A smart old editor who had seen just about everything told me: “Dogs come with fleas. The bigger the dog, the more the fleas.”
Fleas, alias lies, flew from the Trump administration this week in a cloud that darkened the spacious lawns around the White House.
The old editor, who had seen more than his fill of the perfidy of Washington politics, would have wondered: “Can it ever get any worse than this?”
First, there was the superbly reported book by one of the most respected journalists of our times, Bob Woodward. His “Fear,” which exposed the machinations inside this bewildered White House staff, told us how the White House staff protected us from President Trump’s wildest orders.
Orders that the staff thought might precipitate a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula or that could have worsened our trade relationships around the world. Denials followed denials. Chief of Staff John Kelly had not called the White House “crazytown,” he said. Nor had he said that his current job was worse than directing soldiers in war, he said.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis insisted that he had called the president an “idiot” or a “moron.” He didn’t give us an alternative that suggested the president has above average intelligence. Others said Mattis categorized Trump this way: “The president acted like — and had the understanding of — a fifth or sixth grader.”
Trump tweeted that he had not judged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to be “retarded ... a dumb Southerner.” Instead, the president said, Sessions and the Justice Department should not have indicted “two popular” Republican congressmen while they were running for re-election. He keeps saying Sessions should leave his job.
As for his own job while his staff was saying, anonymously, that they were working in a chaotic environment, Trump said he is “doing the best job of any president.”
“Fiction,” Trump called the Woodward book. Woodward had not interviewed him, the president said. The author retorted (on tape in a conversation with the president) that he implored six people to get him an interview with Trump, to no avail.
While the fleas flurried around Washington, a column in The New York Times written by an anonymous “senior official in the Trump administration” said: “Like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart the president’s worst impulses.”
“The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision-making,” the official wrote.
“Many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office,” the column continued.
The author’s anonymity is almost certain to be learned — Washington leaks, remember. You may know it before this column appears. And that person surely will be fired, as if he or she was appearing on Trump’s old television show.
Some thought this week’s events had the feel of a tipping point, that so many things were piling up that the president’s tenure was in peril. After all, administration insiders don’t often risk their careers to spill so many secrets.
Trump, though, somehow gets through tight spots that would be the end of any other president. Women? A Washington insider told me this week, “This woman thing is not going to take him down.”
Nor is he losing his most committed voters. At dinner the other night a lifelong Republican blurted out, “I hate Trump.” Oh, really, did that mean he wouldn’t vote for him again? “No,” he said, not elaborating.
And don’t forget that the Democratic true-believers always get things wrong. They have made a hash of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Yelling, screaming, getting dragged out of the hearings — those are acts that don’t do a danged thing for democracy, or for the Democratic Party.
Kavanaugh was not a superb witness for himself. Like all the appointees before him, he obfuscated his views on some of the most vital cases that would come before him if he is confirmed. Like whether the president can be subpoenaed to testify, or how he would rule on a woman’s right to abortion.
The primaries are telling us some interesting news. Trump’s endorsement is gold in Republican primaries. Democrats are sorting out their candidates, but they are unified in their opposition to Trump.
If this is a true tipping point, it could be very bad news for the Republicans in the general election. And Donald Trump’s awful week didn’t help their situation.
Reg Murphy, a St. Simons Island resident, is a former publisher of the San Francisco Examiner and the Baltimore Sun.To contact the him, email email@example.com.