Plato had Socrates. Henry VIII had Thomas Cromwell — for a while. Donald Trump, alas, has had no one able keep him on course. As president, Mr. Trump is supremely confident of his ability to manhandle any interlocutor and, apparently, won’t harken to wise counsel advising caution. He has now bared his unguarded thoughts to Bob Woodward, the siren of Washington who has spent two generations enticing commanders-in-chief to wreck their fortunes on the sharp edges of his reporting. Someone should hide the president’s phone.
The longtime Washington Post reporter and author has just roiled the 2020 presidential campaign with excerpts from “Rage,” his 480-page expose of the Trump presidency. The book features the contents of 18 recorded phone conversations with Mr. Trump, including musings on his handling of the deadly coronavirus. Getting punked once by pranks like the old rubber band around the kitchen sink sprayer trick, but 18 times in seven months? Mr. Woodward had to labor for a couple of years before knocking off Richard Nixon.
One recording in which the two discussed the pandemic has set Washington afire: “I wanted to always play it down,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Woodward on March 19. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.” Soft-pedaling a potential source of panic is responsible leadership, but for a public that believes “Watergate” is Mr. Woodward’s middle name, his chronicles of behind-the-scenes executive decisions all assume the look of scandal.
Ever the counterpuncher, Mr. Trump defended his measured handling of the virus on Twitter: “Bob Woodward had my quotes for many months. If he thought they were so bad or dangerous, why didn’t he immediately report them in an effort to save lives? Didn’t he have an obligation to do so? No, because he knew they were good and proper answers. Calm, no panic!”
For the anti-Trump crowd, though, the president’s private words serve as proof positive that The Donald could care less about American lives. “While a deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job — on purpose. It was a life or death betrayal of the American people,” huffed Joe Biden, hoping to leverage votes for his ho-hum presidential campaign.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson said Wednesday a source has claimed that Sen. Lindsey Graham “brokered” Mr. Woodward’s access to the president. The South Carolina Republican, a former competitor and current backer of Mr. Trump, cannot be blamed for the president’s unfettered tongue, though. It has been his strongest — and least predictable — asset for years.
Ultimately, “Rage” is unlikely to hurt Mr. Trump’s reelection bid, but it won’t help it, either. What would help, though, is someone — anyone — who can lash the president to the mast on his ship of state and see that he survives the sirens of Washington. Or someone who will hide his phone.
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