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Return of the Swamp

Donald Trump is not a normal president, but it's time we start treating him like one.
April 1, 2019
Return of the Swamp
Donald Trump. (Photo by Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images)

The debate over the Mueller report won’t die down completely until we see the actual report, but the fact that impeachment is basically off the table allows the country to sober up from our two-year bender and get back to something approaching normalcy.

And normalcy might not look very good for Donald J. Trump.

Sure, you might think that a man who bragged about his “total EXONERATION”—by a special counsel who wrote “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him”—might just take his ball and go home quietly. You would be wrong.

In the days since Bill Barr’s summary of the Mueller report was released, Trump has tweeted such classics as:


At a rally Thursday night in Michigan, Trump railed against House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff, House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler, and other political opponents:

“These people are sick,” he continued. “All of the Democrat politicians, the media bosses, bad people. . . . crooked journalists, the totally dishonest TV pundits. . . . And all the current and former officials who paid for, promoted, and perpetuated the single greatest hoax in the history of politics in our country. They have to be—I am sorry, they have to be accountable.”

OK, maybe it was overly optimistic to think that Trump would quietly breathe a sigh of relief and set about the very serious business of running the country.

But why would he go the full George T. Bell, hectoring the media and other, um, enemies of freedom? Hmmmmm, let’s see . . .

On Thursday, the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell published an expose revealing the tricks Citizen Trump used to inflate his net worth back in the day:

For instance, Trump’s financial statement for 2011 said he had 55 home lots to sell at his golf course in Southern California. Those lots would sell for $3 million or more, the statement said.

But Trump had only 31 lots zoned and ready for sale at the course, according to city records. He claimed credit for 24 lots—and at least $72 million in future revenue—he didn’t have.

He also claimed his Virginia vineyard had 2,000 acres, when it really has about 1,200. He said Trump Tower has 68 stories. It has 58.

Speaking of inflation, Trump has faced criticism from both sides of the aisle for nominating Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve. Moore is an economist with a reputation not just for conservative ideas but outright partisanship (not to mention some wacky ideas about gold) who served as a Trump campaign adviser. But that’s not an insurmountable hurdle, is it?

Oh wait. Turns out he’s also in the hole to the IRS for $75,000.

But don’t worry. That’s probably the last weird Trump scandal in waiting. I’m sure that from here on out, everything will be 100 percent by the book in this administration.

The Democratic takeover in the House does not bode well for Trump. Schiff and Nadler are eager to have their turn relitigating the Mueller investigation, but they aren’t the only Democratic leaders who are demanding answers.

Just Friday, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel said he wants to know what Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was doing in Saudi Arabia last month with State Department official Brian Hook, a trip that left many American diplomats in Saudi Arabia in the dark. According to the Daily Beast,

Hook is one of several current and former State Department officials under investigation by the Office of the Inspector General for alleged politically motivated personnel decisions.

On the economic front, the 2018 GDP is being revised downward and there are signs the economy is slowing. Credit for economic success—and blame for economic failure—is a tricky thing. Economies are cyclical and unpredictable and at the mercy of many factors. But Trump has taken credit for every bit of economic growth, real or imagined, during his presidency. So surely he would get the blame if (or when) things head south.

Every administration faces criticisms and scandals, both big and small, justified and unjustified. Past presidents have dealt with such headaches by sending aides onto talk shows to spin things or put controversies to bed. They might withdraw a controversial nominee, or fire the problematic Cabinet secretary. Sometimes—this is crazy, I know—a president will realize a political victory isn’t possible and move on in order not to have his entire administration bog down.

Donald Trump is not a normal president. This fact is what makes him appealing to his base and is what caused so many on the left to invest all their hopes and dreams in the Mueller investigation.

It would be ironic, but fitting, if what brings him down isn’t spectacular collusion with Russia but the steady drip of lying, corruption, and generally bad decisions that normally result in the defeat of incumbent presidents.

Rachael Larimore

Rachael Larimore was the managing editor of The Bulwark.