You have two personally reckless men, outsized in personality, persuasive, successful, loose with the truth and elected anemically and almost accidentally.
Soon into their presidencies they came under investigations they blamed on partisanship and that drove them to distraction.
But there are differences. Clinton was trained in politics and adept in it. Trump is trained in real estate and shallow celebrity, and adept in both.
By July of his first year, Clinton had passed a budget that would set the nation on a course toward surpluses and debt reduction. It’s now July for Trump and he hasn’t passed diddly.
Then there is this factor: Clinton was a serial seducer, able to connect genuinely with people in a moment that soon passed. Trump seems ever connected to, and seduced by, only one person: himself.
Clinton could be handled. He’d submit to it. Trump is not White House-broken. His befouling the place is beginning to seem uncorrectable.
It may be as simple as that Clinton wasn’t, and isn’t, off his gourd, and Trump is.
That brings us to the Wednesday afternoon madness.
Trump had just finished an impressive meeting with the Republican Senate caucus. It probably was too late as a tactic, but, still, Trump read well and forcefully from an expertly prepared text in which he commanded Republican senators not to fail on their quintessential promise to repeal and replace Obamacare and to stay in session as long as it took to get the job done.
That was 180 degrees from where he’d been the night before, but that’s Trump, who is seldom found in the immediate future in the same place he was in the immediate past.
That brings us to what happened when the meeting with the Republican Senate caucus ended.
It turns out Trump had scheduled an interview with three reporters from the world’s greatest newspaper, the New York Times, which he has described as failing, and as fake. It seems he’d been in free-form discussions over a few weeks with a Times editor about having things to say. The Times editor had replied that his White House reporters would be the right folks to receive those things the president wished to say. Trump was joined for the interview only by a young press aide. That was odd, perilous and, pre-Trump, irregular. I was no threat to Clinton when I interviewed him in the Oval Office in June 1993, but, even so, chief of staff Mack McLarty and top aide George Stephanopoulos sat by alertly.
Trump had no senior aide or lawyer, even though the interview would be unrestricted and freewheeling and extend inevitably to the special counsel’s investigation of Russia’s meddling in the election and its connection, if any, to Trump, his campaign and his family.
Trump wound up saying he would never have named Jeff Sessions attorney general if he had known that Sessions would turn around once in office and recuse in matters having to do with the Russian investigation by the FBI, which answers to the attorney general.
He called Sessions’ recusal “extremely unfair to the president.”
Let’s be clear: Trump was saying that he expected his nominee for attorney general to protect him in the Russian affair, not to adhere to professional ethics advice on conflicts of interest in the course of attending to the treasured post-Watergate independence of the law enforcement responsibilities of the Justice Department.
Trump exhibited either a breathtaking ignorance of propriety or a breathtaking disdain for it. Maybe both.
The hero in this epic narrative, ousted FBI director James Comey, had told us under oath that Trump was that way—ignorant or disdainful of the independence of law enforcement and interested most of all in others’ loyalty to him.
Trump said special counsel Robert Mueller would be going too far to investigate his personal finances. Let me ask: What was Whitewater? It was personal finances, at least until Clinton received oral sex and Kenneth Starr made Whitewater about that.
Even a dedicated defender of Trump told me the problem wasn’t what Trump thought but that he lacked the discretion not to utter it.
I’ve been told that, in his private moments in the 1990s, the temperamental Clinton sometimes went off on Attorney General Janet Reno.
Going off in private moments is healthy. Rambling without inhibition to three reporters from the New York Times is unhealthy, both for the rambler and the country that needs a president with self-control.
Sessions, apparently having misplaced his pride and self-respect as a sycophantic Trump backer last year, declined the next day to send the president a resignation letter giving him instructions as to where to place the letter.
That’s probably a good thing. A neutered Sessions on Russia is infinitely better than what Trump and his Republican Senate enablers might give us next.