First, people who go into the White House to have a meeting with President Trump usually leave pleasantly surprised. They find that Trump is not the raving madman they expected from his tweetstorms or the media coverage. They generally say that he is affable, if repetitive. He runs a normal, good meeting and seems well-informed enough to get by.
Second, people who work in the Trump administration have wildly divergent views about their boss. Some think he is a deranged child, as Michael Wolff reported. But some think he is merely a distraction they can work around. Some think he is strange, but not impossible. Some genuinely admire Trump. Many filter out his crazy stuff and pretend it doesn’t exist.
My impression is that the Trump administration is an unhappy place to work, because there is a lot of infighting and often no direction from the top. But this is not an administration full of people itching to invoke the 25th Amendment.
Third, the White House is getting more professional. Imagine if Trump didn’t tweet. The craziness of the past weeks would be out of the way, and we’d see a White House that is briskly pursuing its goals: the shift in our Pakistan policy, the shift in our offshore drilling policy, the fruition of our ISIS policy, the nomination for judgeships and the formation of policies on infrastructure, DACA, North Korea and trade.
Take, for instance, yesterday. The morning began with Trump watching Fox News and impulsively tweeting out his confused opposition to a surveillance reauthorization bill that, unbeknownst to the president, his administration was furiously lobbying Congress to approve. At that point, all hell broke loose. Trump’s sycophants descended. “House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) spent 30 minutes on the phone with the president explaining the differences between domestic and foreign surveillance, as many fellow Republicans reacted in disbelief and befuddlement,” reported the Washington Post. Trump finally tweeted a message professing support for the bill and pretending the previous tweet had not said what it did.
Was Paul Ryan “pleasantly surprised”? Was Trump “well-informed enough to get by”? Not if the definition of these terms requires the president understanding his own administration’s position on a bill that was coming to a vote that very day.
Later in the day, of course, Trump ranted to senators about immigrants being allowed to enter the United States from ““shithole countries.” News reports do not make this sound at all like a “normal, good meeting.”
Also yesterday, Trump gave an interview to The Wall Street Journal in which he made a number of claims that, had a non-Trump president uttered them, would have consumed the national media with astonishment. For instance, he claimed that former FBI agent Peter Strzok — who sent texts to a fellow agent disparaging politicians in both parties — had committed treason. “A man is tweeting to his lover that if [Democrat Hillary Clinton] loses, we’ll essentially do the insurance policy. We’ll go to phase two and we’ll get this guy out of office,” Trump said. “This is the FBI we’re talking about — that is treason. That is a treasonous act. What he tweeted to his lover is a treasonous act.”
In fact, Strzok was describing an FBI policy of going easy on the Trump investigation during the campaign, on the premise that Trump was going to lose anyway. (Strzok likened the necessity of investigating Trump regardless as “insurance” against the possibility he might win anyway, which proved correct.) Strzok’s political views in the texts were idiosyncratic and somewhat right of center. In any case, FBI agents are allowed to hold political views. It is not treason for an FBI agent to criticize a presidential candidate. Nor is it treason for the agency to launch a counterintelligence investigation against the president. Trump’s belief that agents investigating his allies are necessarily traitors is fundamentally authoritarian. Not normal! Not good!
That’s one day. The president of the United States did three things (impulsively come out against a policy his administration was lobbying for and then walk it back when informed what “his” policy preferences are, make flagrantly racist comments, and in the course of a nutty interview argue that it’s “treason” for a law enforcement official to privately criticize a presidential candidate) that would define multiple news cycles if they were done by any other president. For Trump, it’s not even particularly unusual. The man is staggeringly unfit to be president on any possible level, but because his election will produce a lot of orthodox Republican policy results even reasonable, moderate, thinking person’s (TM) Republicans who were once able to admit this will feel compelled to normalize him, at least until he leaves office.