The British understand class. We have our House of Representatives – the raucous “people’s house” where everyone is up for reelection every two years, to represent a small and unique congressional district with its own concerns and values – and our patrician Senate where those people represent a whole state and serve for six years, where only one third of them are up for reaction with each election cycle – so the Senate is stable and reserved and decorous and full of traditions still honored after all these years. The House is full of firebrands and goofballs. Senators are wise statesmen – at least in theory. The Brits are more straightforward about this. They have a House of Commons and a House of Lords. The Brits name things properly.
They know what they’re dealing with. The British novelist Evelyn Waugh once described one of his characters this way – “He was gifted with the sly, sharp instinct for self-preservation that passes for wisdom among the rich.”
That’s about it. The rich aren’t smart. They’re just rich. That’s it. That’s all there is – but Americans don’t think that way. Donald Trump is rich so he must be smart. He’s richer than most everyone else so he must be smarter than most everyone else. Two years ago, however, Chris Cillizza noted this:
In the wake of Trump’s absolutely stunning 2016 victory, the conventional wisdom – in political circles – was that Trump was a strategic genius, always seeing five moves ahead. He was playing three-dimensional chess while the media was still trying to figure out which way pawns could move. The reason no one thought Trump could win was because “we” didn’t see the whole board the way he did. No one else saw it that way. Trump was a genius – an unconventional genius but a genius nonetheless.
But that’s not what he was:
Every after-action report of the 2016 campaign has put the lie to that idea. Trump and his team didn’t think they were going to win. Many of them thought they were going to be blown out. The idea that Trump was executing some sort of master plan and always knew he was going to shock the world just isn’t born out.
Still, when Trump took over the White House the prevailing wisdom was that he had outwitted and outsmarted Democrats. But, with each passing day, week and month, it becomes more and more undeniable that Trump has no master plan and is no master strategist.
His only guiding principle is his own personal vendettas.
Trump may be rich. But the rich aren’t smart. The just have that sly, sharp instinct for self-preservation. And now that’s become troublesome, or just strange. Trump’s self-preservation seems to involve attacking a dead man, and a dead hero to millions of Americans at that. This is not three-dimensional chess. This is kind of sick, but that’s what is happening:
President Trump on Wednesday escalated his unrelenting attacks on the late senator from Arizona and former GOP presidential nominee John McCain, who even in death has remained one of Trump’s top targets for abuse as fellow Republicans have repeatedly begged him to stop.
In a five-minute diatribe during an appearance at a General Dynamics tank factory in Lima, Ohio, Trump argued that McCain, a lifelong Pentagon booster and former prisoner of war in Vietnam, “didn’t get the job done” for veterans while also grousing that he did not receive proper gratitude for McCain’s funeral last September.
“I gave him the kind of funeral he wanted, which as president I had to approve,” Trump said inaccurately, an apparent reference to allowing the use of military transport to carry McCain’s body to Washington. “I don’t care about this. I didn’t get a thank-you, that’s okay. We sent him on the way. But I wasn’t a fan of John McCain.”
He added, “I have to be honest, I never liked him much. Hasn’t been for me. I’ve really, probably, never will.”
The last quote is verbatim – the syntax is mangled and the grammar hopeless – and the dead don’t send thank-you notes. (They’re dead.) But the general idea is clear. Trump is the victim here. He’s been used by John McCain, that bastard.
That did not go down well:
“It’s deplorable what he said,” Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in an interview with Atlanta-based Georgia Public Broadcasting earlier Wednesday, referring to previous Trump attacks on McCain. “It will be deplorable seven months from now, if he says it again, and I will continue to speak out… We should never reduce the service that people give to this country, including the offering of their own life.”
Yeah, well, Johnny Isakson will just have to get in line:
In recent days, the president has also attacked George Conway, the husband of senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway, calling him a “stone cold loser,” “a whack job” and a “husband from hell” after Conway raised questions about the president’s mental health on Twitter. Others who have drawn the president’s ire in recent days have included weekend Fox News hosts and “Saturday Night Live” writers and performers.
Some close to the president have attributed his frustrations to worrying over the looming report on Russian election interference from the special counsel’s office – which he mocked Wednesday on the South Lawn of the White House en route to Ohio – while others said he simply has fewer advisers to restrain him from airing his grievances.
Perhaps so, but this may not be worry or a staffing problem. This seems to be that personal vendetta:
Animosity between Trump, who received draft deferments from military service, and McCain stretches back decades and came to a head during the 2016 campaign when Trump declared that McCain was “not a war hero” because he had been captured after his plane was shot down over North Vietnam.
Aides say the new round of frustrations over McCain was fueled by a news report Trump saw recently about McCain’s role in handing over a copy of an intelligence dossier to the FBI after the 2016 election. Trump inaccurately blames the disputed document for kicking off the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the campaign to help Trump.
