Shortly after The New York Times published an anonymous piece from a senior Trump administration official that takes apart the President and suggests he is not in charge of his own White House, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tweeted this: “I can’t imagine anything more finely engineered to drive the president absolutely mad than that op-ed.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
In fact, in reading the op-ed, the first thing that struck me was how well the writer must know Trump — since he/she includes so many known triggers of the President’s rage. If you wanted to write a piece with the sole goal of provoking — and trolling — Trump, it would read a lot like “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.”
Consider all of the Trump alarm bells the piece sets off:
1. It’s in The New York Times
Remember that the Times is Trump’s hometown paper. He love-hates it far more than any other media outlet in the world. If you want to ensure you get Trump’s attention, you put something in The New York Times. He’ll see it. And probably quickly.
2. It’s anonymous
Yes, this is likely more the result of the “senior administration official” keeping his/her job and avoiding the crush that would land on him/her if the op-ed had a byline. But not putting a name to the words has the side effect of poking one of Trump’s bugbears. He has railed against anonymous sourcing for years.
He calls those who offer up anonymous quotes “cowards” and has even suggested that media organizations make up anonymous quotes. (Narrator voice: They don’t). On cue, Trump tweeted this on Wednesday night: “Does the so-called ‘Senior Administration Official’ really exist, or is it just the Failing New York Times with another phony source? If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!”
3. It portrays him as weak
Donald Trump views himself as an apex predator in the jungle of life. He’s at the top of the food chain — always has been, always will be. This op-ed paints a picture of Trump as feckless, clueless and hapless. “Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back,” reads the op-ed.
4. It’s written by someone who works for him
Trump is a big — BIG — believer in the chain of command. He’s on the top. Everyone who works for him does what he says. Or they get fired. It’s one of the reasons Trump has struggled so badly to adjust to the presidency. He doesn’t seem to understand, for instance, that while the Justice Department is part of the federal government, the attorney general shouldn’t be taking his daily marching orders from the President. That someone who not only works for him but is in a high-ranking position within his administration would have the gall to write something like the Times op-ed will make Trump bananas.
5. It plays to his paranoia
The roots of Trump’s political life are in conspiracy theories; he was a champion of the debunked idea that then-President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Trump has dabbled in conspiracy theories ever since — from the idea that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy to the idea that Hillary Clinton was hiding some sort of terminal illness during the 2016 campaign. He is never more paranoid than in his own life, where he is utterly convinced that people are always plotting against him. “Deep state” anyone? An anonymous op-ed by a senior administration official will only further his belief that everyone really is out to get him!
It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure an image of Trump growing increasingly red-faced and agitated reading this op-ed. And then lashing out on Twitter — and in public statements. (You don’t have to imagine those last two, since Trump has done both in the last 24 hours.)
This op-ed was designed for exactly that purpose. Mission accomplished.