If The Onion didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent it. The self-described ‘omnipotent’ purveyor of current-events satire may not be (as another motto claims) ‘America’s finest news source.’ But it does have a good claim to the nation’s nicest anatomist of political folly (using, I hasten to add, that capacious word ‘nice’ not in the sense of ‘kind, pleasant’ but ‘precise, exact, fine’).
Consider this headline: ‘Anthony Scaramucci talks to Bill Kristol about trying to force Trump off the GOP ticket in 2020.’ Can you guess the source? If you said ‘The Onion,’ you would have made a perfectly rational judgment. After all, Anthony ‘The Mooch’ Scaramucci is a metrosexual clothes-horse, hedge-fund guru, communications director for President Trump for 11 minutes — I mean ‘days,’ 11 days. (Calling up a reporter for The New Yorker and treating him to an insane, profanity-laced tirade does tend to be a career-shortening gambit.) What could this character have to do with Bill Kristol, destroyer of The Weekly Standard, serial endorser of failed political candidates, real and imagined, would-be thorn in the side of Donald Trump? Surely putting those two together was a joke, an absurdity.
But no. A joke it may be — an absurdity, too — but the source of that story is not The Onion but CNBC, not exactly an unimpeachable source, I know, but at least one with some pretensions to reporting as distinct from satire.
Still, I think we have to categorize the gist of this story under two headings: 1) truth can be stranger than fiction and 2) even the simplest fact can be the occasion of humor. Consider this elaboration: ‘Asked whether he has spoken to Scaramucci about trying to find another presidential candidate to replace Trump on the top of the GOP ticket next year, Kristol said: “Yup.”’
‘Yup. Additional details were sparse. Kristol revealed how he and The Mooch had spoken, ‘but working with him would be an exaggeration.’ That must be a load off the collective minds of Team Trump. Having braved the formidable challenges to Donald Trump fielded by Bill Kristol in 2016 — Evan McMuffin, Pastor David French — I have no doubt that Trump’s strategists are hoping that Kristol’s conversations with Scaramucci fail to develop into anything like a working relationship. Just think: maybe Bill would suggest that Scaramucci himself run! How formidable that ticket would be. And perhaps he could pick Creepy Porn Lawyer™ Michael Avenatti as a running mate. Brilliant!
‘Oh, that’s not fair. No one thinks Michael Avenatti has a political future.’
Wrong. Lots of self-important people do, or at least did. Back in prehistoric times, many people thought that the porn ‘star’ Stormy Daniels, aided by Creepy Porn Lawyer™ Michael Avenatti, was going to bring down the president. So I suppose it was no surprise that a writer for The Atlantic, a former magazine, said in 2018 that Avenatti was an ‘inevitable’ presidential candidate. Intermittently funny NeverTrumper Bill Maher, got in on the gold as well, lauding Avenatti as a ‘folk hero’ (‘we’re in love with you,’ said Maher).
It was on Bill Maher’s television show last Friday that Scaramucci unloaded on Donald Trump. There are ‘certain things’ the president has done, Scaramucci said, ‘that are absolutely indefensible.’ Elsewhere, Scaramucci described the president as ‘crazy’ and ‘narcissistic,’ ‘off the rails,’ caught in a ‘meltdown’ so severe that he would drop out of the presidential race by March 2020.
I wonder if anyone has opened a book on that prediction? It’s a bet I would like to get in on.
In any event, I was surprised at Scaramucci’s unbridled attacks. He probably has the shortest tenure of any communications director in history. But even the briefest association with Donald Trump should instruct a sentient being about Rule Number One when it comes to Donald Trump. His philosophy of interpersonal relations seems to be a variant of ‘live-and-let-live/ Leave him alone, he will leave you alone. Attack him, and rue the day.’ Other presidents may not be turn-the-other-cheek good guys, but most are told to ignore criticism from the press and the groundlings of our public discourse. It’s not a message that Donald Trump embraces. I can’t think of a single instance when he went after an opponent or a rival who did not attack him first. But once the other fellow throws the first punch, off come the Trumpian gloves.
Just so in l’affaire Scaramouche. The former communications director’s disparaging remarks hadn’t stopped reverberating around delighted newsrooms before the president weighed with a series of blistering tweets. ‘Anthony Scaramucci,’ he began, ‘was quickly terminated…from a position that he was totally incapable of handling [and] now seems to do nothing but television as the all-time expert on “President Trump.” Like many other so-called television experts, he knows very little about me…’
I suspect that White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley got it about right when he accused Scaramucci of ‘trying to profit’ from his association with Donald Trump. In the elite cocoon of the so-called ‘mainstream media’, Donald Trump is a radioactive figure. The only way that anyone who has had anything to do with the president can earn redemption is by repudiating him. Gidley is right: former aides to the president are ‘considered persona non grata if they’re in Donald Trump’s orbit and support this president, but the moment they say something bad about the president, they all of a sudden become the toast of the town.’
Gidley forgot to add, first they’re the toast of the town. Then, and soon, they’re toast.
It’s not an edifying spectacle. But it is business as usual in the swamp that is our nation’s capital. Scaramucci will be forgotten in about 15 minutes — well, within a few days. He is, after all, nothing but a slightly preposterous footnote to the spectacle that is the Trump presidency. Meanwhile, Donald Trump himself proceeds from bold success to bold success, a contingency that will leave people asking ‘Anthony who?’ in just a matter of months if not weeks. (‘Honey, remind me who that fellow Bill Kristol was?’)