Trump has regularly railed about McCain in the nearly seven months since his death, complaining about the dossier and the senator’s vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act. Exasperated advisers have encouraged him repeatedly to drop the issue, but his grudge against McCain is particularly visceral, according to current and former aides.
But it’s more than that:
Some of McCain’s supporters said the criticism would amuse McCain, who would have appreciated that the president was still tormented by his legacy. Mark Salter, McCain’s longtime friend and co-author, said that at first he was angered by the president’s mischaracterizations.
“It’s reaching a point of boredom for all of us. McCain is getting some kind of amusement out of it that he’s still in the guy’s head somewhere,” Salter said. “It doesn’t help him, but he can’t control himself. He obviously resents John. He obviously craves the admiration that John received in life. He may excoriate the establishment and fake news and everything else, but he craves its approval.”
And that dead man is getting all the approval!
That makes all of this a bit embarrassing:
Republicans have privately urged Trump to be more decorous about their late colleague, but most have done little in response to the continued attacks, aside from veiled criticisms. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) posted a tweet before Trump’s Ohio speech that praised McCain but did not mention the president.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who was close to McCain and remains close to Trump, said at an event in South Carolina on Monday that he had repeatedly counseled the president against attacking his late friend, to no avail.
“He’s an American hero, and nothing will ever change that in my eyes. I want to help this president, I want him to be successful,” he said. “I think the president’s comments about Senator McCain hurt him more than they hurt the legacy of Senator McCain.”
That’s about as far as they will go. They’re a bit sad and disappointed with Trump. That’s all, and that’s useless:
The president is unlikely to change his posture toward McCain, aides say. He takes particular pride in the idea that GOP voters prefer him over McCain, and aides say he has bragged that Republicans might cringe but not punish him over the attacks.
On the day of McCain’s death, he scuttled issuing a statement drafted by White House aides honoring his life. He reluctantly lowered the U.S. flags over the White House briefly before they were raised – then under a fierce backlash, lowered them again.
The president also fumed about the wall-to-wall news coverage of McCain’s death and that he was not invited to the funeral at Washington National Cathedral, current and former administration officials said.
Trump said in Lima that he did not like McCain because he received a “fake and phony” dossier and handed it over to the FBI, “hoping to put me in jeopardy.” McCain had said he handed over the document after it was provided to him on the sidelines of a security conference because he thought it was important for law enforcement to investigate.
The president said, without providing examples or evidence, that McCain “didn’t get the job done for our great vets at the VA and they knew it.”
He was deep into his long list of McCain’s imaginary sins against him, on a roll, and then he realized he wasn’t alone:
After about five minutes of complaining about McCain, Trump seemed to realize he had flown to Ohio for another reason. Explaining his jeremiad, he said the news media had asked him about McCain – but only after he tweeted attacks on the late senator.
“Not my kind of guy, but some people like him and I think that’s great,” he said. “Now, let’s get back and get onto the subject of tanks and this economy.”
He seems to have realized he went off the deep end for a moment there, but Aaron Blake sees this:
Of all the political and societal norms President Trump has bulldozed, our reverence for war heroes may be one of the most significant. Our national defense is built upon a special regard for people who have risked their lives in battle. When we as a society step outside that – such as when people disrespected returning Vietnam veterans – a correction has followed.
That correction has been slow-coming when it comes to President Trump and John McCain, because Republicans are terrified of Trump and his sway with the GOP base. They almost uniformly denounced Trump back in 2015 when he first suggested the valorous former prisoner of war wasn’t actually a hero. But today, seven months after McCain’s death and with Trump re-upping his attacks, they’re pained to uphold this very basic American ideal.
There was only Johnny Isakson:
“I just want to lay it on the line, that the country deserves better, the McCain family deserves better. I don’t care if he’s president of United States, owns all the real estate in New York, or is building the greatest immigration system in the world. Nothing is more important than the integrity of the country and those who fought and risked their lives for all of us,” Isakson said.
“America deserves better, the people deserve better, and nobody – regardless of their position – is above common decency and respect for people that risk their life for your life. When the president is saying that that he doesn’t respect John McCain and he’s never going to respect John McCain and all these kids are out there listening to the president of the United States talk that way about the most decorated senator in history who is dead it just sets the worst tone possible.”
There’s another way to say that. Trump may be really rich, but he’s not very smart. He’s not even a decent man, and there’s this:
Cindy McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain, posted a hateful message she received from a stranger the same day President Donald Trump disparaged her late husband.
McCain posted a photo of the private message on Twitter and wrote, “I want to make sure all of you could see how kind and loving a stranger can be. I’m posting her note for her family and friends could see.”
The message said the sender was “glad” the late Arizona Republican is dead, and called him a “traitorous piece of warmongering s***.”
