You really don’t want to know how sausages are made and you can blame Upton Sinclair for that. It was his 1906 novel The Jungle that changed everything. This was a tale of the miserably hard life of immigrants in Chicago at the time, but that’s not what people remembered. His novel was set in the meatpacking industry in Chicago – “Hog Butcher to the World” as Carl Sandburg called the city – and soon everyone knew what filth and nasty stuff went into their morning sausage. Oops. As Sinclair later said, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach” – but that led to the Meat Inspection Act the next year, and all food-safety inspection since, so it all worked out. And a cliché was born – you really don’t want to know how that sausage was made. As for Upton Sinclair, he was sometimes a Socialist and sometimes a Democrat, and in 1934 he ran for governor out here in California. He lost.
That’s a bit of a shame, because our government – as things have worked out – is a bit of a sausage factory. You really don’t want to know how a bill becomes law. The folks on your side of things give up concessions that would appall you – the folks on the other side do the same – and no one is supposed to know about those nasty parts. Each side gets to claim victory. No one’s the wiser – and the same thing happens with major appointments. Lincoln assembled his famous “team of rivals” to get things done. They may not have been the best men for the job, but each had a constituency. He could play them off against each other, and Kennedy really didn’t like Lyndon Johnson, and Johnson didn’t like him, but Johnson could help Kennedy carry the South, and Johnson was a master at twisting arms in the Senate, in his own crude way. He was useful, and he was a counterweight to the dashing young urbane (and urban) Kennedy and his ethereally elegant wife, who spoke French of all things. Johnson would do. Kennedy would make do.
Will Donald Trump make do? He seems to be considering Mitt Romney as his pick for secretary of state, and the two have come to loathe each other. Romney famously and publicly declared Donald Trump unfit for the presidency. He’d never vote for him. His comments were blunt and extensive. He didn’t vote for him. Trump was outraged and hit back. Romney was a loser. He “choked” and lost to Obama in 2012 – he was a total loser, but Romney has thought long and hard about foreign relations. He knows the territory. He’s sober and serious and careful. He’s a counterweight to Trump in a way that Rudy Giuliani, the other likely option, isn’t. Giuliani is rabidly loyal to Trump, but that’s the problem. Giuliani hasn’t aged well. He rants, and he hasn’t thought long and hard about anything in decades, if he ever did. And he doesn’t know the territory. He’s not a statesman. He never was – and then there’s Bob Corker, the present chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He’s safe. He’s also dull. Trump has no tolerance for boring people.
Of course there’s someone else. Charles Krauthammer is excited about that someone else:
But I do think we should keep our eye on a third possibility… and that would be David Petraeus, who to the world represents America at its strongest and most decisive. He is the guy who saved the Iraq War, and is a man who has written and thought deeply about the new kind of warfare that we are involved in. And that, I think, would be a spectacular choice.
Kevin Drum isn’t so sure about that:
Krauthammer, of course, was part of the chorus claiming that Hillary Clinton had betrayed the republic as Secretary of State because she occasionally discussed the administration’s drone program over unclassified email. The emails were all carefully worded; there weren’t very many of them; everything in them had almost certainly been widely reported already; there’s no evidence that anyone ever hacked them; and James Comey said clearly that it wasn’t even a close call to determine that Clinton had done nothing illegal. Nonetheless, she had endangered the country and was obviously unfit to hold office.
But David Petraeus – that’s a different story. Petraeus was head of the CIA; he got smitten by an attractive woman; he knowingly and deliberately passed along classified information to her; he tried to hide the email trail; and he was eventually convicted of mishandling classified information as part of a plea deal. For all I know, he may literally be unable to get a security clearance any longer.
But he would be a “spectacular” choice for Hillary Clinton’s old job. Good God.
Drum then adds this:
Of course, Krauthammer was also one of the conservatives who embraced the conspiracy theory that Obama used Petraeus’s affair to blackmail Petraeus into giving favorable testimony on Benghazi. So who knows what really goes through that head of his.
No one knows, but David Petraeus is a long-shot here. Donald Trump loves generals – he wishes he’d have been one, like Patton or MacArthur – so he’s met with David Petraeus. It could be Petraeus, or maybe not. Donald Trump likes to stir up trouble, but Petraeus may be more trouble than he’s worth. Explaining that the email thing with his mistress, and his resignation from the CIA with his admission of guilt, and the plea deal, was not nearly as bad as what Hillary Clinton did… well, that may not fly. Charles Krauthammer and the whole crew at Fox News would back Trump on Petraeus. But it’s likely that no one else would. Everyone else would laugh at Trump. He hates that. Petraeus is out, maybe.
