The biggest, the best, the longest White House reality episode took place on Tuesday to dismal ratings. Rather than be the sure-fire, live-cast way to change the subject from Michael Wolff's book in which his staff and others declared his dangerous incompetence and show Trump at his deal-making best, the meeting revealed that on the whole Wolff got it right.
Trump had only to hold two things in his mind at the same time. DACA, yes; the Wall he chanted about at every campaign rally, yes. And oh, don’t be wooed by Democrats. Do not flirt, as he did with Chuck and Nancy over Chinese food. Do not believe they like you. Do not give in to the thrill of the deal. Democrats are the enemy.
But he couldn’t do that and his failure happened in real time for everyone to witness. Did you see, social media buzzed, what Trump just said to Senator Dianne Feinstein about a clean bill being great and he would take the heat.
Can you believe it?
No one could, least of all his advisors who thought they were having a much-needed do-over after their major pushback on Sunday failed. Stephen Miller’s mindless, repetitive defense of Trump to CNN’s Jake Tapper got him cut off and then escorted out of the building. Let Trump be a prepared president with a task so simple even he can’t blow it. Instead they had to watch in horror as he failed to perform. When Rep. Kevin McCarthy is the smart one in the room and you have to erase incriminating parts of the transcript like a Kremlin operative, you know it’s been a spectacular failure.
Trump’s display cracks his truce with Capitol Hill after pushing through tax cuts. House conservatives in the Freedom Caucus feel as warmly about Trump’s Bill of Love as they did about the Summer of Love. Their limited openness to agree to a non-monolithic wall — more fencing and high-tech surveillance and less money for an actual wall — is dead in light of Trump’s televised squishiness. They've told the new clean-up-the-mess Gang of Four congressional leaders convening in emergency session today that it’s $18 billion in concrete or bust.
What the White House actually accomplished Tuesday is the opposite of what it set out to do—set the bar low and show a president carrying out presidential tasks competently. If this had been Trump at the first tee, he’d have shanked it 50 yards into the woods. Into the bargain, the White House staff took more mulligans than Clinton ever did. Aside from giving in to his Democratic captors, all the king’s men couldn’t keep him from going off script to long nostalgically for the olden days of Jack Abramoff memorial earmarks.
Trump inadvertently demonstrated what Wolff, convinced of his own superiority, could not do in round-the-clock interviews with friendly anchors: that despite Wolff himself being above the rigor and rules of mere journalists, on the larger truth he is right. The president is impulsive, uncontrollable and unteachable, burdened with an ignorance he doesn’t have the self-awareness to realize he has or the discipline to overcome it. Rather than show he's "like, really smart" and went to "the best colleges for college," Trump showed that the job reduced to its simplest level is beyond his grasp leaving his advisers sickened like parents watching their well-coached child put a square peg in a round hole at a pre-school admissions interview.
No wonder his staff is leaving in record-breaking droves, the latest reported to be on their way out the door including White House counsel Don McGahn and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, with no one clamoring to replace them. The made-for-TV after-school special made an indelible impression on them, and viewers, that Trump at his very best may never be better than most of us at our very worst.
Will he ever rise to the occasion or to the job or ever, pivot? The pre-schoolers will learn, but Trump will not.
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.