White House shaken by Woodward exposé
The Trump administration was thrown into damage-control mode this week by a new book from veteran Washington journalist Bob Woodward, which depicts a dysfunctional White House and a president viewed by his inner circle as dangerously ignorant and impulsive. In the 448-page Fear—the result of hundreds of hours of interviews with current and former administration officials—Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’état,” with senior aides frequently defying President Trump’s commands. Woodward reports that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told colleagues that his boss was “unhinged” and an “idiot,” while Defense Secretary James Mattis described Trump as having the understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader.” And Trump’s former personal lawyer John Dowd is quoted calling the president a “f---ing liar” who would end up in an “orange jumpsuit” if he testified to special counsel Robert Mueller.
Close advisers also describe the apparent joy Trump takes in humiliating others. He reportedly called Attorney General Jeff Sessions “a dumb Southerner” and “mentally retarded,” and mocked his accent. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the book as “fabricated stories.” The president accused Woodward of using “made up” quotes, and suggested the reporter—who helped uncover the Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon—might be “a Dem operative” seeking to damage Republicans before the November midterms.
What the columnists said
Even on “the crazy-Trump scale,” said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com, Woodward has unearthed some “especially harrowing” anecdotes. To prevent Trump from recklessly canceling a free-trade deal with South Korea, former senior economic adviser Gary Cohn apparently stole the unsigned decree from the president’s desk—his boss didn’t notice it was missing. An exasperated Mattis, meanwhile, had to persuade Trump not to cut costs by pulling the U.S. military out of South Korea, patiently explaining that the expense was worth it “to prevent World War III.”
For someone who’s supposedly “out of his mind,” this president is remarkably successful, said James Freeman in WSJ.com. Under Trump, the economy is roaring and unemployment is plummeting. Look at the indicators: American factory activity in August climbed at its fastest pace in more than 14 years. Perhaps stimulating the economy “by reducing the burden of taxes and regulation is so simple that even an unhinged ignoramus can do it.” Or perhaps Trump “is not as crazy and ignorant as Woodward” would have us believe?
But if Woodward’s reporting is right, then Trump must be removed from office via the 25th Amendment, said Max Boot in The Washington Post. He is clearly unfit to “discharge the powers and duties of his office.” No president should need to be talked out of assassinating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as Mattis apparently had to do, or launching a preventive strike against North Korea. Yet Trump isn’t going anywhere, because his Cabinet and the GOP are filled with “toadies” who would rather hurt the nation than damage their political careers by speaking out against Trump and angering his base. ■