Welcome to the sausage factory. In fact, let Michael Shear and Maggie Habermann take you on a walk through the sausage factory that is Donald Trump’s mind:
Kellyanne Conway, one of President-elect Donald J. Trump’s senior advisers, was about to board a flight back to New York on Monday morning when she caught a glimpse of the headline crawling across television screens in the terminal.
“SOURCES: TRUMP ‘FURIOUS’ OVER CONWAY COMMENTS ABOUT ROMNEY,” screamed the headline on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.
Ms. Conway quickly dialed Mr. Trump, as well as Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and confidant, seeking reassurance that the headline was wrong.
She got it.
Ah, it’s a bit of a game:
Ms. Conway, the Republican pollster and strategist who managed Mr. Trump’s improbable campaign, said the president-elect was neither surprised nor angered by her public excoriation a day earlier of former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, a top prospect for secretary of state in the Trump administration.
“When he’s upset with someone, they know it,” Ms. Conway said in a telephone interview late Monday afternoon. While her public display may have bothered some members of Mr. Trump’s transition team, by all accounts, her close relationship with the next occupant of the Oval Office remains secure.
Mr. Trump, in a statement emailed Monday evening by his spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, said: “Kellyanne came to me and asked whether or not she could go public with her thoughts on the matter. I encouraged her to do so. Most importantly she fully acknowledged there is only one person that makes the decision. She has always been a tremendous asset and that will continue.”
That’s because she helps him make trouble:
To those on the outside of the Trump transition, her remarks on Sunday had all the hallmarks of a political staff member gone rogue. Amid reports of intense closed-door deliberations over who should be secretary of state, Ms. Conway had seemed intent on committing a heretical political act by an aide: boxing in her boss. She wrote on Twitter about a “deluge” of concerns from conservatives and appeared repeatedly on television, insisting that a Romney appointment would be seen by Mr. Trump’s supporters as a “betrayal.”
But little in Mr. Trump’s universe is simple. In fact, people familiar with the dynamic inside Trump Tower – who were granted anonymity to discuss the unusual process that Mr. Trump has allowed for his transition – said Ms. Conway had been neither insubordinate nor acting directly on the president-elect’s instruction.
By denouncing Mr. Romney even as Mr. Trump was preparing for their second meeting, this time over dinner on Tuesday, Ms. Conway was simply doing what she knows Mr. Trump likes: encouraging a public airing of conflicting views when he is unsure of what path to take.
So this was no big deal:
What some saw over the weekend as an act of political defiance by Ms. Conway – undermining a potential cabinet nominee – was seen by Mr. Trump as a demonstration of loyalty, according to people who had talked to him. Her criticism of Mr. Romney articulated a view her boss had at times expressed: that Mr. Romney had tried to “hurt” him during the campaign and had yet to fully acknowledge it or apologize.
This demonstration of loyalty is what really mattered, even if it confused the hell out of everyone:
Mr. Trump made clear throughout the campaign when he was unhappy with those speaking for him on television. Some cable bookers have been quietly told not to refer to someone as a “surrogate” for the campaign on a given day if the person has fallen out of favor.
On a conference call with top supporters at one point, Mr. Trump denounced some of his own aides and said they did not speak for him.
That is not a problem that Ms. Conway has encountered.
Still, everyone was confused:
Joe Scarborough, the MSNBC host whose show is closely watched by Mr. Trump, accused Ms. Conway of trying to “intimidate the president-elect,” adding that “now all world leaders will be watching to see if a President Trump can be bullied by his staff.”
Ms. Conway responded to Mr. Scarborough on Twitter by saying, “Repeating 100th time decision is his & I’ll respect it,” and adding, “I already have the job I want.”
Again, welcome to the sausage factory, although Josh Marshall has a different take on this:
It would be entirely normal for someone like Mitt Romney, who had excoriated the incoming president in such blistering and personal terms, to be passed over when it came to putting together a new administration. Some criticisms and breaches are just too hard to get past. But the current drama over Mitt Romney’s possible nomination to be Secretary of State points to something quite different: the ritual humiliation of opponents, critics and all who have resisted that Trump yoke that is central to the Trump world. We saw it repeatedly during the campaign and it continues into the transition.
So, how does the best man for the job of secretary of state get the job? Ritual humiliation is the answer:
Trump staffers have been floating word for days that Trump will require Romney to publicly apologize if he wants to be Secretary of State – almost literally a ritual humiliation to enter the Trump inner circle. More pointedly, Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway – now some sort of senior advisor to the transition – has repeatedly said in public that if Trump chooses Romney it would be a betrayal of Trump’s supporters. She said this most recently and floridly this morning on the CNN Sunday morning show.
