To the extent that Donald Trump actually has an ideology, no one aligns with it better than Jeff Sessions. Even among Senate Republicans, he has been a bit of an outlier at times. That explains why Sessions signed on to Trump’s presidential campaign early and was one of his biggest supporters. But according to Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, the president isn’t happy with his attorney general.
…more than four months into his presidency, Mr. Trump has grown sour on Mr. Sessions, now his attorney general, blaming him for various troubles that have plagued the White House.
The discontent was on display on Monday in a series of stark early-morning postings on Twitter in which the president faulted his own Justice Department for its defense of his travel ban on visitors from certain predominantly Muslim countries. Mr. Trump accused Mr. Sessions’s department of devising a “politically correct” version of the ban — as if the president had nothing to do with it.
That series of tweets demonstrated that Trump’s pattern of lie, distract and blame can just as easily be directed at his staff/supporters as his opponents. As we’ve seen over and over again, it is often Trump’s own words that have been cited by judges who have ruled against his travel ban. The very tweets in which he railed against the Justice Department probably did more to damage the administration’s case than anything anyone else has said/done.
But Trump’s anger at Sessions goes much deeper than yesterday’s tweets and tells us a lot about how his presidency is defined by personal piques more than ideology. Baker and Haberman trace the problem back a few months.
In private, the president’s exasperation has been even sharper. He has intermittently fumed for months over Mr. Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election, according to people close to Mr. Trump who insisted on anonymity to describe internal conversations. In Mr. Trump’s view, they said, it was that recusal that eventually led to the appointment of a special counsel who took over the investigation.
If you remember, it was after Sessions announced his recusal from the Trump/Russia probe that the president reportedly lost his temper, railing at staff as witnessed from outside the Oval Office. In a fit of rage about Sessions, Trump tweeted the accusation about Obama wiretapping him.
In hindsight, it might be true that Sessions’ recusal left Rod Rosenstein in charge of the investigation and led to the appointment of a special counsel. But Trump didn’t know any of that would happen back in March. What was his rage about back then?
To answer that question, you have to understand what drives Donald Trump. Here is Tony Schwartz, ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal:
To survive, I concluded from our conversations, Trump felt compelled to go to war with the world. It was a binary, zero-sum choice for him: You either dominated or you submitted. You either created and exploited fear, or you succumbed to it…
Instead, Trump grew up fighting for his life and taking no prisoners. In countless conversations, he made clear to me that he treated every encounter as a contest he had to win, because the only other option from his perspective was to lose, and that was the equivalent of obliteration.
Gail Sheehy summarized what others have written.
His biographers have recorded his world view as saturated with a sense of danger and his need to project total toughness. As we know, his father trained him to be a “killer,” the only alternative to being a “loser.” He has never forgotten the primary lesson he learned from his father and at the military school to which he was sent to toughen him up still further. In Trump’s own words: “Man is the most vicious of all animals, and life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat.”
In Trump’s mind, when Sessions recused himself, he submitted and became a loser. That is something this president cannot tolerate. I doubt the attorney general will ever regain Trump’s respect.
This is important to keep in mind when it is suggested that the president’s advisors should control him or that he will somehow resign himself when/if pressure mounts. Neither of those things will ever happen. He will increasingly react like a cornered animal lashing out at threats. To do otherwise would be “the equivalent of obliteration” in his mind. That is why he will become increasingly dangerous.