Ex-sycophants highlight the void of competence around Trump
The transformation of Trump sycophants — the latest being the “Mooch” — into critics who charge he’s a mean-spirited, evil, corrupt racist probably says more about them than it does the president.
Anthony Scaramucci, the controversial investment banker and on-again, immediately off-again Trump aide, in a matter of a few days this month went from championing the president to calling him “narcissistic” and “crazy,” and expressing shock at his racist rants.
Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, facing prison time, flipped — he claimed — after the president embraced Vladimir Putin, refused to denounce white nationalists and because of “his daily destruction of our civility.” Which begs the question: After 11 years as a close confidante of Trump, where have you been, Michael?
Last year Omarosa Manigault Newman, one of the president’s few African American advisers, was fired by top White House aides; she then decided Trump is “mentally impaired,” based on her 15-year association with him, starting with the reality TV show, “The Apprentice.” In the same spirit of Scaramucci and Cohen, how did she only now discover his instability?
It’s not that any of the criticisms are off the mark; it’s that none of these epiphanies are credible.
The Mooch, who has, in addition to the president, supported Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and Scott Walker, is not tethered to political principle. Less than two weeks before starting to trash Trump, he hosted a client dinner with guest of honor Donald Trump Jr. He does hold a big conference for investors and business people and wants to attract headliners, and has launched other enterprises. His is a purely self-interest calculation.
Michael Cohen, a man with a long record as a sleazy bully, sought to polish his image before heading off to the slammer.
Most revealing, these are the sort of dubious characters that always surround Donald Trump; he likes these types … until he finds them not useful.
Modern presidencies — from Richard Nixon through Bill Clinton — have faced scandals, with White House advisers — from Chuck Colson to Dick Morris. But those administrations also were populated by men and women of capacity and virtue.
That’s not so much the case today. None of the current top White House aides would ever be considered for comparable roles under a Republican president like a Marco Rubio or a John Kasich.
The Trump cabinet, more than any in memory, has been tainted by ethical transgressions and resignations.
Competence is at an all-time low.
Think for a moment of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama top-level officials — Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner, Larry Summers — who guided America through the economic cataclysms of 2008 and 2009; then imagine how ill-equipped the mediocre Trump economic team would be in a crisis today.
Some ex-Trumpites depart hoping to still parlay the experience; Sean Spicer is as duplicitous on the speaking stump today as he was as White House press secretary.
There also have been men of principle who departed quietly: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (though ill-suited for the job), national security adviser H.R. McMaster, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Kevin Hassett. Most left with little regard for the president they served.
Yet none of this seems to touch Trump.
Michael Cohen’s spin handlers argued his testimony would be devastating for the president. It didn’t much change anything.
The Mooch now boasts he’s launching an anti-Trump political action committee that could take 5 percent to 8 percent of the incumbent’s vote in 2020. No one believes that.
Once it was considered bad form for administration officials to kiss and tell about the president while he still was in office. There have been no more scholarly, history-appreciating public officials than the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.). More than two decades ago, during the Clinton administration, Moynihan was livid at insider accounts of White House travails. It should wait until the president leaves; otherwise, he worried, it will inhibit serious discussions and damage the office of the presidency.
That’s not a concern with the office today.
Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.
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