Trump’s re­pel­lant in­ner cir­cle

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Michael Ger­son

— Don­ald Trump is un­der­go­ing his own “ex­treme vet­ting.” And we are learn­ing a great deal about the qual­ity of his pub­lic pledges.

In no par­tic­u­lar or­der, Trump has shifted his po­si­tion on rais­ing the fed­eral min­i­mum wage ( against it, for it, get rid of it, leave it to the states, put it at $ 10 an hour); on fight­ing Is­lamic State ( bomb the “hell out of them” and take the oil fields, let our re­gional al­lies take the lead, de­clare war and send in troops, let Rus­sia take care of it); on taxes for the wealthy ( in­crease them, cut them dra­mat­i­cally, make the wealthy pay more, make ev­ery­one pay less); on his Mus­lim ban (ex­clude all Mus­lims, keep Mus­lims out ex­cept for mem­bers of the mil­i­tary and cur­rent res­i­dents, it was “just a sug­ges­tion,” ban Mus­lims from coun­tries with a his­tory of ter­ror­ism, im­pose “ex­treme vet­ting”); on the na­tional debt ( elim­i­nate it in eight years, pri­or­i­tize mas­sive in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing, rene­go­ti­ate debt with cred­i­tors, just “print the money”).

Now, con­cern­ing his defin­ing prom­ise to round up and de­port 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented men, women and chil­dren, Trump is un­der­go­ing a rapid, con­vul­sive tran­si­tion from Mr. Hyde into Dr. Jekyll. In the movies, this role would re­quire hours in the chair of a highly skilled makeup artist. Trump has Sean Han­nity.

For much of Trump’s fan base, these de­tails couldn’t mat­ter less. The Trump rev­o­lu­tion is mainly a mat­ter of per­son­nel, not pol­icy. Put the right man in charge who will hire the “best peo­ple” and fire all the cor­rupt, stupid fail­ures. Trump’s pri­mary ap­peal — and his main source of self- re­gard — is his skill as a ne­go­tia­tor, man­ager and tal­ent scout.

Here we are also get­ting a good feel for the can­di­date. Trump’s cam­paign has been a roil­ing, nox­ious, dys­func­tional mess from the start, char­ac­ter­ized by pub­lic feuds, sub­ject to sud­den lead­er­ship changes and un­able to ful­fill key func­tions ( like ac­tu­ally hav­ing a cam­paign ap­pa­ra­tus in key states). And Trump’s per­son­nel se­lec­tions have been both in­struc­tive and dis­as­trous.

Con­sider this list of Trump’s cho­sen: For­mer cam­paign man­ager Corey Le­wandowski had a bru­tal and de­mean­ing style that re­sulted in a staff re­volt, and his man­han­dling of a fe­male re­porter over­shad­owed the Trump cam­paign for weeks. For­mer cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort was paid lu­cra­tive con­sult­ing fees by for­eign in­ter­ests, and re­signed af­ter re­ports that Ukraine anti- cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tors were


scru­ti­niz­ing mil­lions in al­leged pay­ments there.

Long­time ad­viser Roger Stone is a crack­pot con­spir­acy the­o­rist who as­serts that Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton are “plau­si­bly re­spon­si­ble” for the deaths of roughly 40 peo­ple and that Hil­lary Clin­ton should be “ex­e­cuted for mur­der.” Con­fi­dante Roger Ailes re­cently stepped down from his job at Fox un­der a cloud of sex­ual ha­rass­ment claims. And Steve Ban­non, Trump’s new cam­paign chief ex­ec­u­tive, is known for his bul­ly­ing tac­tics and for run­ning a web­site ( Bre­it­bart News) that flirts with white na­tion­al­ism.

There are a few ex­cep­tions to this pat­tern — Kellyanne Con­way and Mike Pence come to mind — but Trump has hired and el­e­vated some of the very worst peo­ple in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, known for their cru­elty, rad­i­cal­ism, prej­u­dice and cor­rup­tion.

What does all this say about Trump as a prospec­tive pres­i­dent?

First, it means that the ideal of lead­er­ship Trump dis­played as a re­al­ity tele­vi­sion star is his ac­tual view of lead­er­ship. It is not an act. In Trump’s view, lead­ers el­e­vate them­selves by be­lit­tling others. They yell and abuse and bully. And their most im­por­tant qual­ity is ab­so­lute loy­alty to the great leader, the star of the show. This is a view of lead­er­ship that would make H. R. Halde­man cringe.

Sec­ond, Trump has man­aged to pick a team that di­rectly un­der­mines many of his cam­paign ob­jec­tives. Need to ap­peal to women? In­clude a man in your in­ner cir­cle ac­cused by many of misog­yny. Need to ap­peal to mi­nori­ties? El­e­vate a fig­ure as­so­ci­ated with the racially di­vi­sive alt- right. Need to chal­lenge the cor­rupt sta­tus quo in Wash­ing­ton? Hire a con­sul­tant for op­pres­sive gov­ern­ments. Trump’s rhetoric is be­lied by his choice of friends and as­so­ciates.

Fi­nally, ide­ol­ogy doesn’t seem to be the main cri­te­ria in Trump’s se­lec­tions. The hir­ing of Ban­non does make Trump’s ap­peal to the alt-right ex­plicit. But Bre­it­bart is mainly known in this elec­tion for slav­ish de­vo­tion to the cult of Trump. This at­tribute may well guide most of Trump’s top-level per­son­nel choices, in­clud­ing for the Supreme Court.

Trump, more than most, needs to sur­round him­self with peo­ple who com­pen­sate for his alarm­ing weak­nesses. In­stead, his choices demon­strate and am­plify those weak­nesses, be­com­ing one more rea­son to ut­terly re­ject his lead­er­ship.

Michael Ger­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Contact him at michael­ger­son@ wash­post. com.

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