It’s becoming hard to get excited about every anonymous White House official who regales a reporter with tales of how they’re nobly fighting to keep President Trump from destroying the country — even when the reporter is legendary journalist Bob Woodward — but the latest plaintive wails from Trumpland come in an exciting new package: a New York Times op-ed titled “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.”
The piece spawned a new parlor game not unlike the decades-long quest to identify Deep Throat (except for the part where this individual tells Americans they can chill out about our “anti-democratic” leader because there’s an unelected cabal working to advance a traditional conservative agenda). People immediately started digging for clues, both inside and outside the White House. Per the Washington Post:
The column, which published midafternoon Wednesday, sent tremors through the West Wing and launched a frantic guessing game. Startled aides canceled meetings and huddled behind closed doors to strategize a response. Aides were analyzing language patterns to try to discern the author’s identity or at a minimum the part of the administration where the author works.
The only problem: Working in the Trump administration is an unrelenting nightmare, so everyone is a suspect.
“The problem for the president is it could be so many people,” said one administration official, who like many others interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid. “You can’t rule it down to one person. Everyone is trying, but it’s impossible.”
The phrase “The sleeper cells have awoken” circulated on text messages among aides and outside allies.
Here’s a look at the theories that have emerged so far: A few are somewhat plausible, while others may ascribe too much cunning to the gang that couldn’t lower a flag to half-staff without controversy.
The author is a figment of the Times’ imagination … or an urgent threat to national security.
After denouncing the piece to reporters as a “gutless editorial” (which isn’t inaccurate), President Trump offered up his theory on Twitter: The New York Times fabricated an entire op-ed, or the paper is harboring the identity of a traitor. Either way, we should definitely blame the New York Times!
If Trump is right (fact check: he isn’t) the paper’s opinion editors have done a good job of fooling their colleagues.
Maybe everyone in the White House did it?
CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote a piece describing 13 suspects, based not on any specific clues offered in the op-ed, but on “what we know about the various factions, likes, dislikes, motivations and ambitions within the Trump administration.” Kellyanne Conway is on the list because her husband trolls Trump on Twitter. Trump adviser and Russia expert Fiona Hill’s supposed motive: She was close to H.R. McMaster and Trump once mistook her for a clerk. Melania Trump is mentioned because the first lady writing the op-ed would be “the most reality TV thing EVER.”
Of course, none of this makes much sense. Melania declaring that everyone knows her husband “is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making” doesn’t really fit with her anti-bullying campaign.
The author is a member of Trump’s Cabinet.
The writer seems to suggest in this paragraph that they are part of Trump’s Cabinet, or are at least privy to the thinking of Cabinet officials:
Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.
After the Times referred to the author as “he” in social media, some concluded it was a man. But Times op-ed page editor Jim Dao told CNN that’s just the paper’s standard for referring to someone who is not named. So you can keep speculating about whether Betsy DeVos decided to sound the alarm about Trump’s lack of “genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.”
The author isn’t a MAGA hat-wearing conservative.
There are a few signs of anti-Trump conservatism in the piece. The author complains Trump’s “impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic,” and lists the administration’s achievements as “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.”
Plus, the author concludes by citing Senator John McCain’s farewell letter, lamenting, “We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue.”
The author is a MAGA true believer attempting to frame White House foes.
Back in May, one of the Trump administration’s many anonymous leakers told Axios, “To cover my tracks, I usually pay attention to other staffers’ idioms and use that in my background quotes. That throws the scent off me.”
Making no mention of immigration, using stodgy turns of phrase, and praising McCain is exactly what someone like Stephen Miller might do if he wanted to frame certain colleagues, prompting his “erratic” boss to carry out a purge.
It’s Vice-President Mike Pence, our scandal lodestar.
Is the vice president’s Waylon Smithers-esque demeanor toward President Trump all an act? On Wednesday night one word (and God’s reported plan for Pence) convinced many on the internet that this is the case.
Journalist Dan Bloom tweeted that one archaic word in the op-ed stood out to him:
Bloom discovered that Pence regularly used the word “lodestar,” dating back to at least 2011.
Pence penning the op-ed would come close to being “the most reality TV thing EVER,” but the theory has its detractors. As Bloom noted, the Times identifies the writer as “a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure.” Pence is the one White House employee who Trump can’t fire, but maybe the paper was being intentionally vague?
Or perhaps, there is another …
What about Larry Kudlow?
While Twitter spread elaborate theories about Pence, another “lodestar” user was identified: Larry Kudlow, who succeeded Gary Cohn as Director of the National Economic Council in April.
Nate Silver identified another term that seems out of place: anti-trade.
The Weekly Standard noted that Kudlow served in the Reagan administration and has “struggled to fit his free-market views on trade” into the Trump administration. Kudlow has served as a columnist and economics editor for National Review Online, and spent many years working as a media commentator, so he knows how to put together an op-ed.
Kudlow has been known to use all of the unusual phrases that appear in the piece, including “steady state,” “lodestar,” and “first principles.”
The Weekly Standard even found a familiar sentence in Kudlow’s 1998 book:
Plus, there are some similarities between the piece’s language and Kudlow’s own writings. “The root of the problem is the president’s amorality,” writes the anonymous official. “Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.” Here’s what Kudlow wrote in his 1998 book: “If we stick with what I call first principles, which is morality and ethics, some spiritual guideline which was present at the creation with the founders … then this country is unstoppable.”
On the other hand, it could also be …
Literally hundreds of other people.
The disclaimer from the Times makes it sound like they’re talking about a known Trump administration figure, and it seems unlikely that they’d publish such an extraordinary declaration from some low-level staffer. But technically a “senior official in the Trump administration” could work in the White House or at any executive-branch agency. It could apply to hundreds of government employees.
In other words, keep guessing! An anonymous administration official claiming he’s part of a resistance movement working to thwart our unhinged president is about as fun a story as we’re going to get in these troubled times.