Updated 11:25 AM ET, Mon December 4, 2017
(CNN) – President Donald Trump did two big things on Monday morning before jetting off to Utah to announce he is shrinking two national monuments.
1. He tweeted a full-scale endorsement of Roy Moore’s Senate campaign in Alabama. “Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama,” wrote Trump of the embattled Republican who faces a series of accusations from women that he pursued relationships with them when he was in his early 30 and they were teenagers. “We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment and more. No to Jones, a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet!”
2. He offered sympathy for his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty last Friday to lying to the FBI about his conversations with then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
“I feel badly for General Flynn,” Trump told reporters before boarding Marine One. “I feel very badly. He’s led a very strong life and I feel very badly.”
For any other president — literally any other one — doing one of those things would be considered so politically and legally risky that they wouldn’t even talk about it much less actually say it in public.
For Trump, his moves on Moore and Flynn are standard operating procedure — illustrations of how his presidency is a sort of bizarro version of every other presidency that has come before it.
Think of it this way: Remember that “Seinfeld” episode where George decides to do the opposite of every natural instinct he has? He tells a woman he is bald, unemployed and lives with his parents — and she is suddenly interested in him. He shouts at someone making noise at the movies and is applauded for it. He rejects her invite up to her apartment and she is intrigued. You get the idea.
(Sidenote for Millennials: “Seinfeld” was an observational comedy show in the 1990s starring the“Comedians in Cars getting Coffee” guy.)
Trump’s Monday morning is a telling reminder that the driving force of his presidency is to simply do the opposite — of what past presidents would have done in similar situations, of what political conventional wisdom suggests and of what politeness dictates.
White supremacist violence? Blame both sides! Attacked by a Gold Star family? Hit back! Not fully supported by someone in your party? Attack them! Facing allegations of sexual assault from multiple women? Deny it and call them all liars!
That desire to do the opposite — and, in so doing, to stick a finger in the eye of the political establishment — was an instinct Trump had before he ran for president. But it was wholly affirmed by Trump’s candidacy — in which he was first laughed at, then feared and now accepted. He did the opposite at every turn of the campaign and he won. It was proof positive for Trump that any political person who said “the right thing to do here is …” was wrong.
Which brings us to Monday morning.
As I noted last week, Moore is — by profile and demeanor — Trump’s kind of politician. Moore is hated by the political establishment. He’s counted out. He’s presumed guilty of the allegations against him. And yet, Moore persists. He refuses to bow down to the gods of political correctness. He fights.
Those traits — coupled with the fact that Moore now looks like he may win — is plenty for Trump to endorse him. And, of course Trump knows that his endorsement of Moore — coming hard on the heels of a decision to schedule a campaign rally in nearby Pensacola on Friday — will make his critics (Republicans and Democrats) crazy. It’s part and parcel of why he’s doing it.
On Flynn, who was so loyal to Trump, sure, he did a bad thing by lying to the FBI. But Trump views the punishment for Flynn as over the top — and the product of an out-of-control FBI/special prosecutor who is pursuing a “witch hunt” on Russia.
Flynn, then, is not only a Trump guy but also a symbol, to Trump, of how he is being unfairly persecuted by the nameless and faceless bureaucrats who never wanted him to be president anyway.
Remember that everything — absolutely everything — that Trump says or does is filtered through the lens of Trump. His first– and maybe only — calculation is whether something is good or bad for him. Moore’s plight reminds Trump of his own. So he endorses the Alabama Republican. Flynn is an example of how Trump himself has been treated unfairly and, therefore, is worthy of pity and sympathy.
Trump — by his own admission — sees himself as a counter-puncher. He sees what people do and then he strikes back by doing the opposite. He is, by nature, a reactive force — someone defined by opposition to things rather than support for them.
Viewed that way, Trump’s endorsement of Moore and his praise for Flynn make total and complete sense. Up is down. Down is up. “C-A-T” spells “dog.”
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