When Donald Trump ran for president, he promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. He didn’t mention that he would fill it with his own menagerie of reptiles.
Along with using family members to oversee both his private business and his transition to the White House—no conflict of interest there, right?—the President-elect has startled some observers with the stridency of the angry white men he has named as his top aides.
“Trump has selected a white supremacist as a strategist, a racist AG (attorney general) and a crazy Islamophobe for national security,” according to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. “But we can work with them.”
His words were read with scorn Sunday by Kelly Riddell of The Washington Times on Fox News Channel’s Media Buzz.
“That is fear-mongering at its worst,” she said of Krugman. “At its best, really. I mean, it’s name-calling.”
On the subject of name-calling, Riddell didn’t mention “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz or “Crooked Hillary” Clinton. That must be old news, from way back in the campaign. So gauche to bring it up now after Trump’s “mandate” of less than half the popular vote.
She also avoided mentioning the white-power work history of Steve Bannon or the questionable racial past of Alabama Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III or the defiant, outspoken Islamophobia of Lt. General Michael Flynn.
Thank goodness host Howard Kurtz didn’t expose the sensitive Riddell to David Frum, a grumpy conservative who went beyond Krugman’s controlled outrage when he appeared on Face the Nation on CBS.
Frum told host John Dickerson and his pundit panel that Trump’s supporters “have to prevent this administration from being devoured and consumed by scandal.”
And he was just warming up.
“Donald Trump has made it pretty clear his plan is to run the least transparent and probably the least ethical administration in a long, long time,” Frum said. “This administration must be Trump-proofed. The President (-elect) is up to no good. He’s made that very clear.”
In 18 months, Frum predicted, the conversation on the Sunday shows won’t be about taxes or the national debt.
“You will be talking about the latest Trump scandal,” Frum said. “Act now to save the country, the political system and the Republican Party from the things that this president seems to have in mind.”
One of Trump’s plans is to destroy the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature domestic legislative achievement.
Mike Pence, who will be his vice-president, repeated this vow Sunday on Face the Nation on CBS.
“We’re going to lift the extraordinary burden of Obamacare off the backs of the American people and off the backs of American business,” Pence told host John Dickerson. ”Repealing Obamacare will be the first priority.”
Trump has never said exactly what would happen to the 20 million people who now have health insurance because of the law.
They were remembered on ABC’s This Week by New York’s Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who will replace the retiring Harry Reid of Nevada as Senate Minority Leader.
“They’re going to regret the day they tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” Schumer said.
Should Trump and the Republicans take away anyone’s health coverage or even disrupt it, they will face a major backlash unless they instantly install something better—and not the fanciful “health care savings accounts” that allow consumers to save up and treat themselves to that heart transplant they’ve always wanted.
‘We used to believe that you couldn’t pit people against each other and win. And the lesson we’ve gotten from that is that you can and it can succeed.’
In that many a truth is told in jest, the best take came from NBC’s Saturday Night Live in a skit in which actors portrayed a conversation between Trump (Alec Baldwin) and Mike Pence.
“PENCE”: “Let’s move on to Obamacare. As you know, 20 million people use it and—it sounds crazy—but a lot of them like it.”
“TRUMP”: “Keep it. Let’s just keep it.”
“PENCE”: “I’m sorry. Keep it?”
“TRUMP”: “Yeah. Keep it. No change.”
Hand me the remote . . .
FOX NEWS SUNDAY The real Pence, in a brief interview with host Chris Wallace, said four times that Trump would “Make America Great Again.”
Pence defended Sessions from charges of racism by saying Sessions prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan when he was a U.S. Attorney in what was once known as the Confederacy.
When Wallace pressed Pence about Trump’s family members by asking “Doesn’t that create a tremendous danger of a conflict of interest?” Pence repeated Trump’s view of what the American people think.
“Who cares?” he said.
In that any Fox News regular seems to have a chance of being hired by Trump, Wallace trotted out Laura Ingraham, the right-wing zealot who might become Trump’s White House press secretary.
“It’s an intriguing idea,” she said. “I’m always open to new adventures.”
Juan Williams, the token liberal on the Fox panel, called Trump’s staffing so far a “team of radicals” rather than a “team of rivals.”
This upset the potential press secretary, who found his view ridiculous. Williams pointed out Flynn’s contacts with Russia and his socializing with President Vladimir Putin.
“These are facts, Laura,” Williams said.
She wasn’t buying it.
“These blithe comments have, I think, poisoned political discussion in this country,” Ingraham said. “And I think it is exactly why people despise this city.”
STATE OF THE UNION Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff in the White House, made the rounds of several shows.
He was asked by CNN host Jake Tapper about the appearance of Trump’s family involved simultaneously in the Trump business empire and the staffing of the administration.
“Is it seriously the position of the Trump transition team that this is not a huge cauldron of potential conflicts of interest?” Tapper said.
“I can assure the American people that there wouldn’t be any wrongdoing,” Priebus said.
In that Sessions has said Justice Department probes of police racism amounted to “abuse of federal authority,” would that mean Attorney General Sessions would be unlikely to investigate such complaints?
That’s a good thing to ask Sessions, Priebus replied.
Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California said he didn’t think much of Mitt Romney’s visit to Trump Saturday to interview for the job of Secretary of State.
“It’s a total head fake,” Schiff said. “This is Donald Trump still being the entertainer, still running a show where he wants to build suspense.”
Regarding what he called the divisive combination of Bannon, Flynn and Sessions, Bakari Sellers said “you cannot sit here and say you want to bring the country together but then nominate those three.”
Tapper then played a piece of a Flynn speech in August.
