Donald Trump is no Boy Scout. Everyone knew that after that Access Hollywood tape. Grab them by the pussy? Boy Scouts don’t do that sort of thing. Boy Scouts don’t even say such things – but anyone who had been paying attention all along knew he was what he was – a fabulously wealthy cad with a mean streak. And he was a rather vulgar show-off. Meretricious is a word that’s not used much anymore, but it’s useful to describe his gold-plated-everything towers and hotels and resorts, and the bathrooms on his giant private jetliner. Perhaps he’s insecure. The staid old-money crowd never had much use for him. That probably ate at him all along, driving him to amass even more wealth and power, to show them a thing or two, but he ended up no more than a braggart and a bully.
Donald Trump sold that to America on his shows The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice. “You’re fired!”
God, it would be so cool to be so rich that you could say that to anyone, anytime. America ate it up. They weren’t rich or famous. They couldn’t say that – ever – but he could – and that meant that those weren’t reality shows. Those were fantasy shows. Everyone at one time or another wants to say that – to the wife or husband, to the kids, to the boss, to this politician or that – and can’t. Donald Trump could. He spoke for millions of frustrated Americans. That may have made him president. And the old-money crowd, that shunned the crass vulgarian, could stuff it too. He showed them.
No one wanted a Boy Scout anyway – or in the case of Hillary Clinton, a perky goody-goody Girl Scout – but as Garrison Keillor points out, Trump can be a Boy Scout when the occasion demands it:
It was gratifying that after Wisconsin voted him into the presidency, the gentleman did not talk about putting Hillary Clinton in prison. That was a nice surprise. And when he met with Obama of Kenya, the white sahib was well-behaved, listened to what the African had to say, did not interrupt or call him stupid, and in fact thanked the alien for meeting with him. He did a good impersonation of modesty.
Say what you will, the man is flexible. The wall on the border, his reliable applause line this past year, has been downgraded to a fence in some places and may eventually turn into a line of orange highway cones. The 11 million deportees are down to 2 or 3 million. Clinton may be let off with an ankle bracelet.
Keillor, however, knows the crass vulgarian:
While he’s making alterations, he should consider getting a presidential hairdo rather than the hair of a hotel lounge pianist in 1959. It’s distracting to watch a man talk about national security looking like he might suddenly burst into “Volare.” A makeover would take about 15 minutes max. And might a speech therapist try to smooth out the Tony Soprano accent and give him a presidential voice like Nixon’s or Reagan’s and cut out those irritating repetitions for emphasis – do you know what I mean? Am I right? Am I right? You know I’m right. You better believe I’m right.
He will never be my president because he doesn’t read books, can’t write more than a sentence or two at a time, has no strong loyalties beyond himself, is more insular than any New Yorker I ever knew, and because I don’t see anything admirable or honorable about him. This sets him apart from other politicians. The disaffected white, blue-collar workers elected a Fifth Avenue tycoon to rescue them from the elitists – fine, I get that – but they could’ve chosen a better tycoon. One who served in the military or attends church or reads history, loves opera, sails a boat – something – anything – raises llamas, plays the oboe, runs a 5K race now and then, has close friends from childhood. I look at him and there’s nothing there.
The Boy Scouts hand out merit badges for such things. He’s no Boy Scout, and there’s that other matter. The Boy Scouts have a motto – Be Prepared.
He’s not. The transition is not going well, and Andrea Mitchell, Alexandra Jaffe, and Kelly O’Donnell offer one detail of that:
Donald Trump has taken the unprecedented step of requesting his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, receive top-secret clearance to join him for his Presidential Daily Briefings, which began Tuesday.
Multiple sources tell NBC News Trump received his first briefing on Tuesday and designated both Kushner and Ret. Gen. Michael Flynn as his staff-level companions for the briefings going forward.
While Flynn has the necessary security clearance, Kushner does not, and it could take weeks – or even longer – for him to receive it.
As for Flynn, he had been forced out of his position as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency “after clashing with superiors over his allegedly chaotic management style and vision for the agency” – he was forced to take early retirement – and he speaks at dinners in Moscow, and Putin listens, and his lobbying firm is now paid big bucks by the government of Turkey to influence our policy toward them. He’s kind of a paid agent of a foreign government. Maybe he shouldn’t sit in either, but the real issue is the kid:
While it’s unclear when Kushner would receive security clearance, the legality of such a move is murky as well, as it raises questions about whether Trump is contravening the anti-nepotism law that bars presidents from appointing family members to cabinet positions or formal government jobs.
But Trump’s advisers can argue that the transition team is temporary, and thus not covered by the law. And Trump’s own children have indicated they’ll continue to advise their father in unpaid, informal roles, which may be outside the purview of the law.
Still, experts note the purpose of the 1967 anti-nepotism statute is to prevent nepotistic favoritism in the wielding of federal power and benefits, so any notion of granting such an important federal power to a non-employee family member contradicts the purpose and spirit of that law, as well as standard practice.
