The Guardrails Can’t Contain Trump

The country is now caught in the internal maelstrom that is the mind of Donald Trump.

By Charles Krauthammer Published on May 18, 2017

WASHINGTON — The pleasant surprise of the First 100 Days is over. The action was hectic, heated, often confused, but well within the bounds of normalcy. Policy (e.g., health care) was being hashed out, a Supreme Court nominee confirmed, foreign policy challenges (e.g. North Korea) addressed.

Donald Trump’s character — volatile, impulsive, often self-destructive — had not changed since the campaign. But it seemed as if the guardrails of our democracy — Congress, the courts, the states, the media, the Cabinet — were keeping things within bounds.

No Guardrails

Then came the last 10 days. The country is now caught in the internal maelstrom that is the mind of Donald Trump. We are in the realm of the id. Chaos reigns. No guardrails can hold.

Normal activity disappears. North Korea’s launch of an alarming new missile and a problematic visit from the president of Turkey (locus of our most complicated and tortured allied relationship) barely evoke notice. Nothing can escape the black hole of a three-part presidential meltdown.

Comey’s Dismissal

— First, the firing of James Comey. Trump, consumed by the perceived threat of the Russia probe to his legitimacy, executes a mindlessly impulsive dismissal of the FBI director. He then surrounds it with a bodyguard of lies — attributing the dismissal to a Justice Department recommendation — which his staff goes out and parrots. Only to be undermined and humiliated when the boss contradicts them within 48 hours.

The country is now caught in the internal maelstrom that is the mind of Donald Trump. We are in the realm of the id. Chaos reigns. No guardrails can hold.

Result? Layers of falsehoods giving the impression of an elaborate cover-up — in the absence of a crime. At least Nixon was trying to quash a third-rate burglary and associated felonies. Here we don’t even have a body, let alone a smoking gun. Trump insists there’s no there there, but acts as if the there is everywhere.

Classified Information Shared?

— Second, Trump’s divulging classified information to the Russians. A stupid, needless mistake. But despite the media hysteria, hardly an irreparable national security calamity.

The Israelis, whose asset might have been jeopardized, are no doubt upset, but the notion that this will cause a great rupture to their (and others’) intelligence relationship with the U.S. is nonsense. These kinds of things happen all the time. When the Obama administration spilled secrets of the anti-Iranian Stuxnet virus or blew the cover of a double agent in Yemen, there was none of the garment-rending that followed Trump’s disclosure.

Once again, however, the cover-up far exceeded the crime. Trump had three top officials come out and declare the disclosure story false. The next morning, Trump tweeted he was entirely within his rights to reveal what he revealed, thereby verifying the truth of the story. His national security adviser H.R. McMaster floundered his way through a news conference, trying to reconcile his initial denial with Trump’s subsequent contradiction. It was a sorry sight.

Trump’s behavior is deeply disturbing but hardly surprising. It’s been there all along. And the American electorate chose him nonetheless.

Comey’s Memo

— Is it any wonder, therefore, that when the third crisis hit on Tuesday night — the Comey memo claiming that Trump tried to get him to call off the FBI investigation of Michael Flynn — Republicans hid under their beds rather than come out to defend the president? The White House hurriedly issued a statement denying the story. The statement was unsigned. You want your name on a statement that your boss could peremptorily contradict in a Twitter-second?

The 25th Amendment and a Coup

Republicans are beginning to panic. One sign is the notion now circulating that, perhaps to fend off ultimate impeachment, Trump be dumped by way of 25th Amendment.

That’s the post-Kennedy assassination measure that provides for removing an incapacitated president on the decision of the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet.

This is the worst idea since Leno at 10 p.m. It perverts the very intent of the amendment. It was meant for a stroke, not stupidity; for Alzheimer’s, not narcissism. Otherwise, what it authorizes is a coup — willful overthrow by the leader’s own closest associates.

I thought we had progressed beyond the Tudors and the Stuarts. Moreover, this would be seen by millions as an establishment usurpation to get rid of a disruptive outsider. It would be the most destabilizing event in American political history — the gratuitous overthrow of an essential constant in American politics, namely the fixedness of the presidential term (save for high crimes and misdemeanors).

Trump’s behavior is deeply disturbing but hardly surprising. His mercurial nature is not the product of a post-inaugural adder sting at Mar-a-Lago. It’s been there all along. And the American electorate chose him nonetheless.

What to do? Strengthen the guardrails. Redouble oversight of this errant president. Follow the facts, especially the Comey memos. And let the chips fall where they may.

But no tricks, constitutional or otherwise.


Charles Krauthammer’s email address is

Copyright 2017 The Washington Post Writers Group

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  • Charles Burge

    I think the way that Trump threw Vice President Pence under the bus was particularly despicable. Both he and H.R. McMaster stuck their necks out for the president, only to have them stepped on. I wonder if Trump would get the message if his top aids started resigning en masse.

  • Az1seeit

    Okay. With all respect for Dr. K, I must ask: What of the above article is fact based? Trump fired Comey. All else is unsubstantiated. I am not defending Trump. I am, however, trying to defend reality. Take out one completely unsubstantiated narrative – Russia- and nothing else stands on its own, except one thing: Trump’s seemingly erratic behavior…but even that is understandable. In light of the evil being directed at him, I’m impressed he is still standing. Folks, this man has been nothing but viciously attacked from all sides – the biased media, the unhinged liberal left and their complicit judicial inhabitants, and the corrupt D.C. establishment – for doing NOTHING but WINNING the election. And why did he win? He LISTENED to the REAL concerns of the people…who believed he would do something about their REAL concerns! The electorate that is SICK TO DEATH of the aforementioned groups that UTTERLY DESPISE the people they relentlessly manipulate to support their addiction to power and money. We. Want. Our. Country. Back! Make no mistake. We know who the real enemy is and it isn’t Trump! God help him! Pray for our country!

    • Louise C

      I agree Az1seeit, you said exactly what I wanted to say. It’s very troubling to me how very critical people are of our president. It can’t be an easy job for anybody and add to that the daily, relentless assault of the media, obstruction from the courts, lack of cooperation from both parties, the hate and vitriol from the public, etc. The left is tearing this nation apart.

  • Denise Smith

    How quaint…. Dr. Krauthammer thinks the establishment gives a rat’s rear how this looks. Perhaps another line of thinking in order. It would serve the establishment well to remember…all of us ‘deplorables’….we’re still here. And we are watching…

  • Gary

    Trump is too worried about what his enemies think. He should stop caring about that. They are never going to like him. And, Trump should learn how to keep quiet. That isn’t what he is used to, but he should learn to do it.

  • Dena

    Since Trump has become President he has stirred up the establishment revealing how entrenched and corrupt our Government is. He campaigned on “draining the swamp”, but is that even possible?

  • What this nation needs, really, one each in the Senate, the House, and the Judiciary, is a William Wilberforce. Our President, Donald J. Trump, cannot do it all by himself. We need people in each of these other places to grow a pair, and stand up forcefully for the unpopular but righteous, and politics as a career goal be damned. That is not why they are there in the first place.

    They are there to serve.


    Time to get to it.

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