If last week was defined by the firestorm Michael Wolff caused with his new book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” then this week was all about the push back.
The chief takeaway from Wolff’s behind the scenes tell-all – which debuted at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list – is that the president’s own staff openly question his overall psychological fitness and believe he’s incapable of performing at the intellectual level the job requires.
Forget complex geopolitical issues; “Fire and Fury” suggests that Trump has tremendous difficulty grasping simple concepts like the Bill of Rights, and doesn’t have the patience or the intellectual curiosity to learn on the job.
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To push back against those revelations, the White House lined up a very busy and public series of events this week to show that he’s both engaged and interested in the issues, and has a firm grasp of them. All of them have backfired, and some of them spectacularly.
The latest desperate attempt to reassure a desperate public came in the form of an extended sit-down interview with the Wall Street Journal. The Journal is a paper that’s friendly to the president and to Republicans in general – at least when compared to the New York Times and the Washington Post – but one that still has nearly unassailable journalistic integrity.
Inevitably, Trump found a way to slip up. The interview is riddled with the kind of incoherent and contradictory answers to very simple questions that the president has become famous for, but there’s one particular exchange that raises more eye brows than the rest.
After Trump started on a self-congratulatory rant about how successful he is and how he did it all himself, the interviewer tried to ask him about Steve Bannon. What happened next is vintage pathetic Donald Trump as it gets.
Mr. Trump: They dislike me, the liberal media dislikes me. I mean I watch people—I was always the best at what I did, I was the—I was, you know, I went to the—I went to the Wharton School of Finance, did well. I went out, I—I started in Brooklyn, in a Brooklyn office with my father, I became one of the most successful real-estate developers, one of the most successful business people. I created maybe the greatest brand.
I then go into, in addition to that, part-time, like five percent a week, I open up a television show. As you know, the Apprentice on many evenings was the number one show on all of television, a tremendous success. It went on for 12 years, a tremendous success. They wanted to sign me for another three years and I said, no, I can’t do that.
That’s one of the reasons NBC hates me so much. NBC hates me so much they wanted—they were desperate to sign me for—for three more years.
WSJ: Mr. President, you made reference to the book. Steve Bannon …
Mr. Trump: Just—and so—so I was successful, successful, successful. I was always the best athlete, people don’t know that. But I was successful at everything I ever did and then I run for president, first time—first time, not three times, not six times. I ran for president first time and lo and behold, I win. And then people say oh, is he a smart person? I’m smarter than all of them put together, but they can’t admit it. They had a bad year.
WSJ: You mention the book—Steve Bannon was somebody important to your campaign, worked in the White House, was on the National Security Council for a while. Do you feel betrayed by him?
Mr. Trump: Yes, I do. I feel betrayed because you’re not supposed to do that, but I have many people that work for me who were far more important than Steve, right there.
Mr. Trump: And others, I mean I could take you around to the back and I could show you many people, If you don’t—and some of them you wouldn’t know their names so (inaudible). Steve was—I always liked Steve, but Steve became very ineffective because he was such a lightning rod.
And Steve, in the end I fired Steve.
WSJ: Is that relationship permanently broken between you and Steve?
Mr. Trump: You never know, you know again, the word—– I don’t know what the word permanent means, OK? I never know what the word permanent means. We’ll see what happens, but Steve had nothing to do with my win. Well, certainly very little.
Steve’s greatest asset is he was able to convince a corrupt media that he was responsible for my win. Hope, just out of curiosity, you were there from day one. What do you think Steve in a percentage had to do with my victory?
I mean he was there. Corey [Lewandowski] had more to do with it.
Mr. Trump: David had more to do with it. Many people— I mean, there were many people—it’s a little before Sarah’s time. If you were here, you would have had more to do with it. No, I talked to Steve very little; I didn’t know Steve well, believe it or not. They made it sound like—I mean when that guy wrote the book about Steve.
Mr. Trump: Don’t forget, I had vanquished 17 governors, senators plus a couple of very smart people, like Ben and Carly and others. I had vanquished them easily—easily. I won every debate based on the polls. You know, they do polls—seven or eight polls. Time Magazine—Time Magazine’s not a fan of mine.
Drudge, Time Magazine they have seven polls. I don’t think, I may be wrong—I don’t think you’ll find one poll that I ever lost in any of the 14, 15 debates. Including the presidential debate, you know with her, the three. Steve Bannon, I just wish him well…
WSJ: Sir can I ask you—
Mr. Trump: …but he had nothing to do with my—he was involved, but he had nothing to do with our victory. And he was there two months—what was it two months after? So, I beat 17 people, OK? So, Michael, you know politics, perhaps better than me.
WSJ: Not better.
Mr. Trump: You’ve been doing it longer, OK? That’s the other thing I’ve only been doing this for two years, two and a half years, OK? You know, it’s pretty good. When they said Jeb Bush was off his game; Trump killed him in the debate. Jeb was off his game because he hasn’t been governor now. He’s been out of politics for eight years. Oh, really? I’ve been out of politics for—I was never in politics.
So, sort of interesting, but when I won against the 17 people, you can’t then say that oh, gee, somebody comes in two months after I won, and he gives me new policy, new idea. I can’t change those ideas, those ideas are wedded.
You can read the entire interview here.