The message also attacked her daughter, Meghan McCain, criticizing her appearance and saying she hopes she “chokes to death.”
This has now gone off the deep end, but there’s even more:
President Trump on Wednesday escalated his feud with the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, calling him a “whack job” and “husband from hell” who is hurting his wife and family.
Trump’s broadside against George Conway, a conservative lawyer and frequent critic of the president, began early Wednesday on Twitter as Trump responded for a second day in a row to Conway’s suggestions that his mental health is deteriorating.
“George Conway, often referred to as Mr. Kellyanne Conway by those who know him, is VERY jealous of his wife’s success & angry that I, with her help, didn’t give him the job he so desperately wanted,” Trump wrote. “I barely know him but just take a look, a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!”
Trump was not saying that his mental health is or is not deteriorating, but he was saying that George Conway wasn’t a real man, and perhaps that Kellyanne Conway was the man in that family. And he feels sorry for her:
Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Trump said George Conway is a “whack job,” adding: “Kellyanne is a wonderful woman. He’s doing a tremendous disservice to a wife and family.”
And then it began:
George Conway responded less than 20 minutes after Trump’s morning tweet.
“You seem determined to prove my point. Good for you!” he wrote on Twitter, adding: “#NarcissisticPersonalityDisorder.”
In a subsequent tweet directed at Trump, he added: “You. Are. Nuts.”
And then Kellyanne Conway showed the world just who everyone should support, by choosing Trump over that fool she married:
Kellyanne Conway defended Trump during an interview with Politico on Wednesday, calling him a “counterpuncher.”
“You think he shouldn’t respond when somebody, a nonmedical professional accuses him of having a mental disorder?” Conway said, according to the publication. “You think he should just take that sitting down?”
But there was more:
George Conway has pushed back on several of Trump’s assertions, including the notion that Trump decided not to give him a job.
Conway said Tuesday that he opted against working in the Justice Department after Trump offered him a position heading the civil division because he watched Trump attack the department’s leaders and then fire James B. Comey as FBI director in May 2017.
On Wednesday, Conway shared a letter he wrote to Trump, dated May 31, 2017, in which he thanked Trump for selecting him for the job but said he was backing out.
Documentation is a bitch:
George Conway has been a persistent critic of Trump’s policies and actions, frequently going on Twitter to question whether the president is operating within the Constitution and other accepted boundaries. But the criticism recently has become more personal, and he has often attacked Trump just after his wife has defended the president on television.
In tweets Monday, Conway included images from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, including pages with diagnostic criteria for “narcissistic personality disorder” and “antisocial personality disorder.”
Yeah, well, Trump can say his wife would leave him for just another hour with Donald Trump – so there!
This too was embarrassing and Politico reports this:
As the lurid disputes dominated cable news for several more hours, it was unclear whether Trump had any strategy in mind. Some people close to Trump speculated that he might be consciously trying to remake the news environment – creating a bizarre spectacle to displace criticism of his tepid response to the massacre of dozens of Muslims in New Zealand, the timing of the administration’s decision to ground Boeing’s 737 Max jets, and frenzied anticipation around the expected release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report.
But the saga has left even White House aides, accustomed to a president who bucks convention, feeling uncomfortable…
“For the most part, most people internally don’t want to touch this with a 10-foot pole,” said one former senior White House official. A current senior White House official said White House aides are making an effort “not to discuss it in polite company.” Another current White House official bemoaned the tawdry distraction. “It does not appear to be a great use of our time to talk about George Conway or dead John McCain. Why are we doing this?”
And there’s this problem too:
While multiple sources said Kellyanne Conway’s standing with Trump appears to remain solid, some worried that the ongoing controversy could compromise her effectiveness if she is confronted in every one of her frequent television interviews with her husband’s scathing commentary about the president.
“It makes it very, very, very difficult” for her to do her job, said the former senior White House official.
But it’s all personal:
The Conway and McCain feuds revealed a handful of truths about the president and his White House, starting with the president’s hair-trigger sensitivity over accusations of mental instability. After the author Michael Wolff raised questions about Trump’s mental health in a 2018 book, the president lashed out – despite warnings that he was only inflating Wolff’s book sales – and insisted that he was a “stable genius.” Those who know him say these barbs are a point of particular sensitivity, and his dispute with Conway appears to have originated from the attorney’s recent suggestions that Trump is mentally ill.
After tweeting images from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – the text medical professionals use to diagnose mental illness – listing the characteristic of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Conway charged that Trump is “unfit and incompetent for the esteemed office you temporarily hold.”
“I don’t think that Trump is laughing at that,” said Jack O’Donnell, a former Trump casino executive who has become a critic of the president. “He takes that stuff pretty personally.”
And then he goes off the deep end again. He proves the point. And he doesn’t even have that sly, sharp instinct for self-preservation that passes for wisdom among the rich. He’s not going to survive this.