WASHINGTON – I had dinner over the weekend at the “soft opening” of a buzzy new restaurant, where a pedigreed chef offers an ambitious menu at a price of nearly $40 per entree.
It was more soft than opening.
The bartender, asked for a cocktail, spilled rail liquors into a glass with abandon.
The duck arrived so bloody it appeared to have gone from pond to plate without pausing before a heat source. The quail was foul, and the waiter – there was only one, and he spent most of his time attending to a solo diner who appeared to be the chef’s wife – did not know whether they had wines by the bottle or what they might cost.
The appetizer plates remained on the table until it was time for dessert, which we had to skip to get home by daybreak.
“This,” one of my dining companions said, “is how John Kelly must feel every day.”
Precisely. The White House chief of staff is the maitre d’ at a restaurant opening gone horribly wrong. The dishes are coming out ill-timed and half-baked, if they come out at all. The chef clearly has no idea how to cook, and all he seems to do is yell – at servers, line cooks, investors and, particularly, restaurant reviewers. The chef has paranoid hypotheses about other restaurateurs sabotaging him. The tables are mostly empty, and the few loyal patrons are queasy.
Thanks to Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., we now have a mental image of the White House as an “adult day-care center” for President Trump. Gabe Sherman writes in Vanity Fair that presidential confidants describe him as “unstable,” “losing a step” and “unraveling.” The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker and Greg Jaffe find some Trump aides “spend a significant part of their time devising ways to rein in and control the impetuous president, angling to avoid outbursts.”
Kelly himself speaks of a fragile boss: “When we go in to see him now, rather than onesies and twosies, we go in and help him collectively understand what he needs to understand to make these vital decisions.”
Maybe he was better off in a onesie?
The White House as adult day-care center is an attractive metaphor, though incomplete.
It suggests those managing the patient are professionals.
Though this is true of Kelly, many others seem as unbalanced and inexpert as the patient.
Hence the “soft opening” metaphor: The kitchen and wait staff have just discovered their celebrity chef is barking mad and doesn’t know how to cook, but they can’t do anything about it because they’re having trouble enough figuring out how the dishwasher works.
Consider the menu at Restaurant Trump this week:
The president’s nominee for drug czar, Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., has to be returned to the kitchen after The Post and CBS News’ “60 Minutes” report he helped pass legislation making it harder for the Drug Enforcement Administration to act against big drug companies (which Trump complains are “getting away with murder”).
Trump was apparently unaware of this.
The president cooks up an utter falsehood when he proclaims “President Obama and other presidents, most of them, didn’t make calls” to the families of fallen U.S. troops. He then politicizes the death of Kelly’s son.
The president serves up a denunciation of some of his fellow Republicans for “not getting the job done,” saying they “should be ashamed of themselves.”
The most worrisome dish coming from Trump’s kitchen, though, is his new specialty: hostage taking.
Trump on Friday said he would kill the Iran deal – unless Congress does something to save it.
Trump threatened to pull the plug on Obamacare funds, potentially causing millions to lose health care – unless, he said, Congress passes a new health-care program.
Before that, he said he would kill the DACA program protecting immigrant “dreamers” – unless Congress enshrines it in law.
In each case, the dare is the same: Stop me before I kill again.
Congress struggles these days even to name post offices.
Only a madman would think Congress could swallow what Trump has ordered for them.
As we left the restaurant Saturday, two women outside asked how it was. We explained about the “soft opening.” The women said they tried the place a month earlier and were told, then, too, it was a “soft opening.”
How long can a “soft opening” continue before it’s a flop? How long can this White House continue to serve slop before we accept that the chef is mad?
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.