Is Trump Flirting With A Palace Coup?

In the highest echelons of Washington, survival depends on getting used to countless minor provocations and threats. They are like bees crawling on your arms and face. Ignore them, and most will fly away. Swat them, and they’ll swarm and sting.

Donald Trump swats and swats and swats. So here we are. And we thought last week was bad.

That Trump might have pressured then-F.B.I. director

James Comey to drop an investigation is big news, as is the appointment of former F.B.I. director

Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate whether Trump’s campaign had any ties to Moscow. But what feels bigger is the change in vibe. Demoralization is in the air. White House staffers are unguardedly venting to the press, and who can blame them? If you’re a true believer—and many, probably most, West Wing staffers in any administration are true believers—then you’re seeing all your policy hopes and dreams get butchered. Instead of changing the country, you spend your days trying to fix the latest thing your boss has broken, and as soon as you look up he’s broken another 10. The rage builds.

Outside the White House, conservatives and Republicans are distancing themselves more than ever.

Mitch McConnell—Exhibit A of the adage that if you want to accomplish terrible things in Washington, be sneaky about it—has requested “less drama” from Trump. Senator

Bob Corker of Tennessee has talked about a White House in a “downward spiral.” Last week,

Rod Dreher of The American Conservative called for Trump’s impeachment. This week,

Ross Douthat took to The New York Times to ask Cabinet members to exercise the 25th Amendment—the palace-coup option—to remove the president. (This would happen if Vice President

Mike Pence were to declare that Trump was “unable to discharge” the duties of his office and a majority of Trump’s Cabinet concurred.) And we’re just four months in.

Many conservatives suspect that our major media outlets and intelligence agencies are out to get Trump, and they’re probably right. (How many of the damaging Trump stories have concerned an unverified allegation by an unnamed source with unknown motives? Many.) But such pitfalls were obvious from the start, and Trump could have overcome them by playing a cool game of humility, cunning, and discipline. (Recall how much

Dick Cheney pulled off by staying quiet. Sorry, but do recall it.)

For all that Trump supporters complain of media bias, the most damaging stuff hasn’t come from the press but from the man himself. No one but Trump fired James Comey. No one but Trump tweeted out taunts right afterward. No one but Trump tweeted out soft threats about possible “tapes,” in quotation marks. No one but Trump cited Comey’s investigations into Russia as an explanation for firing him. No one but Donald Trump fired off unbaked tweets in March about being spied on by

Barack Obama. No one but Trump has sent aides scurrying almost daily to come up with an excuse for his latest lapse of self-control. If Trump were capable of self-control lasting more than a day, he wouldn’t be in trouble nearly this bad. But counterfactuals will be of no help to him. His slavery to impulse has been obvious for at least a year now, ever since Trump kept sabotaging himself even after all but wrapping up the Republican nomination.

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Is Trump Flirting with a Palace Coup?
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