It’s unprecedented for a “child or family member” to receive security clearances, said Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer who has held that kind of security clearance and clerked for the National Security Archive.
He added, “You can’t hold a security clearance as an informal advisor – there is no such concept.”
Donald Trump was not prepared for this, and the New York Times has more:
President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition was in disarray on Tuesday, marked by firings, infighting and revelations that American allies were blindly dialing in to Trump Tower to try to reach the soon-to-be-leader of the free world.
Yes, no one was answering the phones, for good reason:
One week after Mr. Trump scored an upset victory that took him by surprise; his team was improvising the most basic traditions of assuming power. That included working without official State Department briefing materials in his first conversations with foreign leaders.
Without those briefing materials they had no idea where things stood now with any foreign government. They couldn’t move forward on any specific current issue. They didn’t know what the current issues were. It was probably best not to answer the phone, because they had just dumped those who might know:
Two officials who had been handling national security for the transition, former Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan and Matthew Freedman, a lobbyist who consults with corporations and foreign governments, were fired. Both were part of what officials described as a purge orchestrated by Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser.
The dismissals followed the abrupt firing on Friday of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who was replaced as chief of the transition by Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Mr. Kushner, a transition official said, was systematically dismissing people like Mr. Rogers who had ties with Mr. Christie. As a federal prosecutor, Mr. Christie had sent Mr. Kushner’s father to jail.
The angry kid arranged a purge of those who had anything to do, however tangential, with the guy who sent his father to prison over ten years ago. He would have his revenge, but that screwed things up, as did others bent on revenge:
There were some reports within the transition of score-settling.
One member of the transition team said that at least one reason Mr. Rogers had fallen out of favor among Mr. Trump’s advisers was that, as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he had overseen a report about the 2012 attacks on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, which concluded that the Obama administration had not intentionally misled the public about the events there. That report echoed the findings of numerous other government investigations into the episode.
The report’s conclusions were at odds with the campaign position of Mr. Trump, who repeatedly blamed Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent and the secretary of state during the attacks, for the resulting deaths of four Americans.
That’s been settled by eight thorough government investigations, most of them led by Republicans, but that will never be settled. She’s going down!
That sort of thing does get in the way of the transition – it’s a bit off-topic – and led to this:
Eliot A. Cohen, a former State Department official who had criticized Mr. Trump during the campaign but said after his election that he would keep an open mind about advising him, said Tuesday on Twitter that he had changed his opinion. After speaking to the transition team, he wrote, he had “changed my recommendation: stay away.”
He added: “They’re angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’ Will be ugly.”
Mr. Cohen, a conservative Republican who served under President George W. Bush, said Trump transition officials had excoriated him after he offered some names of people who might serve in the new administration, but only if they felt departments were led by credible people.
“They think of these jobs as lollipops,” Mr. Cohen said in an interview.
That, however, wasn’t the only problem:
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, weighed in as well. On Tuesday, he issued a blunt warning to Mr. Trump and his emerging foreign policy team not to be taken in by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whom Mr. Trump praised during the campaign.
“The Obama administration’s last attempt at resetting relations with Russia culminated in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and military intervention in the Middle East,” Mr. McCain said.
McCain sees that these guys aren’t prepared for the real world, and as for departments led by credible people, it was lollipops time:
For advice on building Mr. Trump’s national security team, his inner circle has been relying on three hawkish current and former American officials: Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee; Peter Hoekstra, a former Republican congressman and former chairman of the Intelligence Committee; and Frank Gaffney, a Pentagon official during the Reagan administration and a founder of the Center for Security Policy.
Mr. Gaffney has long advanced baseless conspiracy theories, including that President Obama might be a closet Muslim. The Southern Poverty Law Center described him as “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes.”
Prominent donors to Mr. Trump were also having little success in recruiting people for rank-and-file posts in his administration.
This was amateur hour, and that included this:
In another delay, Mr. Pence did not sign legally required paperwork to allow his team to begin collaborating with Mr. Obama’s aides until Tuesday evening, a transition spokesman said. Mr. Christie on Election Day signed a memorandum of understanding to put the process into motion as soon as the outcome was determined, but once he was ousted from the job, Mr. Pence had to sign a new agreement.
The paperwork serves as a nondisclosure agreement for both sides, ensuring that members of the president-elect’s team do not divulge information about the inner workings of the government that they learn during the transition, and that the president’s aides do not reveal anything they may discover about the incoming administration’s plans.
Trump had met with Obama in the middle of the previous week. Now we know why there were no follow-up meetings. They’d have been illegal. Mike Pence hadn’t signed the controlling binding agreements yet. No one had told him about those. No one had thought about those. Oops. That was four days lost, and then there was this:
Teams throughout the federal government and at the White House that have prepared briefing materials and status reports for the incoming president’s team are on standby, waiting to begin passing the information to their counterparts on Mr. Trump’s staff.
