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October 20th, 2017

Insight

It's Trump, stupid

Jonah Goldberg

By Jonah Goldberg

Published July 26, 2017

It's Trump, stupid

Let's review a few recent developments.

Last week, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, resigned. This was part of a "White House shakeup" to get the Trump administration back on track. The new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, would fix the White House's "messaging problem."

Within 24 hours of Scaramucci's appointment, the president returned to Twitter and unloaded another torrent of political bombshells, including talking about his power to pardon, even as his attorneys were denying that Donald Trump was thinking about pardoning anyone.

Speaking of lawyers, earlier last week, the president's legal team underwent another "shakeup." That shakeup had similar results: no change.

Over the weekend, Trump returned to Twitter to vent his ire at his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. The former senator was the first major politician to endorse Trump, and more than any other figure Sessions lent conservative credibility and legitimacy to Trump's campaign.


The president insisted on Twitter that the "beleaguered" attorney general was taking a "weak position" on the need to prosecute Hillary Clinton for various alleged crimes.

This is an odd claim. The president himself announced after he was elected that Hillary had suffered enough and that all the "Lock her up!" stuff was campaign bluster.

When I say it is "odd," I'm being generous, because the claim is almost certainly a politically expedient lie. How do we know this? Because just days earlier, Trump sat down for an Oval Office interview with what he calls the "failing" and "fake" New York Times and said as much.

The president whined that Sessions had been "unfair" to him when the attorney general recused himself from the investigation into allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Never mind that the recusal was a political necessity at the time (whether it was a legal or ethical necessity is debated). Trump told the Times that if he had known Sessions was going to behave so ethically, he would never have appointed him.

In political terms, this was the equivalent of saying something to the New York Times that you would normally whisper to your closest advisor, if anybody at all.

The president has an elaborate theory that if Sessions hadn't recused himself, special counsel Robert Mueller wouldn't have been appointed.

It's a strange theory. Trump admitted he was taking the Russia investigation into consideration when he fired FBI Director James Comey. Trump tweeted about the possible existence of "tapes" of his conversations with Comey. Trump hired the man who appointed Mueller. On the campaign trail, Trump had openly called on Russia to continue its cyber war on the Clinton campaign.

In short, at every turn, the president has acted as if he has something to hide. Whether he actually does is an open question, but his obsession with the unfairness of the Russia story -- and his refusal to credit claims that the Russians meddled in the election, or to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin -- is a perpetual smoke machine causing people to think there's got to be a fire somewhere.

So what's my point? Simply: The author of Donald Trump's problems is first and foremost Donald Trump. It's fine to point out the excesses of the Democrats and the media. There's certainly ample reason to criticize his staff. It's understandable that Trump supporters think the "establishment," the "swamp" or the "Deep State" have undermined him -- because they have.

But Trump is not a victim. He is the hamster spinning the wheel in the massive Rube Goldberg machine that is the spectacle of presidential dysfunction.

Every few weeks, the debate about his tweeting starts again. It's like the gun control debate. Guns are to blame! No, criminals are to blame! Guns don't kill people, people do.

It's all nonsense. Twitter is a tool. Barack Obama had a Twitter account, too. Trump puts the bullets in the social media gun, and Trump pulls the trigger, aiming at his own foot with unerring accuracy.

After every good speech, the clock restarts and the Trump train is "back on track." Then, Trump acts like Trump again and the clock gets reset to zero. Spicer's departure changed nothing. Firing Jeff Sessions will change nothing. Shakeups change nothing. Shake the White House snow globe all you like. The scene doesn't change much, and when things settle down, there Trump remains, being Trump. It won't change, because he can't change. Character is destiny, now and forever.

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Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online.

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