Who Controls Donald Trump?



Weakened by revelations depicting him as an inept leader, the president tends to isolate himself. But crippled by the prospect of a “blue wave” during the midterm elections on Nov. 6, the Republicans, although divided, continue to heavily support him.

When Donald Trump is in trouble, he calls on his children. The most recent example is the interview of his son Donald Trump Jr. on Breitbart News, the openly extremist website that publishes conspiracy theories. “Donald Trump Jr. to Obama: Abracadabra! My dad fixed the economy you could not.” That headline is among the clearest in conveying the Trump clan’s intentions. The article appears just as Barack Obama is coming out of the woodwork to mobilize the Democrats.

’Renouncing Trump Would Be Political Suicide’

Just a few weeks away from the midterm elections, the panic is palpable at the White House. The Republicans could lose the majority in the House of Representatives. The first excerpts in The Washington Post from the book “Fear – Trump in the White House” by investigative reporter Bob Woodward make the president appear fretful. Then there is the anonymous, devastating op-ed, published in The New York Times by a “high-ranking official” in the administration, which immediately generated a flurry of denials.

Administrative coup d’état or deep state, the book and the op-ed tell us how high-ranking officials maneuver so that Trump doesn’t lose control, going so far as to steal papers from his desk. Strengthened by a gust of renewal, the Democrats intend to make the most of the divisions among the Republicans who are hindered by the ongoing revelations depicting a president unfit for his job.

Who “controls” Trump? To what end, and with what success? For Shermichael Singleton, the response is simple: nobody controls Trump … besides Trump himself. A political commentator on CNN, the Republican is one of the few African-Americans to have worked for the president, working with the secretary of Housing and Urban Development for a month before being fired in February 2017 due to criticism he had that surfaced during his security clearance process. As far back as October 2016, he called on Republicans to have a moral awakening and prevent Trump from becoming president.

No Other Choice

Republicans in Congress don’t have any choice for now but to support the president. His approval rating among the Republican electorate is at 88 percent, according to a Wall Street Journal and NBC poll from July 2018. This rating is higher than those of former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton within their party at the same stage of their presidency, according to Singleton. “The only president to have obtained a higher popularity rating was George W. Bush, the day after Sept. 11, 2001. Renouncing Trump in the middle of an election year would be suicide for Republicans,” Singleton said. Despite the uneasiness caused by his paranoid and erratic behavior, despite the accusations against him and the Russia investigation surrounding his associates, many Republicans turn a blind eye and display a loyalty often motivated by political calculations.

Christopher Arterton, a political science professor at The George Washington University, delivers the same analysis. Except for one detail. “Nobody is in a position to control Trump … not even Trump himself,” he says. He cites Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, as well as Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, among the few people who are able to exert any power over him. Yet the tide can turn quickly, at the slightest annoyance. “That list is shrinking, especially after the Woodward book and the anonymous op-ed,” Arterton says. He even cites Sens. Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham, as well as House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Fear of a Blue Wave

Those who elected Trump in 2016 remain faithful and loyal to him, and as long as this support exists, the leaders in Washington refrain from disengaging from him, Arterton asserts, although certain people privately continue to complain that he is destroying the party. The fear of a “blue wave” – blue being the color of the Democratic Party – in November has taken hold of even the most skeptical. On the contrary, the “Never Trumpers,” the strongly anti-Trump fringe of Republicans, are giving it their all. But they remain a minority.

The results of the Republican primaries in certain states are further revealing. On June 12, Mark Sanford, who has never spared Trump, lost in South Carolina while the next day, Corey Stewart, a far-right leaning candidate and white supremacist supported by Trump, won in Virginia. Manageable or not, Donald Trump is able to mobilize and even reshape the Republican Party.

Those Who Are, or Were, Influential

John Kelly: He was supposed to make the president presidential.

Hired to bring order to the White House, the general is known for his uprightness. He learned of his appointment as chief of staff through a tweet from the president. He succeeded Reince Priebus, who stepped down in July 2017. Kelly had served previously as secretary of homeland security, and contributed to ridding the White House of disruptive elements that fueled internal discord. In “Fear- Trump in the White House,” Kelly is reported to have called the White House “crazytown,” a term he has since denied. According to some rumors, he might have already submitted his resignation. One thing is certain: he likes to operate behind the scenes. For political commentator Singleton, a former member of the Trump administration, he is the man that many Americans saw as capable of “making the president presidential,” but did not have the success they had hoped for.

James Mattis: the secretary who isn’t afraid to oppose Trump

Up to this point, Mattis was probably the one who had the most influence on Trump. The secretary of defense is not the type who would make decisions that he deems inappropriate, or downright dangerous, and on many occasions has dared to oppose Trump and impose his own views, even if it means incurring the wrath of the president. Both he and Kelly are depicted in “Fear” as having made unkind remarks about the president, exasperated by certain attitudes, but both have denied using the words attributed to them. What does Trump, nevertheless, call into question? According to The New York Times, Trump now no longer respects Mattis, accusing him of being a “Democrat at heart” and giving him the nickname “Moderate Dog” instead of “Mad Dog.”* He’s afraid of looking like a puppet. Mattis reportedly compared Trump to a 10-year-old child.

Mike Pompeo: the skeptical ultraconservative turned supporter

A former CIA director, this hawk replaced Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and therefore as the chief of American diplomacy after his predecessor’s dismissal in March 2018. Mike Pompeo quickly established himself, notably in North Korean affairs. Close to the tea party, the most conservative wing of the Republican Party, Pompeo was, during his term as U.S. representative from Kansas, among the most vehement critics of Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. Today he appears to be one of Trump’s most loyal cabinet members. But loyal does not necessarily mean influential. And make no mistake: he has not always been pro-Trump. In March 2016, Pompeo warned, for example, that Trump would be an “authoritarian president.” Did he mean “unmanageable”?

Lindsey Graham: from pet peeve to confidant

Lindsey Graham is undeniably the most intriguing character. Very critical of Trump during the presidential campaign, when he did not hesitate to participate in the worst name-calling (he referred to Trump as “the world’s biggest jackass” and suggested that he “go to hell”) the Republican senator is now seen regularly at the White House or on the golf course with the president. By evolving from the status of a pet peeve for the president to that of confidant, is Graham, known for his candor, exercising strong pragmatism (or opportunism) in order to carry out his agenda? Last month on CNN, he described the tense relationship between Trump and his attorney general as “beyond repair.” And he suggested that Jeff Sessions must be replaced. Difficult to follow? The conservative was also one of the closest friends of John McCain, who refused to have the president attend his funeral.

*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, the source for these quoted remarks could not be independently verified.

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