As of Tuesday afternoon, officials at key agencies including the Justice and Defense Departments said they had received no contact from the president-elect’s team.
Major government agencies and the minor ones too, are ready with their briefing books and PowerPoint presentations – this is what we do, this is how we work, these are the current issues. What do you want to keep? What do you want to change? How can we do this hand-off smoothly?
The conference rooms are booked. The donuts and coffee are ready. The Trump transition team has no one to send to the meetings. They haven’t gotten around to that yet. Boy Scouts are always prepared. They’re not.
The Washington Post had more on this, including Trump’s glee:
Trump met Tuesday with incoming vice president Mike Pence, who replaced Christie at the head of the transition Friday, to discuss Cabinet and White House personnel choices. Little to no information was released by the transition office, leaving a clutch of reporters gathered in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York to hustle after team members passing between the front doors and the elevators.
Trump posted a message on Twitter Tuesday night, saying a “very organized process [is] taking place” as he decides on Cabinet and other positions. “I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!”
That’s not very reassuring, but there may be a reason for that:
As he had during the campaign, Trump appeared to be increasingly uncomfortable with outsiders and suspicious of those considered part of what one insider called the “bicoastal elite,” who are perceived as trying to “insinuate” themselves into positions of power.
Those in the inner circle reportedly were winnowed to loyalists who had stuck with Trump throughout the campaign and helped devise his winning strategy. They include Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), former Breitbart News head Stephen K. Bannon, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and members of Trump’s family, including son-in-law Jared Kushner.
“This is a very insular, pretty closely held circle of people,” said Philip D. Zelikow, a former director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia and a senior figure in the George W. Bush transition. “Confusion is the norm” for transitions, he said, “but there are some unusual features here, because they’re trying to make some statements.”
“They feel like their election was a lot of the American people wanting to throw a brick through a window,” Zelikow said. “They want to make appointments that make it sound like glass is being broken.”
The American people wanted broken glass, didn’t they? Perhaps they also wanted a functioning government in January, but that might be unlikely:
Rogers’s departure coincided with word from Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – whose possible selection as secretary of state comforted more mainline Republicans – that he was unlikely to be chosen. “Has my name been in the mix? I’m pretty sure, yeah. Have I been having intimate conversations? No,” Corker said in an interview. “Do I understand that it’s likely that people who’ve been involved in the center of this for some time, and have been surrogating on television, are likely front-runners? I would say that’s likely, yes.”
He had no clue about what’s going on, or why, or if it’s going on. No one does, but what people guess makes them unhappy:
The two names most prominently mentioned for the diplomatic job – former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and John R. Bolton, an undersecretary of state and one-year ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration – are both Trump loyalists. But both could be problematic, even among Republicans who would have to confirm them.
Giuliani, thought to be an early choice for attorney general, was said by a person close to the transition team to have personally appealed to Trump for the diplomatic job. He has virtually no diplomatic experience or knowledge of the State Department bureaucracy.
Bolton, a national security hawk who got his U.N. job through a recess appointment after the Senate refused to confirm him, was a leading advocate for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, contradicting Trump’s campaign position opposing it.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that Bolton would be a “disaster” and that he would actively oppose his nomination.
One has no diplomatic experience or knowledge of the State Department bureaucracy and the other would be a disaster – unless you like new wars everywhere.
This is not going well, and Sam Stein and Ryan Reilly report this:
According to several sources close to the Trump transition team and inside the Obama administration, the president elect and his staff have had difficulty finding able-minded Republicans willing to take on critical posts. One Democratic source, who like others would only discuss sensitive talks on condition of anonymity, said transition officials had been informally asking Obama political appointees to recommend Republicans to take over their jobs.
Yes, Trump transition officials, on the sly, have been asking the Obama folks which Republicans they think could actually do this job or that. They know that Trump doesn’t know, because Trump doesn’t think about such things, and chaos follows:
The promotion of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff was supposed to set the tone for the rest of the administration. But it came with Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon as chief strategist, a move that delighted the ardent, anti-establishment wing of the party, but has given others pause because of his history peddling anti-Semitism and white nationalism.
Priebus, according to sources, is also skittish on the possibility of former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski replacing him at the RNC, worried that he may undo a lot of the work from the past six years.
Perhaps nothing illustrates the warring fiefdoms roiling the Trump transition effort better than the demotion of Christie. According to the Trump insider, the president elect and his team soured on Christie after he “abandoned Trump,” refusing to do media appearances after videotape of Trump bragging about sexual assault surfaced and skipping surrogate duties during the presidential debates.
Even Chris Christie knew that someone who wasn’t at least a bit of a Boy Scout would be a disaster – but Donald Trump doesn’t have it in him. Forget the sexual stuff. Donald Trump doesn’t even like that one basic Boy Scout thing. A Boy Scout is always prepared. That’s not a bad thing – but America elected its favorite fantasy disruptor, not a Boy Scout. No one should be surprised that this will mean that America won’t get a functioning government in January. No one should be surprised by that now.