SEVERE WX : Severe Thunderstorm Watch - Severe Thunderstorm Warning View Alerts

Begala: Donald Trump is no 'idiot.' He's something worse

Add the name of White House chief of staff John Kelly to the astonishingly long list of close Trump aides who have re...

Posted: May 2, 2018 11:11 AM
Updated: May 2, 2018 11:11 AM

Add the name of White House chief of staff John Kelly to the astonishingly long list of close Trump aides who have reportedly disparaged the President's intellect, in his case referring to the leader of the free world as "an idiot." Kelly called the report "total B.S."

But, like the dog that didn't bark, Kelly's statement reveals more by what it does not say. It does not say the President is bright. It does not say he is engaged. It does not say he digs into the impossibly difficult issues that come into the Oval Office each day. And Kelly's silence on those matters is telling.

Of course, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called President Trump "a [expletive deleted] moron" then heroically refused to participate in the ritualistic dishonest denial. Tillerson told CNN's Jake Tapper, "I'm not going to get into that kind of petty stuff."

National security adviser H.R. McMaster, according to a report in BuzzFeed, has called President Trump an "idiot," a "dope" and a man with the brain of a "kindergartner."

In Michael Wolff's book, "Fire and Fury" (which ought to be taken with an entire salt lick), the former chief of staff Reince Priebus and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin refer to the President as an "idiot." Then-chief economic adviser Gary Cohn says Trump is "dumb as [poop]," and is "an idiot surrounded by clowns." (Note that this was at the time that Cohn himself was one of the people surrounding the President. Does that make him Clarabell?). And billionaire media baron Rupert Murdoch reportedly called President Trump "a [effing] idiot" after a phone call on immigration.

I'm beginning to see a pattern here. Those closest to the President think, well, it's pretty clear what they think.

But I dissent.

I think Donald J. Trump is plenty bright. Not in the intellectual, Mensa-meeting sense, but he has, I think, an undeniable intelligence. He is street smart, savvy, clever. No one can be that conniving and be an idiot.

So why the disconnect? Why do I as an outside analyst see an intelligence that those closest to the President do not? Because there are different kinds of intelligence that are useful for different purposes. The kind of intelligence I believe Trump has is enormously useful if you want to, say, be a politician -- even better if you want to be a demagogue.

He has a cynical, innate intelligence for what his base wants to hear. It's like a divining rod for division, prejudice and stereotyping. His relentless rhetorical repetition ("No collusion, no collusion, no collusion") is brilliantly designed to tell folks who are predisposed to like him what they want to hear. Forget the objective reality that his campaign chairman, his son and his son-in-law all met with Russians who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government, helping make the case for why Robert Mueller should be investigating potential collusion.

He has an unerring sense for how to command media attention, whether it was assuming a pseudonym and leaking the "Best Sex I Ever Had" myth to the New York tabloids, or dominating water coolers across the country by attacking NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem. It's like he knows what every barstool blowhard is about to say before he or she even says it.

His penchant for third-grade nicknames undoubtedly demeans the discourse, and yet otherwise sophisticated people repeat them: "Lyin' Ted," "Little Marco," "Crooked Hillary." So who's really the idiot?

The problem is, Trump's idiosyncratic intelligence, while enough to propel him to the White House, does not serve him well for the job of President. He lacks, by most accounts, the broad curiosity, the policy depth, the healthy skepticism of his own positions, the attention span, the appreciation of nuance, and most of all, the intellectual humility that successful presidents must have.

Serving President Clinton in the West Wing was the highlight of my professional life. He is the smartest person I have ever known -- and he never, ever acted like (or felt like) the smartest person in the room. He paired his astonishing intellect with an immeasurable empathy, and the combination brought out the best in everyone around him.

He didn't merely want to know; he wanted to understand. Then he would integrate, cross-pollinating new information about farm prices with the latest briefing on the French military budget, and seeing the world in subtle hues. It is impossible to imagine any of his top aides speaking as contemptuously of him as President Trump's do of him.

