Wednesday, August 09, 2017


President Trump made headlines yesterday when he promised "fire and fury" in response to North Korea's nuclear moves, and today The New York Times assures us that it was a spontaneous outburst:
President Trump delivered his “fire and fury” threat to North Korea on Tuesday with arms folded, jaw set and eyes flitting on what appeared to be a single page of talking points set before him on the conference table at his New Jersey golf resort.

The piece of paper, as it turned out, was a fact sheet on the opioid crisis he had come to talk about, and his ominous warning to Pyongyang was entirely improvised, according to several people with direct knowledge of what unfolded. In discussions with advisers beforehand, he had not run the specific language by them.
I'm going to stick with my theory from yesterday -- that Stephen Miller provided the wording -- but I can imagine other possible authors. Sebastian Gorka? Maybe one of Trump's phone-a-friends? Roger Stone? Newt Gingrich? Some Wall Street master of the universe? Who knows?

I'm sure tht the Times is at least partly correct: It's likely that Trump didn't "run the specific language by" at least some of his advisers. Getting everyone on the same page is not how Trump rolls. Many of his aides might honestly believe that the line was improvised because they assume it would have been discussed and vetted in the White House before Trump went public with it. But that's not Trump's M.O.

Wouldn't the author want to claim credit, or at least surreptitiously get out the word that he or she (I'm guessing he) was the author? I think the author knows better. Trump really doesn't like it when someone else seizes the spotlight. The author knows this, and so do his allies in the White House.

If the author was Miller, notice what he was doing yesterday:
“President Trump is the most gifted politician of our time. He’s the best orator to hold that office in generations,” Miller said in an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who was filling in on Tucker Carlson Tonight.
An excellent moment to be deferential. I'm sure that will be very good for Miller's career advancement.

This wouldn't be the first White House in which getting credit for a presidential utterance could put your career in jeopardy. Remember what happened to David Frum in the George W. Bush presidency:
The public had a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the White House yesterday when David Frum, the man said to have invented the phrase "axis of evil", resigned from President George Bush's speechwriting team, causing a debate as to whether he walked out or was pushed.

Mr Frum became well known after President Bush used the term in his state of the union address. But his celebrity came about only because his wife, Danielle, emailed friends with "wifely pride" to claim credit for her husband. The message was picked up by the media.

This was considered an affront to the discreet and collegiate traditions of the speechwriters' room, whose occupants are accustomed to having their precious words appropriated by the president, rewritten or scrapped, but are expected to remain stoically anonymous.

The Frumgate affair erupted when the commentator Robert Novak claimed on CNN that the president was so infuriated by the emails that Mr Frum was fired.
So it would be wise for the author not to take credit.

I'll grant the (remote) possibility that the words were Trump's -- but even so, Trump wasn't improvising. Watch the clip again.

We've seen Trump improvise. He improvised an hour a night in most of his campaign speeches, although he repeated familiar riffs. He didn't hesitate in those speeches. He didn't get that lost look he has in the above clip. And if the paper in front of him is just notes from his opioid meeting, why does he sneak four glances at it in the course of an utterance that goes on for a little more than half a minute?

Somebody worked the wording out in advance. Maybe it was Trump himself. More likely, Trump got it from an aide. Trump never quite memorized it. Whatever happened, now he's being ceded the credit.

This also reminds me of the moment in 2008 when we were told that Sarah Palin improvised a great deal of her Republican convention speech because the Teleprompter broke halfway through. The story was repeatedly debunked, but for her fans it became part of her legend. Trump is the male Palin, so why not cook up a similar myth for him?

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