To be clear, I don’t think Comey is “Anonymous.”
I think it’s Jeff Sessions. That’s the shocking finale to this season of “President Trump” — Sessions wins the Alabama Senate race to complete his political comeback, finally earns back Trump’s respect for his political pluck, then is suddenly outed as the “senior official” who wrote the anonymous Resistance op-ed in the Times last year.
Nah, I maintain my belief that the mystery author is some no-name undersecretary somewhere whose take on Trump would be ignored if they wrote under their own name. The new book has begun leaking to the media (as you already know) in advance of publication later this month and WaPo obtained a full copy. Verdict: It … sounds like a Comey lecture about “norms” and Trump’s affront to them, thin on specifics and long on conclusions about the president’s character which many of us had arrived at a good year or so before he actually won the election.
Did you know that Trump is impetuous, suckered by compliments, and completely unmoored from America’s civic traditions? Anonymous is here with the scoop.
“I have decided to publish this anonymously because this debate is not about me,” the author writes. “It is about us. It is about how we want the presidency to reflect our country, and that is where the discussion should center. Some will call this ‘cowardice.’ My feelings are not hurt by the accusation. Nor am I unprepared to attach my name to criticism of President Trump. I may do so, in due course.”…
The author argues that Trump is incapable of leading the United States through a monumental international crisis, describing how he tunes out intelligence and national security briefings and theorizing that foreign adversaries see him as “a simplistic pushover” who is susceptible to flattery and easily manipulated…
One theme laced throughout the book is Trump’s indifference to the boundaries of the law. The author writes that Trump considered presidential pardons as “unlimited ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ cards on a Monopoly board,” referring to news reports that he had offered pardons to aides.
The “chilling” portrait that emerges, says WaPo, is of a president who’s “cruel, inept and a danger to the nation he was elected to lead.”
Gosh, that doesn’t sound like him.
My Comey comparison actually does Comey a disservice in two respects. First, Anonymous apparently was more willing to indulge in speculation about Trump’s mental health (“He stumbles, slurs, gets confused, is easily irritated, and has trouble synthesizing information, not occasionally but with regularity”) than Comey typically is. In fact, I remember Comey saying at one point during the press tour for his own book that he thought Trump was of above-average intelligence — not exactly an endorsement of his mental “health” but a direct contradiction of the belief held by many anti-Trumpers that the president is a dope. Comey was keen at the time to demonstrate that he was, allegedly, delivering “just the facts” about his interactions with Trump, not out to do a full character analysis. Anonymous feels differently.
Second, Comey did delve into specifics about things Trump allegedly said and did, most famously their conversation about Mike Flynn. The Anonymous book is conspicuously thin on specifics according to WaPo, which may have been inevitable given the author’s interest in cloaking his identity. There are a few revelations (rounded up here by Mediaite) but they’re mostly of the “Can you believe Trump said that?” variety, and trust me, we can all believe it. (One quote sounds suspiciously like a well-known scene from “The Wire.”) That would have been more tolerable if the specific allegations the author does make had been believable but some of the revelations so far have been far-fetched. It’s hard to imagine White House aides thinking Mike Pence would have signed a 25th Amendment letter from the cabinet in May 2017 knowing there was zero chance that the Republican Congress would remove Trump. It’s also hard to imagine senior White House officials contemplating resigning en masse last year (a “midnight self-massacre”) to protest Trump’s behavior, as Anonymous also claims. With rare exceptions like Mattis, it’s striking how *few* Trump officials have actually quit in frustration. This sounds like another daydream a la the 25th Amendment scenario in which a couple of frustrated aides fancifully entertained a dramatic solution to their problem before drifting back to reality.
If there’s any publication out there that one would expect might receive the book warmly, it’s the New York Times. They’re the ones that published the Anonymous op-ed last year, after all, and their feelings as an institution towards Trump are perfectly clear. And yet their reviewer panned the book in a column last night:
A mildly chastened Anonymous now seems to recognize, somewhat belatedly, that President Trump’s peddling of birtherism conspiracy theories and his boasts about grabbing women’s genitals might have constituted their own kind of warning — plausible evidence that Mr. Trump might not magically transform into the dignified statesman Anonymous so desperately wanted him to be…
Anonymous has seen disturbing things. Anonymous has heard disturbing things. You, the reader, will already recognize most of what Anonymous has seen and heard as revealed in this book if you have been paying any attention to the news. Did you know that the president isn’t much of a reader? That he’s inordinately fond of autocrats?…
“A Warning,” Anonymous says, is intended for a “broad audience,” though to judge by the parade of bland, methodical arguments (Anonymous loves to qualify criticisms with a lawyerly “in fairness”), the ideal reader would seem to be an undecided voter who has lived in a cave for the past three years, and is irresistibly moved by quotations from Teddy Roosevelt and solemn invocations of Cicero.
See what I mean about the Comey vibe here?
The Times review boils down to a simple but seemingly unanswerable question: Who’s the target audience for the book? The author’s agents have claimed that he or she wrote it in order to swing persuadable voters against Trump next fall but this sounds a lot like Resistance porn. If you’re susceptible to having your vote flipped based on character concerns, you were already flipped long ago by Comey, the Ukraine saga, and a million of the president’s own tweets. If you’re not susceptible, you wouldn’t read this book if it came with a check. This is aimed squarely at people who were convinced long ago of the truth of Anonymous’s Trump critique. Which is why so much of the commentary about it already has been spent marveling at how redundant and unnecessary it feels.