Trump Diary 7: March 14, 2017

Donald Trump’s business pattern is to leave behind a burnt-out husk where a viable institution once stood. With the audacious but messy moves of the first month out of the way (the travel ban chief among them), Trump is reverting to form.

The State Department is running a barely-functioning ghost crew, with Tillerson invisible. This anonymous quote eerily mirrors my earlier statement that Trump’s administration looked like the end of a ruling junta, with paranoia preventing delegation of authority to anyone beyond the most trusted inner circle:

Atlantic: “They think Jared [Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law] can do everything. It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.”

Huge numbers of appointed government positions go unfilled because Trump’s administration can’t find loyalists to staff them. I guess they can’t just put random Trump-supporting hacks in there because the vetting on them will fall apart. So given Trump’s 100% Loyalty or Else policy, the administration is probably literally incapable of staffing their own government. The great exception is the military, which Trump has not messed with and where he has appointed clearly competent people–and even fired some incompetent ones, like Flynn.

And most of all, Trump is scapegoating his own. I’ve lost track of the times Trump has blamed Obama for one thing or another, but the “Blame your predecessor” tactic only goes so far, and it’s pretty useless when it comes to actual legislating. So now that the ACA repeal attempt is going very badly, Trump’s standard operating procedure deems that the blame be placed on a convenient scapegoat, and today’s scapegoat is Paul Ryan. WaPo summarizes the narrative being advanced by the Bannon faction:

WaPo: Poor Trump only backs the Republican health-care plan because that dastardly Ryan has conned him into thinking the bill repeals the Affordable Care Act and can actually get through Congress. Don’t blame Trump for supporting the bill; blame Ryan for fooling Trump into supporting the bill. Also, Ryan is a loser…White House press secretary Sean Spicer “is working internally as hard as he can to help Ryan on this front, regardless of the impact on Trump, along with a handful of other White House aides who came from the Republican National Committee and are not Trump loyalists.” Traitors! All these establishment types are undermining the president, according to Breitbart. When the GOP health-care bill fails, it will be their fault, not Trump’s.

Well, Bannon and Co. certainly know how to play to Trump. Giving him a reason and target in advance is as sure-fire a strategy as any. It’s bad news for the Republican Party, and for me it’s possibly a bit of good news, since the likely end result appears to be Ryan’s fall and subsequent replacement with some Trump-complicit stooge, who will then be completely unable to deliver House votes for any of Trump’s priorities. That is, unless House Republicans decide to stick with Ryan and turn on Trump–but that would be a pretty tall order, especially given how awful Ryan’s bill has turned out to be: not draconian enough to satisfy the wingnuts, but electorally disastrous enough to alienate anyone concerned with their re-election. (Ryan, it seems, really believes that magic will happen if you just deregulate and eliminate government.) Regardless, the circular firing squad is not conducive to legislation, and once again validates my thought that Trump will only accomplish things through the executive branch.

Trump, meanwhile, is driven by insecurity and narcissism to the point of constant distraction. Even leaving aside the wiretapping craziness, he apparently has a great man chart comparing himself to Obama, and he doesn’t feel he’s stacking up well.

Robert Costa: He truly thinks day to day about President Obama and he compares himself to how much President Obama was able to accomplish in his first few months in office. Why? He is somewhat haunted, as some put it to me, by President Obama’s first term. I’m not sure, I’m not a psychologist. But he does often talk about what President Obama was able to do with a Democratic Congress back in 2009.

Trump entitlement complex remains a huge weakness, where apparently he’s already done great things and isn’t being credited for them–the great thing in question being that he delivered a vaguely “presidential” speech:

CNN: Trump is upset because he doesn’t believe he is getting the credit he thinks he deserves for his time in office so far because of self-inflicted wounds and missteps, the source said. President Donald Trump is extremely frustrated with his senior staff and communications team for allowing the firestorm surrounding Attorney General Jeff Sessions to steal his thunder in the wake of his address to Congress, sources tell CNN.

When it came out that Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the Russia investigations on his own initiative, rather than on Trump’s order, I wondered if Sessions had switched into self-preservation mode. Trump really hates it when other people try to protect themselves, though. Trump threw a fit and tossed Priebus and Bannon off his plane as he stormed off to Mar-a-lago for the weekend.

Bonus points to Trump for playing the self-pitying “I’m misunderstood” card two months into office.

NYT: “I think I’ve done great things, but I don’t think I have — I and my people — I don’t think we’ve explained it well enough to the American public,” he said. “I think I get an A in terms of what I’ve actually done, but in terms of messaging, I’d give myself a C or a C-plus.”

It’s just pathetic. As I said before, comparisons to Mussolini are off the mark because Trump really doesn’t seek power, just adulation. He doesn’t even seem to see power as a prerequisite to adulation (money, yes, but not power). If there’s a past figure he resembles, it’s probably Nero. America’s burning.