Dana Milbank: Trump administration mirrors matchmaking service
At his confirmation hearing last week, Mike Pompeo, President Trump’s nominee to be secretary of state, gave a six-minute opening statement that made no mention of Russia, China, North Korea, Syria or Iran. Here is what Pompeo did say:
“I’m a movie buff. I have a soft spot for my golden retrievers. I love meatballs. ... I love Revolutionary War history, country music, show tunes and college basketball.”
I half-expected him to say he also likes long walks on the beach, Sunday trips to the farmers market, and cuddling up in front of Netflix.
I wondered: Is Pompeo seeking confirmation as the nation’s top diplomat, or writing an online dating bio?
And then I wondered: Is there a difference?
Early in this second year of the Trump presidency, the administration bears an eerie resemblance to a matchmaking service. As the president cycles through advisers the way other people do contact lenses, the quality that draws him to hire is neither credentials nor competence nor even ideological compatibility but a Trumpian impulse that he has chemistry with the applicant. It’s less like OKCupid, on which people seek prospective partners, than Tinder, where people go for a hookup.
Signs of a Tinder presidency: Of the 23 officials who took the oath of office on Trump’s first weekday in office, 14 are now gone, The Washington Post’s Philip Bump reported. That’s 61 percent. A quarter of Trump’s core Cabinet members have departed. Last week alone, Trump’s homeland security adviser quit, as did the deputy national security adviser for strategy and the National Security Council spokesman. This came with the arrival of Trump’s third national security adviser in 15 months and his second national economic adviser.
It’s clear why. Trump’s tastes change frequently. Those who do choose to serve this president — never from the A-list of advisers — find it difficult to keep up with the loyalty it requires: not to an ideology or a party, but to an ever-changing array of presidential impulses. To use a Tinderism, Trump is here for a good time, not a long time.
James B. Comey, in his new book, likens Trump to a mob boss: “The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.”
Comey writes about “the impostor complex,” also known as impostor syndrome: “All of us labor, to one degree or another, under the belief that if other people really knew us, if they knew us the way we know ourselves, they would think less of us.”
This has been diagnosed before. Trump’s ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, said Trump has one of “the most profound cases of impostor syndrome that has ever existed.” Because Trump’s impostor complex is the size of Trump Tower, no one can affirm all of his ever-shifting impulses. Hence Trump’s perpetual quest for his next Tinderella.
Last year, Trump swiped right — that’s Tinder talk for “yes” — on H.R. McMaster. At the time, he thought generals were sexy.
He swiped left — Tinder for “no” — on John Bolton, reportedly because he didn’t like Bolton’s mustache. But then Trump’s tastes on foreign policy took a hawkish swing, and generals are notoriously prudish about starting wars. So Trump swiped right on Bolton, whose hawkishness now outweighs facial hair.
At the National Economic Council, Trump first had a crush on Goldman Sachs expertise, so he swiped right on Gary Cohn. But when Cohn disappointed Trump by disagreeing with him on trade, Trump developed a fondness for TV personalities. He swiped right on Larry Kudlow, who isn’t a trained economist but is willing to swallow his reservations about Trump’s trade policy.
At Veterans Affairs, Trump originally swiped right on David Shulkin, an Obama administration holdover; at the time cross-aisle cooperation had a certain je ne sais quoi. But after White House physician Ronny L. Jackson gave his televised briefing rhapsodizing upon Trump’s unparalleled good health, Trump swiped right on his doctor for VA.
At State, Trump originally swiped right for a wealthy businessman. But it turned out the businessman, Rex Tillerson, had opinions that clashed with Trump’s. Trump swiped left on Tillerson and swiped right on Pompeo, who has less stature but is more discreet about his disagreements with Trump.
Of course, it’s just a matter of time before Pompeo, Jackson, Kudlow and Bolton discover that they, too, can no longer satisfy the president’s latest impulse.
He’s not looking for Mr. Right. To use one of the most common lines on Tinder, he’s just “looking for a partner in crime.”
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.