As late as one hour before the decision was to be announced, administration officials privately expressed concern that Mr. Trump might not fully grasp the details of the steps he was about to take, and when he discovered their full impact, would change his mind, according to a person familiar with their thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity without authorization to comment on it.
This sounded familiar.
Sometimes you have to step back and marvel that the president doesn’t know anything about anything – and that he doesn’t care that he doesn’t know. Anonymous aides have been warning us for months that Trump is incurious on matters of policy and process to the point that he makes George W. Bush look like Adlai Stevenson.
Amid the debate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, for example, there was so much reporting about Trump’s slim-to-none grasp of the complexities involved that even he felt the need to correct the record via Twitter:
Reporting from the Daily Beast just slightly undermined his claim of policy mastery:
The president’s close aides and political advisers, six of whom spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely, would beg to differ. Some of them simply laughed at the very suggestion that the president knows much, or even cares, about health care policy in this country.
There was the time, sources told the Huffington Post, that Trump couldn’t remember whether a strong dollar or weak dollar was good for the U.S. economy (remember, this is a guy who’s been inveighing against unfair trade deals for decades), so he naturally called… his then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn, in one of the few sounds decisions he made in his brief tenure, told Trump to ask an economist.
Oftentimes, Trump’s cluelessness extends beyond specific policy details into more rudimentary “how does the government work” territory. At the beginning of his term, Trump seemed to believe the president was a dictatorship, and was chastened to find out that it’s not. From Politico in February:
Trump often asks simple questions about policies, proposals and personnel. And, when discussions get bogged down in details, the president has been known to quickly change the subject — to “seem in control at all times,” one senior government official said — or direct questions about details to his chief strategist Steve Bannon, his son-in-law Jared Kushner or House Speaker Paul Ryan. Trump has privately expressed disbelief over the ability of judges, bureaucrats or lawmakers to delay — or even stop — him from filling positions and implementing policies.
Of course, Trump’s ignorance is hardly limited to the bureaucratic; he often seems not to grasp when he’s putting himself in legal danger, as when he fired James Comey, or when the Washington Post reported in July that Trump had dictated an incoherent statement regarding his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, drawing the ire of an anonymous adviser who just couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
“This was . . . unnecessary,” said one of the president’s advisers. “Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth.”
Ultimately, it’s Trump’s unthinking impulsivity that seems to worry aides most. Ahead of a high-stakes meeting with Vladimir Putin, advisers confided that they were worried about what he’d say, given his “propensity for unpredictable utterances and awkward optics.”
And then there are moments when staffers just seem eager to confirm that Trump’s rhetorical non sequiturs are as ludicrous as they appear, like when Trump tweeted disparagingly about John Podesta during a G20 summit in Germany. “I have no idea what he’s talking about,” a source told The Daily Beast.
The dearth of knowledge about how laws, the government or the criminal justice system works, and the insouciance with which he displays his ignorance, are qualities that define the 45th president. This is a man who understands one thing better than anyone: how to whip a crowd into a reactionary strew of resentment and fear. After that, as his own staff has acknowledged for months, he’s got nothin’.