“Islam is a political ideology,” Flynn said. “It hides behind this notion of it being a religion. It’s like cancer. It’s like a malignant cancer . . . It has metastasized.”
Former Michigan Republican Congressman Mike Rogers—squeezed out of the transition team—said what Flynn says is a tremendous problem for diplomacy.
“It plays right into the al Queda and ISIS narrative that there is a clash of civilizations, that it’s Islam against the West,” Rogers said. “That is deeply destructive. It’s going to alienate our allies. It’s just plain wrong. He has a reputation for saying things that are counter-productive. Being a hot head and divisive are qualities you don’t want in a national security advisor.”
Sellers, referring to unsuccessful prosecution of black voters by Sessions in the South, said “He has a very, very troublesome record that makes most people who are vulnerable feel trepidation.”
MEET THE PRESS Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, is still a candidate for Secretary of State. Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post discussed with host Chuck Todd what a combination of Giuliani and Flynn would mean.
“Oh, gosh, well, if you want to present a fierce presence to the rest of the world, those two combined would certainly put fear in the hearts of our allies and our enemies as well,” Parker said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont discussed Trump’s role in the “birther” movement that tried to claim President Obama was not a real American.
“Racist,” Sanders called it. “Disgraceful. He has said outrageous things. He needs to apologize to the American people. There are people all over the country who are really frightened.”
Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress commented on the $25 million settlement last week of three cases against Trump University.
“He was basically accused of defrauding students and he is giving them money for his defrauding them,” she said. “I mean, that’s the reality of what happened here.”
Referring to the recent campaign and Trump’s divisive approach, Tanden added: “We used to believe that you couldn’t pit people against each other and win. And the lesson we’ve gotten from that is that you can and it can succeed.”
FACE THE NATION Pence did lots of interviews Sunday but none were as tough as the one with Dickerson of CBS who twice asked the Indiana governor if Trump would keep his promise to make his administration free of lobbyists and big donors.
“Will he?” Dickerson asked Pence.
When Pence twice talked around an answer, Dickerson said “That doesn’t quite sound like ‘yes.’”
Dickerson then pressed Pence about the blending of business and political roles of Trump family members.
“You’d expect brighter lines in terms of the private business and the presidency,” Dickerson said.
Pence, choosing words carefully, replied: “All the laws pertaining to his business dealings and his service as President of the United States will be strictly adhered to.”
Next subject was torture and how Congressman Mike Pompeo of Kansas—nominated to run the Central Intelligence Agency—might bring back waterboarding of terror suspects.
Dickerson played a clip from Arizona Republican Senator John McCain.
“I don’t give a damn what the President of the United States wants to do,” McCain said. “My God, what does it say about America if we’re going to inflict torture?”
Given a chance to answer, Pence ducked the subject but said “radical Islamic terrorism” three times, as if that explained everything.
As for the cast of Hamilton telling Pence that minorities are alarmed and anxious about Trump, Dickerson asked Pence “Why do you think they are alarmed and anxious?”
Pence danced around the subject for a while before telling Dickerson that Trump would be the president of all the people.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky stopped in to discuss his fears about Giuliani or John Bolton as Secretary of State.
“You don’t want someone throwing bombs at State,” Paul said. Noting that both advocate regime change in Iran, Paul said “That sounds like war.”
THIS WEEK L.Z. Granderson, a guest of co-host Martha Raddatz, offered his opinion of Romney’s visit to Trump after all those nasty things Romney said about Trump being a con artist and all that.
“I thought Chris Christie won the award for the big butt-kisser,” Granderson said. “Here comes Mitt Romney, kissing the ring.”
Steve Inskeep of NPR said of Bannon “This is a guy who wants to break a lot of china.” (He was referring, metaphorically, to dishes, not the nation of China and all the Chinese people who live there).
Of Trump, Inskeep said: “We’re finding out he actually did mean a lot of what he said.”
RELIABLE SOURCES Host Brian Stelter on CNN read Trump’s morning Twitter tweets, attacking the cast of the musical Hamilton for speaking out to Pence during the curtain call Friday night.
Trump said he’s heard the show is “highly overrated.”
Stelter also read Trump’s Twitter attack against Saturday Night Live.
“Nothing funny at all,” Trump wrote.
Sarah Ellison of Vanity Fair discussed the low-burning feud at Fox News between Long Island Bully Boy Bill O’Reilly and celebrity news actress Megyn Kelly. On tour for her new book, she’s been going to other networks and discussing the sexual harassment she says she got from former Fox emperor Roger Ailes.
“Bill O’Reilly is sort of shushing her, telling her ‘that’s enough, you’re unearthing this ugly chapter that everybody at Fox wanted to get through,’” Ellison said. “The optics are really bad. He (O’Reilly) had his own sexual harassment scandal. It doesn’t look great coming from him where he’s trying to sort of quiet a woman who is coming forward with the story.”
MEDIA BUZZ Kelly, no slouch at acting skill, accused more than one unnamed anchor of faking tough questions for Trump during the campaign. Trump, Kelly said, was told in advance what questions would be asked to make interviewers seem tough.
“Trust me,” she said. “This did happen. It’s been confirmed to me by more than one television executive.”
When Kurtz asked “Play-acting?” Kelly responded “Yes! It was acting!”
Later in the day, Trump groupie Sean Hannity of Fox must have had a guilty conscience because he launched a Trump-like Twitter fusillade.
“No idea who Megyn Kelly is talking about,” Hannity wrote. “I want real answers! I would love to know who was `acting.’ . . . I never asked a question from a TelePrompTer . . . I cannot speak for others . . . Curious who she was referring to . . .”
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.