to flout it to get whatever he wants.
In response, Trump called Tillerson “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell.”
Be best, Mr. President.
Even if Tillerson is both dumb and lazy, that doesn’t mean he’s lying. Nothing Tillerson said about his doomed relationship with Trump taxes the imagination. It’s old news that Trump has the attention span of a toddler on a juice box high. But here’s someone with intimate knowledge of the Trump administration confirming on the record what many have long warned and feared — we have a president who would rather break laws than uphold them.
Trump is a bad criminal and a worse president. Even the GOP may have finally noticed. Since Trump’s inauguration, Republicans have been unprincipled cowards, concerned only with covering their political hides, regardless of the steep cost to the country. Now saving themselves may mean marking distance from a toxic president. It’s not a coincidence that he’s having a vexing time finding his third chief of staff in less than two years. (Never have I wanted an old soldier to fade away as quickly as the disgraceful, complicit John Kelly.)
Being a president’s chief of staff is usually a highly coveted position – except when the president is crumbling under the weight of his own greed and lawlessness. I suppose someone with more ambition than sense will eventually agree to a job that is tantamount to booking a reservation on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.
Under siege, Trump is subsisting on Diet Coke and denial. With special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors roosting on the White House lawn, the president’s behavior will grow more erratic and dangerous. Various investigations are revealing what Trump was willing to do to win the presidency. It’s inevitable that those misdeeds will pale in comparison to how low this unraveling man will go to save it – and himself.