Pundits are now debating whether Conway is actually being so audacious as to box Trump in by whipping him publicly on the issue or whether this is just stagecraft and Kabuki theater orchestrated from above to drag out Romney’s public humiliation. I have no idea which it is. My best guess is that it’s more organic or tacit than orchestrated. Dignity is the kryptonite of the Trump world. The dignity wraiths that have bowed down to Trump, and given him their all, instinctively look to destroy anyone who hasn’t. Like a mob capos that appear more eager to defend the boss’s honor and power than the boss himself.
That’s a hell of a way to make sausage:
Competence certainly – but also worldview seem largely irrelevant to Trump’s personnel deliberations. Loyalty is the only criteria. Conway seemed to state this explicitly in her comments on CNN: “There are concerns that those of us who are loyal have [about Romney].” This is of a piece with the central role of Trump’s children, his son-in-law and the open effort to turbocharge Trump’s licensing, management and construction business with the presidency. The entire presidency looks set to be personalized, with the difference between the president’s personal and public interests not a matter of conflict but simply an irrelevance.
Public policy means nothing when the presidency is wholly personalized, and a day later, Marshall considers another aspect of that:
Donald Trump craves acceptance and adulation. Much of his 45 year history at the literal and figurative center of Manhattan has been driven by a profound drive to be accepted as a peer by the city’s money elite and his general failure to achieve that. The drives the convoluted mix of neediness and populist, anti-elite grievance and grandstanding we associate with him. That’s the most salient thing about Trump’s candidacy. Even though Trump is a thoroughly New York creature, an elite of elites and a plutocrat, someone with virtually no connection to the people he energized to the polls, he had nevertheless an experience of anti-elite grievance that made the connection possible and galvanizing.
That’s why he’s talking to Romney:
Mitt is the widely respected elite who looked at Trump, regarded him as trash and told him so. For all the difference, for all the non-New York-ness of Mitt, it’s the kind of rejection and insult that we can see as formative and driving influence on Trump’s life.
Mitt is the real thing. Many of us see him as a touch dorky or square. But Mitt is widely respected even among political opponents. He has political pedigree, great success in business. I think there’s part of Trump – a big part – that, as much as he’d like to humiliate Romney, would really like him to join him, join his team, to accept him.
That’s because he’s not at all like Rudy Giuliani, not like what Marshall calls the Trump’s loyalists.
They are virtually all has-beens, unknowns, hotheads who the media and the political party elites see as embarrassments or jokes. Now, maybe Trump saw something in them these guys didn’t. He won the election after all – so maybe so. But still, they’re desperadoes and has-beens and unknowns. This applies to [Paul] Manafort (cashed out long ago, damaged goods), [Cory] Lewandowski (ne’er-do-well in the business), Conway (was a big deal in the 90s), and all the various press spokespeople and handlers. In a different way it applies to Rudy, Newt, and Huckabee. To paraphrase Trump, when they were sending Trump loyalists and surrogates, they weren’t sending their best.
The desire to humiliate is probably much the stronger with Trump. But I think Trump would like Mitt to validate him too.
So THAT’S how the sausage is made. If Marshall is right, Trump is a rather pathetic needy person, desperate for acceptance, while at the same time, eager to publicly humiliate anyone who won’t accept him, if he can get away with it. Dignity is the kryptonite of the Trump world. It takes away Superman’s amazing powers – or something.
That, of course, leads to things like this:
A member of the Electoral College representing Texas, Art Sisneros, wrote on Saturday that he will resign as an elector because he refuses to cast a vote for Donald Trump.
Sisneros had previously spoken out against Trump, telling Politico in August that he was considering voting against Trump even if he won the Electoral College. But in a blog post on Saturday, Sisneros wrote that he does not want to be a “faithless” elector and cannot bring himself to vote for Trump, so he decided to resign from his role as an elector.
The odd thing is that this is a religious act:
“I do not see how Donald Trump is biblically qualified to serve in the office of the Presidency. Of the hundreds of angry messages that I have received, not one has made a convincing case from scripture otherwise,” he wrote on his blog “The Blessed Path.” “If Trump is not qualified and my role, both morally and historically, as an elected official is to vote my conscience, then I cannot and will not vote for Donald Trump for President. I believe voting for Trump would bring dishonor to God.”
Any mention of God, of course, adds some of that dangerous dignity to this act, but it is a civic act too:
“Since I can’t in good conscience vote for Donald Trump, and yet have sinfully made a pledge that I would, the best option I see at this time is to resign my position as an Elector,” Sisneros continued. “This will allow the remaining body of Electors to fill my vacancy when they convene on Dec 19 with someone that can vote for Trump. The people will get their vote. They will get their Skittles for dinner. I will sleep well at night knowing I neither gave in to their demands nor caved to my convictions. I will also mourn the loss of our republic.”
He won’t be alone. Upton Sinclair ruined everyone’s breakfast. Donald Trump ruined everything else.