I am still undecided about how much weight to give Gabriel Sherman’s reporting. He relies so much on unnamed sources that I find myself doubting that all his quotes are real. On the other hand, he does seem to have a gift for cultivating sources in right-wing circles. I’m not sure how he does it or why they talk to him, but they do.
If his reporting today is accurate, we have plenty to worry about.
With the departures of Hope Hicks and Gary Cohn, the Trump presidency is entering a new phase—one in which Trump is feeling liberated to act on his impulses. “Trump is in command. He’s been in the job more than a year now. He knows how the levers of power work. He doesn’t give a fuck,” the Republican said. Trump’s decision to circumvent the policy process and impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum reflects his emboldened desire to follow his impulses and defy his advisers. “It was like a fuck-you to Kelly,” a Trump friend said. “Trump is red-hot about Kelly trying to control him.”
According to five Republicans close to the White House, Trump has diagnosed the problem as having the wrong team around him and is looking to replace his senior staff in the coming weeks.
There’s plenty of palace gossip and intrigue in Gabriel’s piece, but the basic gist of it is that Trump has become convinced that he needs to stop listening to moderating and controlling voices and get back to the rhetoric and policies he was advocating on the campaign. He expects, allegedly, that Jared Kushner will soon return to New York with Ivanka to follow later. He wants to replace his chief of staff, John Kelly, and his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster. He already went rogue enough on tariffs to force Gary Cohn out. In combination, these departures should free Trump up to be Trump.
And that’s a bad thing no matter where you stand. Say what you want about his record so far, it would be far worse if people had simply followed his instincts and directives. We’d already be in a full blown constitutional crisis if the White House lawyer Don McGahn hadn’t refused to fire Robert Mueller or if Reince Priebus hadn’t stopped Attorney General Jeff Sessions from resigning. Defense Secretary James Mattis simply ignored Trump’s proclamation on transgendered troops. There are more than a dozen other examples of Trump making policy statements that were walked back or heavily modified to make them comply with the law or simple sanity.
The courts have also played an important role in saving Trump from himself, and they’ll need to continue fulfilling that role because we’re entering a new phase where the president is going to find it much easier to convert the insane ideas that pop into his head into official policy.