But when the Daily Beast scoop first cannon-balled into the pool of politics Twitter Monday night, the conversation in the immediate wake focused on the Trump henchman who had provided such operatically awful quotes in defense of his boss: Who was this Michael Cohen person and why was he sputtering outlandish threats (“I’m going to mess your life up”), and incendiary nonsense (“by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse”)? Was this really the best goon money could buy?
Cohen’s outburst was, in fact, emblematic of the loyalists who have long populated The Donald’s inner-circle. Trump’s key lieutenants tend to fit the same consumer profile that his discount luxury brand targets: They are men with middle- and working-class roots; lacking in elite credentials; mesmerized by made-for-TV displays of lavish wealth. They are impressed with brashness and bored by subtlety. They are amused by dirty jokes and averse to irony. They are likely to buy a Trump-branded necktie sometime this year, and if they feel like splurging they’ll get the matching cufflinks, too. …
The problem is now that they have hustled their way into “Mr. Trump’s” entourage, they are constantly trying to imitate his signature brand of menacing machismo, superlative-obsessed self-regard, and bombastic bravado. This isn’t easily pulled off. The Donald’s persona is a character of his own creation — honed over decades of method acting that eventually supplanted whatever human-like personality he once possessed. It is an unparalleled achievement in celebrity showmanship. But when the schtick is attempted by Trump’s mini-me’s, it has a vaguely pathetic off-brand feel to it — often sliding into inadvertent displays of insecurity, and occasionally (as in Cohen’s case) careening wildly into overwrought, theatrical thuggishness.
The perils of this strained Trump pastiche are best illustrated by the toxic dynamics within the candidate’s small team of warring political advisers — a war I briefly found myself in the middle of last year.