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Is 'Fire and Fury' Fizzling?

A Commentary By Michael Barone

Friday, January 12, 2018

The most disappointed people in America this past week must be those Trump execrators who opened their Amazon package only to find that the copy of "Fire and Fury" they had ordered was subtitled "The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942-1945." It's a well-regarded 2009 volume by University of Toronto historian Randall Hansen, who is surely grateful for the unanticipated royalties.

But it's not the red meat the customers were looking forward to consuming. Author Michael Wolff, whose royalties from a million sales in a week are much greater than Hansen's, has made no secret that he expects that his book will "end" the Donald Trump presidency. He apparently thinks his book will reveal to millions of Americans, for the first time, that their emperor has no clothes.

That's unlikely to happen, for two reasons. One is that his "Fire and Fury" is laced with errors that reveal that the author, however knowledgeable he is about Manhattan media moguls, doesn't know much about national politics. Dick Armey was never speaker of the House. Kellyanne Conway was not a down-ballot pollster. Donald Trump was not ignorant of John Boehner's existence.

Wolff affects a Trump-like insouciance about such inaccuracies. "If it rings true, it is true," he told NBC News' Katy Tur. She responded, "Congratulations on the book and congratulations on the president hating it."

The other reason Wolff's ambitions may prove to be as unfulfilled as those of the former Trump aide who appears to have been his chief source, Steve Bannon, is that the gist of his indictment -- to the extent it's not fake news -- is simply not news. Americans today, like American voters in November 2016, are aware that Trump makes outrageous and inaccurate statements.

They know that his White House, like his campaign, is often in shambles, as have been many other presidential campaigns (read Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes' "Shattered," on Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign) and first-year White Houses (go back and read about the Bill Clinton White House in 1993). No one supposes Trump has the discipline and gravitas of Dwight Eisenhower. But neither have most of his successors.

"Fire and Fury" can be seen as the latest attempt to overturn the result of the 2016 election. Others have not fared well. Entertainers' attempts to persuade presidential electors not to vote for their pledged candidate failed.

And the charges that Trump secured his victory by collusion with Vladimir Putin's Russia seem to be fizzling out. Instead, evidence suggests that the Obama FBI used Christopher Steele's dossier -- commissioned by Fusion GPS, which was hired by the Clinton campaign for opposition research -- to undermine Trump.

As Hillary Clinton said before her defeat, acquiescence in the peaceful transfer of power is one of the strengths of a representative democracy. Yet the impulse of many Democrats and never-Trumpers is to style themselves the "Resistance" and to attempt to overturn an election result they consider deplorable.

The Wolff book is the latest example -- and perhaps one that discredits the enterprise. "The anti-Trump movement, of which I'm a proud member, seems to be getting dumber," writes New York Times columnist David Brooks in response. It suffers from "insularity," he goes on, and from "lowbrowism."

As Brooks points out, Trump and the Republican-majority Congress are making attempts to govern. He sees, behind Trump's tweets and tantrums, "a White House that is briskly pursuing its goals: the shift in our Pakistan policy, the shift in our offshore drilling policy, the fruition of our ISIS policy, the nomination for judgeships and the formation of policies on infrastructure, DACA, North Korea and trade."

Trump's opening up to cameras his White House meeting with congressional leaders of both parties on immigration may have been an attempt to counter the picture Wolff presents. The president seemed knowledgeable about the issues and respectful in eliciting and listening to the views of others.

He also seemed to be accepting contrary views and to be relinquishing his leverage as a chief executive with the power to veto legislation. That's disturbing to those who want him to insist on legislative enactment of restrictions on chain migration, an end to the visa lottery, a requirement that employers use E-Verify and funding of the border wall.

Also, it's not clear that his administration is coming up with an infrastructure proposal in line with his campaign rhetoric or that it's producing nominees for many important administrative positions. There's plenty of room for criticism -- which is likely to be more productive than attempting somehow to overturn an election.

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.


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See Other Commentaries by Michael Barone.

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