WASHINGTON — Allies of Donald Trump have lined up to defend his mental stability in the face of a tell-all-style book that says his entire entourage views the U.S. president as unwell, compares him to a child, and discusses whether he might be removed from office.
One after another, they appeared on weekly political talk shows Sunday to endorse the president’s assessment of his own abilities, conveyed in a surreal front-page headline in The New York Times — “A ‘Stable Genius’: Trump Declares He’s Mentally Fit.'”
What catapulted this conversation from the realm of Washington bar-room whispers to the top of the national news was the release of a new book, “Fire and Fury,” by Michael Wolff, that describes wall-to-wall concern within the White House about the president’s cranial capacity.
Trump made clear Sunday that he was watching, and keeping tabs, on how his troops defended him on TV. The president praised one aide who engaged in a bitter back-and-forth on CNN and insisted the president is not only sane, but brilliant.
Stephen Miller described travelling with Trump during the campaign and seeing Trump adapt to breaking news: “I saw a man who was a political genius,” Miller said. As for Wolff’s work, Miller sneered: “A garbage author of a garbage book.”
The interview went off the rails when the CNN host tried interrupting Miller’s soliloquies with new questions, and finally kicked him off the air. Host Jake Tapper motioned toward the camera, saying it was clear Miller was simply sucking up to one viewer.
That one viewer was pleased: Trump tweeted that Miller had destroyed Tapper.
The political relevance of this conversation, aside from the benefits of mental competence from a U.S. president, was revealed in another interview with the book’s author. Wolff noted that an unfit president can be removed from office under the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
He said people in the White House talk about it constantly.
Wolff said staff frequently comment on whether zany events do, or do not, warrant the 25th Amendment. The author said he had an open mind about Trump when he started conducting interviews inside the White House, but no more.
He said the president’s faculties are a subject of universal scorn — not just among staff, but among family members: “This is alarming in every way … The 25th Amendment is a concept that is alive every day at the White House,” Wolff said.
“This is a breakdown.”
Trump allies pushed back:
—On CBS’s “Face The Nation,” CIA director Mike Pompeo praised the president’s mental state. Pompeo said he briefs Trump every day on complex issues: “He engages in a way that shows his understanding of the complexity. He asks really hard questions.” Pompeo cited deliberations over Syria airstrikes as one example, among many. He said Trump asked three smart questions about Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons to help him make a decision.
—On ABC’s, “This Week,” UN Ambassador Nikki Haley concurred: “I … speak with him multiple times a week… He didn’t become the president by accident… Was he unstable when he passed the tax reform? Was he unstable when we finally hit back at Syria and said, ‘No more chemical weapons?'”
—The head of leading conservative group CPAC said it’s not true the president absent-mindedly repeats the same story and can’t grasp policy. Matt Schlapp also pointed out mistakes in the book — Wolff messed up job titles for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and aide John Kelly, and mixed up the names of a reporter and lobbyist. Schlapp told ABC: “Look, there might be some truth in (the book). But it’s riddled and surrounded by the fact that this is a journalist who doesn’t believe in calling anyone to correct sources.”
—Senators Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham also defended the president. Graham used to be a virulent Trump critic. Asked to explain his recent about-face, Graham said it’s not a total reversal. He still supports Robert Mueller’s investigation, but believes there should be a second investigation to monitor the probe.
But he acknowledged his shift from being a critic of Trump to being a golf partner and ally: “I’ve enjoyed his company. He beat me like a dog (in the presidential election),” Graham told NBC’s, “Meet The Press.” “I used every adjective on the planet. I lost, he won … I’ve enjoyed working with him…
“I don’t think he’s crazy. I think he’s had a very successful 2017.”
One conservative critic of Trump, writing in The New York Times, once suggested invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president, but now says it’s probably fantasy. The 25th Amendment requires overwhelming backing from the cabinet and Congress — and it won’t happen, probably not even if there’s a major crisis, Ross Douthat wrote in Sunday’s New York Times.
A likelier scenario, he said, resembles the past examples of Richard Nixon cracking under the stress of Watergate; Woodrow Wilson after a debilitating stroike; and James Garfield slowly dying from an assassin’s bullet.
In these cases, he wrote, allies run the government, and try limiting the damage.
“Can the people who surround Donald Trump work around his incapacity successfully enough to keep his unfitness from producing a historic calamity?” Douthat wrote.
“They have done so for a year, with some debacles (Puerto Rico) but also some genuine successes (the defeat of the Islamic State).”
Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press