Whatever Donald Trump has, it’s spreading.
We’ve got a president who makes things up, and won’t retract when he’s cornered. This week press secretary Sean Spicer followed the leader. He picked up Trump’s wiretap story and added a new exciting detail: Not only had Barack Obama bugged Trump Tower, he might have used British intelligence spies to do the dirty work.
The British, of course, went nuts, and national security adviser H.R. McMaster tried to smooth things over. McMaster is new to the job, having succeeded Mike Flynn, who had to resign for lying about his phone conversations. Flynn was not even around long enough for us to find out that he was also a lobbyist for Turkish interests and took $68,000 from various Russian connections.
This is how insane the Trump administration is: On his first day, the new secretary of the interior rode to work on a horse named Tonto, and nobody really even noticed.
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The part of the gang that isn’t involved in active fiction-writing is still saying things that are … peculiar. When budget director Mick Mulvaney rolled out the new Trump budget plan, the nation discovered he’s Sean Spicer with a calculator.
Mulvaney’s most memorable comment was an apparent dis of Meals on Wheels. (“We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good.”) He also explained that tons of federal employees had to lose their jobs because “you can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it.”
Aid to public broadcasting had to go because Mulvaney couldn’t bear to tell “the coal mining family in West Virginia” that their taxes were going to the people who gave us “Sesame Street.”
Meanwhile, Tom Price, the health and human services secretary, was making the rounds attempting to explain the Republican health care bill. Including the part that lifts a $500,000 cap on health insurance company tax deductions for executive pay. (“That doesn’t sound like America to me.”)
Try to imagine, people, that you are the coal mining family in West Virginia. Which would you find more bothersome? Taxes going to help pay for West Virginia Public Broadcasting, or tax breaks for insurance companies that pay their CEOs’ eight-figure salaries?
But budget and health care considerations faded in the glare of Donald Trump still insisting that Barack Obama had him wiretapped. The man is never going to admit he’s wrong about anything, is he?
All this began with twittering. You’d think at least he’d give that up, but no. “I think that maybe I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Twitter, because I get such a fake press, such a dishonest press,” Trump told Tucker Carlson in a Fox interview. He then launched into an attack on NBC’s ingratitude. (“I made a fortune for NBC with ‘The Apprentice.’ I had a top show where they were doing horribly, and I had one of the most successful reality shows of all time.”)
Have we had a day of the Trump presidency without a mention of “The Apprentice”?
“I made – and I was on for 14 seasons. And you see what happened when I’m not on. You saw what happened to the show. It was a disaster,” said the head of the most powerful nation in the world, who appears to think about Arnold Schwarzenegger more than he thinks about North Korea.
Pity his poor press secretary. This week, clearly at the president’s urging, Spicer read aloud an endless series of news stories that would have supported Trump’s claim to be a wiretap victim except for the part in which none of them did. Then he quoted a Fox commentator posing the theory about British spies.
The ensuing uproar pretty much ate up a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who Trump seemed to relate to only as a potential fellow victim of Obama bugs. (“At least we have something in common perhaps.”) At first, when Merkel suggested they shake hands, Trump stared blankly ahead. But he did express a little sense of connection when the discussion turned to Germany’s programs for apprenticeships. (“That’s a name I like.”)
At a news conference, the president refused to even acknowledge that it was a bad idea for Spicer to bring up that British spy theory. “We said nothing,” he insisted, passing the buck. “You shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox.”
Meanwhile, over in Congress, powerful Republicans were beginning to move toward flat-out admissions that their chief executive was … untruthing.
“We see no evidence of that,” said Speaker Paul Ryan, when asked about the wiretap story. Living with Trump has made Ryan so pathetic you almost have to feel sorry for him, although not quite.
Imagine what would have happened if, at some point over the last two weeks, the president had just casually conceded that he had been misinformed about the wiretap thing. His health care plan wouldn’t look any better. His budget wouldn’t have been more defensible. But we’d feel slightly less terrified that the nation’s security is in the hands of a nut job.