Finally, a word of caution for the Democrats: Don't attack Donald Trump's intelligence. Liberals already suffer from the conceit that they are more intelligent, and it can make them insufferable. Plus, in a weird way, calling President Trump stupid excuses his intentional acts of malice.

So, don't call him "moron" or "idiot;" call him what he is: a conniving, corrupt con man, a dangerous, divisive demagogue -- and, most sobering of all, the man who carried 30 states in the last election, and may well do it again if Democrats don't focus their fire more effectively.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 26273

Reported Deaths: 1126
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin8867641
Ramsey3252140
Stearns205014
Nobles15625
Anoka148878
Dakota141464
Washington68034
Olmsted67211
Kandiyohi5111
Rice4833
Scott4602
Clay44129
Mower4062
Wright3392
Todd3361
Sherburne2482
Carver2322
Benton1823
Steele1670
Blue Earth1480
Freeborn1420
Martin1325
St. Louis11814
Pine930
Nicollet8811
Lyon811
Winona8015
Cottonwood790
Watonwan780
Crow Wing774
Unassigned7511
Carlton750
Otter Tail730
Goodhue715
Chisago641
Polk612
Itasca5610
Dodge530
Chippewa521
Morrison480
Le Sueur461
Meeker460
Douglas450
Becker430
Jackson420
Murray400
McLeod390
Isanti360
Waseca270
Pennington230
Rock230
Mille Lacs231
Faribault200
Swift190
Beltrami180
Wabasha180
Fillmore171
Sibley160
Brown162
Norman150
Pipestone120
Marshall120
Kanabec121
Wilkin113
Cass112
Aitkin110
Wadena100
Pope100
Koochiching90
Big Stone80
Redwood70
Renville70
Mahnomen61
Lincoln60
Yellow Medicine60
Grant40
Traverse40
Red Lake40
Lac qui Parle30
Clearwater30
Roseau30
Hubbard30
Houston20
Kittson10
Lake10
Stevens10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 20767

Reported Deaths: 583
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk4541137
Woodbury283737
Black Hawk177548
Buena Vista9971
Linn97179
Dallas94025
Marshall91218
Wapello62814
Johnson6189
Muscatine56541
Crawford5472
Tama41029
Scott38010
Dubuque35521
Louisa34911
Pottawattamie31110
Sioux2980
Jasper26917
Wright2120
Washington1958
Warren1661
Plymouth1462
Story1261
Allamakee1204
Mahaska9912
Poweshiek928
Henry722
Bremer706
Boone700
Des Moines671
Clarke660
Clinton651
Taylor640
Webster621
Hamilton610
Guthrie543
Cedar491
Benton431
Monroe415
Shelby370
Cherokee370
Jones370
Jefferson350
Marion350
Osceola340
Clayton343
Cerro Gordo331
Iowa330
Dickinson330
Buchanan330
Madison292
Lee290
Fayette280
Sac280
Davis280
Harrison260
Monona250
Clay250
Lyon240
Winneshiek240
Emmet240
Lucas222
Hardin210
Grundy200
Mills200
Delaware191
Humboldt191
Floyd191
Franklin170
Appanoose173
Hancock160
Butler161
Ida150
Greene150
Pocahontas150
Page140
Kossuth140
Keokuk140
Audubon131
Jackson130
Carroll130
Chickasaw130
Howard120
Cass120
Winnebago110
Montgomery91
Adair90
Union90
Van Buren90
Adams70
Palo Alto70
Calhoun60
Ringgold40
Mitchell40
Fremont40
Worth30
Wayne10
Decatur10
Unassigned00
Rochester
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 69°
Mason City
Overcast
67° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 67°
Albert Lea
Overcast
68° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 68°
Austin
Overcast
70° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 70°
Charles City
Overcast
68° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 68°
Another round of severe weather tonight
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Covid-19 Cases on the Rise

Image

Becoming a better ally

Image

Giving your best

Image

Coronavirus attacking your blood vessels?

Image

Young Protester's impact on police reform

Image

How important are school resource officers?

Image

bri first at 4

Image

Graffiti on Rochester trail

Image

Expedited breast cancer treatment

Image

Stock market makes a comeback

Community Events