Begala: Staff deriding Trump a recurring motif

CNN commentator Paul Begala says people under former US presidents have derided their bosses in the past but he's never seen anything like the comments coming from people closest to President Trump.

Posted: May 2, 2018 1:59 PM
Updated: May 2, 2018 1:59 PM

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: 97638

Reported Deaths: 2067
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin27372932
Ramsey11088322
Dakota7635126
Anoka6238137
Stearns407724
Washington388355
Scott262533
Olmsted251928
Nobles197716
Blue Earth17266
Wright16957
St. Louis165941
Carver14377
Clay141741
Rice13438
Mower13425
Sherburne116914
Kandiyohi10552
Winona91318
Lyon7224
Waseca6898
Benton5603
Crow Wing55518
Steele5552
Freeborn5464
Nicollet54517
Watonwan5304
Chisago5131
Todd5042
McLeod5012
Le Sueur4744
Otter Tail4624
Beltrami4505
Martin43010
Goodhue3829
Itasca34715
Pine3430
Douglas3372
Polk3224
Isanti3151
Becker2812
Carlton2761
Morrison2682
Dodge2570
Pipestone23210
Cottonwood2280
Chippewa2231
Meeker2132
Wabasha2020
Sibley1993
Brown1962
Yellow Medicine1902
Cass1844
Redwood1773
Rock1760
Murray1722
Mille Lacs1693
Renville1578
Unassigned15452
Jackson1491
Faribault1470
Swift1441
Fillmore1330
Houston1280
Kanabec1278
Roseau1250
Koochiching1233
Pennington1201
Hubbard1171
Lincoln1160
Stevens1041
Pope990
Aitkin831
Big Stone830
Wadena720
Wilkin703
Lac qui Parle651
Grant634
Lake600
Norman540
Marshall531
Mahnomen491
Red Lake451
Traverse340
Clearwater280
Lake of the Woods231
Kittson120
Cook60

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 86860

Reported Deaths: 1315
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk16010262
Woodbury555467
Johnson517027
Black Hawk450990
Linn4101113
Story346217
Dubuque333241
Scott304528
Dallas280738
Pottawattamie215939
Buena Vista199912
Marshall179134
Sioux16803
Wapello134057
Webster128014
Plymouth116121
Clinton113021
Muscatine112155
Crawford11005
Cerro Gordo105921
Warren9666
Jasper86432
Des Moines8008
Marion7697
Henry7554
Tama73932
Carroll6855
Lee6437
Wright5961
Dickinson5306
Boone5178
Bremer5027
Washington47211
Louisa43115
Delaware4233
Mahaska41519
Floyd3543
Jackson3523
Franklin35118
Lyon3514
Winneshiek3406
Clay3344
Hamilton3323
Benton3281
Winnebago31713
Hardin3071
Poweshiek3078
Buchanan2861
Jones2843
Kossuth2800
Butler2752
Emmet27010
Clarke2683
Shelby2681
Allamakee2666
Chickasaw2661
Sac2650
Clayton2633
Cherokee2552
Cedar2521
Guthrie2527
Harrison2523
Fayette2312
Madison2272
Grundy2243
Iowa2161
Palo Alto2050
Hancock1952
Howard1927
Humboldt1913
Mitchell1910
Calhoun1873
Mills1831
Page1710
Cass1692
Osceola1690
Pocahontas1652
Monona1601
Monroe16011
Lucas1566
Appanoose1423
Jefferson1391
Union1383
Taylor1321
Davis1274
Ida1261
Fremont1210
Van Buren1151
Keokuk1141
Worth1090
Greene1030
Montgomery975
Audubon871
Wayne872
Adair721
Decatur670
Ringgold532
Adams330
Unassigned140
Rochester
Broken Clouds
57° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 57°
Mason City
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 57°
Albert Lea
Scattered Clouds
55° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 55°
Austin
Broken Clouds
57° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 57°
Charles City
Few Clouds
55° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 55°
Winds pick up for Wednesday
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Governor Walz Shares Thoughts Before Presidential Debate

Image

Voting based on your values and faith-based beliefs

Image

Governor Walz weighs in ahead of debate

Image

Sara's Evening Forecast - Tuesday

Image

Local protest over SCOTUS nominee

Image

Opioid crisis during pandemic

Image

Spots Mallet makes it on TV

Image

Domestic Violence Awareness Forum

Image

Pumpkin shortage

Image

Minnesota traffic fatalities

Community Events