In the midst of the longest run of self-inflicted wounds known to man, Donald Trump caught a huge break.
And then, of course, he tossed it away.
Trump’s nemesis, Jim Comey, has a book out — “A Higher Loyalty” — currently being supported by Comey’s impossible-to-miss TV extravaganza, from which the headline is that Trump is “morally unfit to be president.” That’s a fairly obvious message, but still devastating when it comes from the former head of the FBI, even if the former head was, in fact, fired by the morally-unfit guy.
But the story does not end there. In the course of explaining Trump’s inarguable unfitness, his need to lie at every turn, his constant demand for personal loyalty, Comey, who trades on his well-known rectitude, ends up in a spitting match with the champion Twitter-spitter himself.
Trump calls Comey a slimeball.
In the book and on the air, Comey is telling us that Trump is like a mob boss, which he may be, but come on.
Trump says Comey is a liar and a leaker.
Comey tells us about Trump’s orange complexion and Trump’s smaller-than-Comey’s hands, which, he concedes, are not inordinately small.
Trump says Comey belongs in jail.
Comey writes of the alleged Trump pee tape and Trump’s concern that there was a 1 percent chance (or maybe more?) his wife would believe it.
This was all being played on Trump’s court, which Comey should have avoided at all costs. He’s supposed to be the sober, impartial symbol of the FBI — and not the one reminding us of the role he played in Trump’s election. (Quick analysis: Comey said he got involved with the Clinton emails with 11 days to go before Election Day because he didn’t want Trump’s team to be able to say the FBI helped rig the election. That rings perfectly true. It also rings like a cracked bell. So, Comey wouldn’t have come forward with a story that might have swung the election if he thought Trump was going to win? That’s his excuse?)
OK, Trump was winning the spitting match by drawing Comey into it. That’s the only place he does much winning. It’s not that anyone thinks Comey isn’t telling the truth about every meeting he had with Trump or every suggestion of Trump’s obvious lack of integrity. It was that, after a few days of the Comey tour, the spitting match became all that anyone was talking about, until, of course, the Michael Cohen/Sean Hannity story hit.
But then, as I said, Trump threw it all away. We go back to Russia. We always go back to Russia. The Russia investigation was why, Trump has admitted, he fired Comey. The firing is the reason Comey’s book will be a huge bestseller. And to put it all in perspective, Comey’s dismissal led directly to the hiring of special counsel Mueller, which leads directly to the question whether Trump will create a constitutional crisis by firing Mueller. (My guess: He will try to, eventually.)
We go back to Russia because Comey thinks Russia might have something on Trump. He said as much in his interview with George Stephanopoulos that aired Sunday night. On Sunday morning, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley had said that new sanctions against Russia would be in place by Monday. And The Washington Post ran a weekend story saying that Trump was getting rolled by his foreign policy team, which kept forcing Trump to go much harder on Russia than he wanted.
It was a humiliating story — not unlike the many such stories that just won the Post a Pulitzer that it shared with The New York Times — in which we learned that Trump, after expelling 60 Russians for the poisoning of the former spy, was furious to learn that France and Great Britain had expelled only four apiece. He thought his advisers had told him they’d each expel 60, too. Trump was upset because — get this — everyone was saying how tough he was.
To show that he wouldn’t be tough on Vladimir Putin, he would overrule/humiliate Haley, saying there would be no more sanctions for now, and repeating, through his spokesperson, that there’s no reason why we can’t be friends with Russia. You know, even if Russia is, along with Iran, propping up the very Syrian dictator whose chemical weapons plants Trump had just bombed.
Personally, I thought the bombing was futile and accomplished nothing. From what I read from many of the experts, I doubt a prolonged bombing would accomplish much more. I agree that gassing is a particularly horrible act, but if you want to stop the horrible acts in Syria, where 500,000 or more have died in the war there, a quick strike at some chemical sites doesn’t even begin to do that, particularly when Trump had just said he was ready to pull out the remaining American troops.
So, what was Trump trying to accomplish? What’s the message to North Korea? To Iran? These guys must have thought, what the hell? That’s apparently what Bashar al-Assad thought.
Why was Trump’s tough-guy, mission-accomplished speech accompanied by an accomplishing-nothing-much missile attack? Why, oh why, did Trump overrule his foreign-policy team on more sanctions against Russia, which Trump said would pay “a big price” for its enabling of Syria’s chemical weapons?
Why do you think?
This is what Comey said when Stephanopoulos asked about whether Russia had anything on Trump: “I think it’s possible. I don’t know. These are more words I never thought I’d utter about a President of the United States, but it’s possible.”
With Trump’s latest unsurprising Russia response, you obviously can’t help but at least wonder, as many have, about the possibility. And so Comey doesn’t so much win the week as Trump, once again, loses it.