For all of the Obamacare repeal drama, I haven't had a chance to focus on the other drama this week, like the White House telenovela (wait 'til Trump finds out that's Spanish!). Trump is trying to bully Jeff Sessions into quitting as AG so that he can appoint someone more pliant, who will stifle the Mueller investigation. Earlier, I did a pair of posts (here and here) explaining that Trump really just needs to get it over with and pardon himself, but this is an interesting approach. The flaw, strategically, is that even if he bullies Sessions into quitting (or fires him), and even if Rudy Giuliani, for example, takes over as AG and tries to muzzle Mueller, an underling could still accidentally uncover something. If Trump just pardons himself now, he can shut down the investigation entirely.
Still, Trump's strategy here, and his conflict with Sessions, rests on an important question. What kind of person is Sessions?
There is a great book about Eisenhower's Presidency called The Hidden-Hand Presidency, by Fred Greenstein. A lot of political scientists, influenced by Richard Neustadt, underestimated Eisenhower as a President because he did things a little differently from Neustadt's model of an effective president-- FDR.
Neustadt was fond of a line from Truman, predicting Ike's troubles as President. Ike, as a General, would, "sit there and say, 'do this, do that,' and nothing will happen. Poor Ike. It won't be a bit like the Army. He'll find it very frustrating." And, that's sort of how Neustadt thought about Eisenhower as President. Unprepared for a different model of power.
According to Greenstein, though, Eisenhower was far more shrewd than that. He was just subtle. So, for example, Eisenhower would talk about "not engaging in personalities," but in fact, figure out exactly how to deal with any specific individual.
And that brings me to Donny Trump. Trump comes from the business world. He is accustomed to surrounding himself with sycophants who do everything he says, and where Ike somehow got the reputation for being not-that-bright, Eisenhower beat Hitler. Trump really is a fuckin' idiot. And that brings me to the question of whether or not he knows how to engage in personalities.
Trump knows one way to deal with people. Bully them. That's it. He has one trick up his sleeve. Push people around, expect them to do what he wants, and get frustrated when they don't. Sound vaguely familiar? Trump is trying to bully Sessions into stepping down as AG so that he can appoint a sycophantic replacement who will quash the Mueller investigation. This strategy only works if Sessions can be bullied into stepping down. It is the strategy he is using, only because it is the one strategy he knows. So, what kind of person is Jeff Sessions, and how will he respond? Let's go through some possibilities.
1) Maybe Sessions is a cowardly, little weakling. Trump assumes that everyone will shrivel under his scorn. He may be right! He got the GOP nomination and then unified the party behind him because there wasn't a single member of the Republican Party who really could stand up to him. In the end, he called Ted Cruz's wife ugly and his father a co-conspirator in the Kennedy assassination, and Cruz wound up being brought to heel. Remember what he did to Romney? Rubio? Sure, some of them stood up to him for a little while, but the GOP hasn't really shown itself to be brimming with people who have the fortitude to stand up to Trump's scorn. They are the most pathetic bunch of weaklings I have ever seen, with no capacity or willingness to stand up to a bully who is obviously, himself, a pathetic weakling. All he does is call people "third rate" and "loser." That's not strength, and yet it was enough to crush an entire political party. Why? Because they really are weak-- the core of every insult he hurls at people. Expose his tax returns to the light of day and he'll shrivel like a slug doused in salt, but the modern Republican Party is a bunch of cowardly lions, so it makes sense that they are led by Joffrey Lannister. (Yes, I'm mixing references, but fuck it, it's Saturday morning). Sessions really might shrivel up in a little ball, beg for mercy and resign. Why? He's a modern Republican. Therefore, there is a high likelihood that he doesn't have the courage to stand up to Trump for the long haul. No other modern Republican does. He made a statement about Trump's comments being "hurtful." To a bully, that's called "positive reinforcement." Sessions might not be able to take it, in which case he quits.
2) Maybe Sessions is a vindictive fuck. Here's the thing about Trump. He is a piece of shit, and while Sessions was an early loyalist, Trump has now decided that, by recusing himself on Russia and not devoting the entire DoJ to the personal protection of Donny J. Trump, none of that other loyalty matters. At this point, Sessions has to hate Trump as a person. And all he has to do to make Trump suffer is... not quit. All he has to do is stay on the job and dare Trump to fire him. If that's the kind of person Sessions is, then Trump is doing exactly the wrong thing. He is strengthening Sessions's resolve to stay on the job and shield Mueller. If this is the case, then maybe Sessions could have pulled some strings behind the scenes before the bullying started, but what Trump is doing now will just backfire. If Sessions is a vindictive fuck, then Trump's "strategy" (or really, reflex) of bullying him is just 180 degrees from the right move.
3) Maybe Sessions thinks of himself as a pure law-and-order guy. If that's the case, then he took the job, and will see himself as honor-bound to keep doing it until fired. Nothing Trump says or does will matter. The recusal was because he thought he was supposed to do it. This is the most positive reading of Sessions one can give, and if it is the case, then Trump's attempt to bully Sessions into quitting won't do anything except reveal to Sessions that the guy he used to respect is what the rest of us already knew him to be-- a piece of shit. At the end of the day, Trump is still stuck with an AG who hates him until he fires said AG.
Unless Case 1 is correct, Trump will probably wind up firing Sessions out of frustration because there's no way little Donny gets through 3.5 years of this. One of them is going to crack. Trump is impatient, so unless Sessions is a shrinking violet, Sessions will probably get fired eventually. I have a hard time seeing how he lasts four years. For what it's worth, here's the betting on whether or not he makes it through August.
Now, Lindsey Graham puffed up his little, weakling chest and warned that Republicans wouldn't stand for it if Trump fired Sessions, but... Yeah, I'll believe it when I see it. Lindsey Graham also gave an impassioned speech about how horrible "skinny repeal" was. And then he voted for it, so, you know, fuck that hypocritical little coward. He's been acting like he's just about to finally stand up to Trump, any day now for a long time. It never happens.
Will Sessions last four years? Not likely. So, is Sessions the kind of person to shrivel up and cry like a cowardly, little weakling (probably...)? More importantly, then, is Trump patient enough to wait him out? That... I don't know. There's also the question of whether or not Trump loses focus. He has the attention span of... SQUIRREL! If Trump loses focus for too long, Sessions gets a reprieve anyway, and while that is playing out, the Mueller investigation proceeds, and whatever comes out of that, it's too late for Trump to undo by firing Sessions.
All in all, another Trump mess.
Remind me again, who thought it was a good idea to make this idiot President? This is a joke, right? Someone gave writers from The Onion control of all of my newspapers, just to fuck with my head, right?! Admit it, that's what's going on. Please! Otherwise...