If the president loses the First Lady, it’s game over. Yet Donald Trump has come so unhinged that he let the legitimate concerns of Melania explode into a public rebuke of him.
The thunderclap from Flotus was boiled down Tuesday to this cry for help: Either deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel goes or Melania does.
Nancy Reagan pushed out chief of staff Don Regan, but behind the scenes. No one makes an open grab for power if many private ones haven’t failed. This is an unprecedented plea from East to West Wing, from a wife to a husband. “Can you hear me now?” Melania is asking an increasingly out of touch president.
The guns-blazing takedown from the usually pliant and mostly silent First Lady is the most telling evidence yet that Trump has retreated inside himself and lost control of the forces of chaos and dysfunction he's unleashed. He’s not running the White House. It’s running him, no matter how many people he discards like used Kleenex.
Only someone in self-isolation, resisting any advice, with the instincts of a five-year old would sulk in his room in Paris for five hours rather than travel a few hours by car for a planned ceremony at a cemetery where the dead from World War I are buried, the purpose of his trip.
It takes particular gall to then blame the aide who relayed the news that weather prevented his taking a helicopter. It is fair to ask if the risk of a bad hair day kept him away, and to ask if he isn’t hopelessly clueless to be shocked by the world wide opprobrium that followed.
The Paris trip is another disaster piled on so many. There’s the shellacking in the midterms he blames on fraud because he can't endure them, the appointment of an acting attorney general with a massive multi million dollar judgement for scamming investors, so constitutionally suspect that Mr. Kellyanne Conway, as Trump calls legal scholar George Conway, wrote an op-ed blasting the appointment.
Then there’s fresh proof offered by the friendly Wall Street Journal that Trump himself was the mastermind of hush money payments, a lawsuit he’s going to lose over removing the credentials of a CNN reporter he dislikes, and the ever-present Mueller investigation Trump wars with himself over. Does he outright kill it with the risk that doing so might bestir the somnolent Congress, or hope to outsmart it with written answers to Mueller’s questions and the tradition that a sitting president can’t be indicted? He’s lucky to sleep five hours before he’s up tweeting to get some of the angst of it all off his chest.
You might hope that Republican leaders would find their spines now that the midterms showed the limits of Trump’s political reach. Instead they continue to bow before the throne, silent as Trump reduces the United States to a banana republic rife with stuffed ballot boxes to protect his fragile ego.
They go along with Trump reducing the heroic Gen. Jim Mattis to making excuses for a commander-in-chief abusing his power to deploy the military to boost his political standing.
At long last, doesn’t Mitch McConnell see he can reclaim his manhood?
Not yet. But Melania realizes she doesn’t have to take it all lying down. It doesn’t take an understanding of palace intrigue but simple marital dynamics to know that Tuesday’s plea wasn’t the first time Melania has told her husband how unhappy she is with the Ricardel, who berates her staff, banishes them to bad seats on Air Force One, and bungled her first solo trip to Africa.
What was supposed to be a goodwill mission was marred by her inadvertent neo-colonial outerwear (they don’t read Out of Africa in Slovenia), the incongruity of touring conservatories when her big-game hunting stepsons had successfully lobbied to loosen regulations on trophy hunting and importing elephant tusks, and the timing of the trip. Ricardel surely couldn’t keep Trump from insulting the countries his wife was visiting with his s-hole remark, but Melania blames her for not realizing that there needed to be a cooling off period before trying out soft diplomacy in those very places.
Unlike step daughter Ivanka, Trump’s other human shield, Melania’s interests are completely aligned with the president’s. The two women are often lumped together as they do the blocking and tackling for a president who’s created orphans at the border, made enemies of women of low IQ, ugly faces, and stupid questions, and reserved his most biting insults for his female allies, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Germany’s Angela Merkel.
But at 37 to Melania’s 48, Ivanka has years ahead of her with a family of her own, a business to resume whenever she feels like it, having held her own seat at the table in the Oval Office. However close, Ivanka only sees the half of it. Separate bedroom or not, Melania lives with a president glued to cable, eating cheeseburgers, happy only when holding rallies or eating lunch, somedays the only thing on his light schedule, with his most subservient Cabinet members.
Somedays, she can’t bear to hold his hand when the cameras are rolling. Melania may get a pile of money no matter what, but however satisfying a life with her loving parents and son would be, it’s not having lived in, and left, the White House in 2024, with the dignity she craves.
What Trump is doing to himself is worse than anything Democrats are planning. Self-inflicted wounds are always the worst. He could avoid another gratuitous one by heeding Melania, who’s borne so much humiliation without a peep. He’s busy anyway rearranging the seats on the ship of state. Ricardel is a flawed one in a sea of them.
Only if he’s afraid of looking henpecked, and that’s not out of the question, would he keep Ricardel after Melania said she’d shown disrespect to her and the office. It’s always a mistake to discount the president’s knack for doing the wrong thing. Still, my money’s on Melania.
Margaret Carlson is a columnist for the Daily Beast. She was formerly the first woman columnist at Time magazine, a columnist at Bloomberg View, a weekly panelist on CNN’s "Capital Gang" and managing editor at the New Republic. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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