Now there’s a headline I never expected to write. Just add it to the pile since June 2015.
I think he’s getting a bad rap on this. This mysterious tweet fluttered across Twitter early yesterday:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 25, 2017
Laying aside the deep weirdness of a sitting president doing a social-media promo for a cable-news show, people wondered: What could Jeanine Pirro have planned that’s so important that the president of the United States would ask his millions of followers to watch her show?
Hours later, it seemed we had an answer. Pirro opened her show … by calling on Paul Ryan to resign as Speaker:
On Friday, Trump praised Ryan on camera in the Oval Office for having worked hard on the GOP’s failed health-care bill. Now, it seemed, less than 24 hours later he was suddenly knifing Ryan in the back, using one of his favorite Fox News sycophants to jump-start the idea in the media that Ryan must go. (Similarly, after declining to rail against the Freedom Caucus on Friday, Trump went after them on Twitter this morning.) Too bad the next Supreme Court vacancy is already pledged to Andrew Napolitano, as Pirro really went the extra mile to carry Trump’s water — or so it appeared.
But wait. Are we sure Trump promoted Pirro’s show because he knew she was going to go after Ryan? There’s another possibility. Fox was running this graphic yesterday morning:
— Facky (@fackinpeter) March 26, 2017
“JUSTICE w/ Judge Jeanine: TRUMP WIRETAP CLAIMS. STUNNING NEW DETAILS.” That’s probably what Trump thought he was promoting when he hyped Pirro’s program. And if so, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s idly tweeted about something he saw on “the shows” without regard to the consequences. It’s incredibly stupid for someone as influential as the president to promote a media event without knowing the content, for the same reason it’s stupid to erect monuments to people who are still alive: You can’t know whether they might end up doing something that embarrasses you for having celebrated them. But Trump is Trump. Why wouldn’t he react to a headline about “stunning” wiretapping details on a show hosted by a personal friend and beam it out on Twitter without a second thought?
Interestingly, though, Trump’s fans and critics are invested for different reasons in the idea that, no, he really was trying to send a message about Ryan in touting Pirro’s show. Breitbart and Joseph Curl each made the connection between Trump’s tweet and Pirro’s anti-Ryan rant; so did various anti-Trumpers, left and right, on Twitter. Trumpers tend to hate Ryan and would be only too happy to have evidence that Trump is shoving him towards the exit, while anti-Trumpers disdain Trump and would find vindication in their judgments about his character to find him backstabbing Ryan by proxy, in such a cowardly way. I think the truth is less sexy, that he simply thought Pirro was going to go to bat for him on wiretapping. Although it does seem possible that Pirro, having just become the lucky recipient of a Twitter ad from the president of the United States, decided yesterday to seize the opportunity by scrapping a planned bit about wiretapping to open the show with a jeremiad against Ryan instead. If you’re suddenly gifted a huge audience of Ryan-hating populists, you might as well do the maximum pander in hopes of making them regular viewers, right?
Reince Priebus was asked about this by a skeptical Chris Wallace this morning and insisted that it’s all just a big coincidence. “We do love Judge Jeanine,” he conceded, but “I think it was more coincidental… I did not talk to the president about the tweet. I’m just telling the truth. There is no preplanning here.” In one sense, that’s hard to swallow: Various reports over the past 72 hours have claimed that Trump’s aides are privately blaming Ryan for the bill’s failure, making the prospect of a White-House-backed hatchet job by Pirro seem more plausible. But there’s a problem with the “Trump wants Ryan out” theory — namely, there’s no obvious replacement waiting in the wings. Choose a conservative Speaker and moderate Republicans will grumble; choose a moderate and the Freedom Caucus will balk. There’s a reason no one lined up to replace Boehner after he resigned, until Ryan reluctantly allowed himself to be drafted: Uniting a caucus that’s fractured ideologically is a futile, thankless job. Why would Trump task Pirro to help oust Ryan when there’s no likelihood that he’ll actually be ousted?
In fact, Priebus assured Wallace this morning that Trump doesn’t want Ryan out. Which is ironic, because if anyone ends up being scapegoated for this, it may be Reince himself:
On Friday evening, a somewhat shellshocked president retreated to the White House residence to grieve and assign blame. In a search for scapegoats, he asked his advisers repeatedly: Whose fault was this?
Increasingly, that blame has fallen on Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, who coordinated initial legislative strategy on the health care bill with Mr. Ryan, his close friend and a fellow Wisconsinite, according to three people briefed on the president’s recent discussions.
Although other reports disagree, Politico also hears that Priebus is in trouble:
— Tara Palmeri (@tarapalmeri) March 25, 2017
If you can’t fire Ryan and you can’t organize a coup in the House against him due to a lack of willing replacements, canning his buddy Priebus is the next best thing for the White House. And if Trump’s allies on Fox News want to do him a solid now and then by attacking Ryan for long stretches on the air, I’m sure he’s fine with that too.
Speaking of which, your exit question: Between Pirro ranting about Ryan last night and Hannity letting him off the hook a few days ago, does anyone at Fox News think Trump deserves any blame for this bill’s failure? Especially considering he devoted about 1/1,000th as much effort to getting it done as Obama did with ObamaCare?
Update: For what it’s worth.
— Katherine Faulders (@KFaulders) March 26, 2017