Trump runs match­mak­ing ser­vice

The Record (Troy, NY) - - OPINION - Fol­low Dana Mil­bank on Twit­ter, @Mil­bank.

At his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing last week, Mike Pom­peo, Pres­i­dent Trump’s nom­i­nee to be sec­re­tary of state, gave a six-minute open­ing state­ment that made no men­tion of Rus­sia, China, North Korea, Syria or Iran. Here is what Pom­peo did say:

“I’m a movie buff. I have a soft spot for my golden re­triev­ers. I love meat­balls. ... I love Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War his­tory, coun­try mu­sic, show tunes and col­lege bas­ket­ball.”

I half-ex­pected him to say he also likes long walks on the beach, Sun­day trips to the farm­ers mar­ket, and cud­dling up in front of Net­flix.

I won­dered: Is Pom­peo seek­ing con­fir­ma­tion as the na­tion’s top diplo­mat, or writ­ing an on­line dat­ing bio?

And then I won­dered: Is there a dif­fer­ence?

Early in this sec­ond year of the Trump pres­i­dency, the ad­min­is­tra­tion bears an eerie re­sem­blance to a match­mak­ing ser­vice. As the pres­i­dent cy­cles through ad­vis­ers the way other peo­ple do con­tact lenses, the qual­ity that draws him to hire is nei­ther cre­den­tials nor com­pe­tence nor even ide­o­log­i­cal com­pat­i­bil­ity but a Trumpian im­pulse that he has chem­istry with the ap­pli­cant. It’s less like OKCupid, on which peo­ple seek prospec­tive part­ners, than Tin­der, where peo­ple go for a hookup.

Signs of a Tin­der pres­i­dency: Of the 23 of­fi­cials who took the oath of of­fice on Trump’s first week­day in of­fice, 14 are now gone, The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Philip Bump re­ported. That’s 61 per­cent. A quar­ter of Trump’s core Cab­i­net mem­bers have de- parted. Last week alone, Trump’s home­land se­cu­rity ad­viser quit, as did the deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser for strat­egy and the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil spokesman. This came with the ar­rival of Trump’s third na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser in 15 months and his sec­ond na­tional eco­nomic ad­viser.

It’s clear why. Trump’s tastes change fre­quently. Those who do choose to serve this pres­i­dent -- never from the A-list of ad­vis­ers -- find it dif­fi­cult to keep up with the loy­alty it re­quires: not to an ide­ol­ogy or a party, but to an ever-chang­ing ar­ray of pres­i­den­tial im­pulses. To use a Tin­derism, Trump is here for a good time, not a long time.

James B. Comey, in his new book, likens Trump to a mob boss: “The silent cir­cle of as­sent. The boss in com­plete con­trol. The loy­alty oaths. The us-ver­sus-them world­view. The ly­ing about all things, large and small, in ser­vice to some code of loy­alty that put the or­ga­ni­za­tion above moral­ity and above the truth.”

Comey writes about “the im­pos­tor com­plex,” also known as im­pos­tor syn­drome: “All of us la­bor, to one de­gree or an­other, under the be­lief that if other peo­ple re­ally knew us, if they knew us the way we know our­selves, they would think less of us.”

This has been di­ag­nosed be­fore. Trump’s ghost­writer, Tony Schwartz, said Trump has one of “the most pro­found cases of im­pos­tor syn­drome that has ever ex­isted.” Be­cause Trump’s im­pos­tor com­plex is the size of Trump Tower, no one can af­firm all of his ever-shift­ing im­pulses. Hence Trump’s per­pet­ual quest for his next Tin­derella.

Last year, Trump swiped right -- that’s Tin­der talk for “yes” -- on H.R. McMaster. At the time, he thought gen­er­als were sexy.

He swiped left -- Tin­der for “no” -- on John Bolton, re­port­edly be­cause he didn’t like Bolton’s mus­tache. But then Trump’s tastes on for­eign pol­icy took a hawk­ish swing, and gen­er­als are no­to­ri­ously prud­ish about start­ing wars. So Trump swiped right on Bolton, whose hawk­ish­ness now out­weighs fa­cial hair.

At the Na­tional Eco­nomic Coun­cil, Trump first had a crush on Gold­man Sachs ex­per­tise, so he swiped right on Gary Cohn. But when Cohn dis­ap­pointed Trump by dis­agree­ing with him on trade, Trump de­vel­oped a fond­ness for TV per­son­al­i­ties. He swiped right on Larry Kud­low, who isn’t a trained econ­o­mist but is will­ing to swal­low his reser­va­tions about Trump’s trade pol­icy.

At Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, Trump orig­i­nally swiped right on David Shulkin, an Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion holdover; at the time cros­saisle co­op­er­a­tion had a cer­tain je ne sais quoi. But af­ter White House physi­cian Ronny L. Jack­son gave his tele­vised brief­ing rhap­sodiz­ing upon Trump’s un­par­al­leled good health, Trump swiped right on his doc­tor for VA.

At State, Trump orig­i­nally swiped right for a wealthy busi­ness­man. But it turned out the busi­ness­man, Rex Tiller­son, had opin­ions that clashed with Trump’s. Trump swiped left on Tiller­son and swiped right on Pom­peo, who has less stature but is more dis­creet about his dis­agree­ments with Trump.

Of course, it’s just a mat­ter of time be­fore Pom­peo, Jack­son, Kud­low and Bolton dis­cover that they, too, can no longer sat­isfy the pres­i­dent’s lat­est im­pulse.

He’s not look­ing for Mr. Right. To use one of the most com­mon lines on Tin­der, he’s just “look­ing for a part­ner in crime.”

Dana Mil­bank Colum­nist

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