David Axelrod: Here's my question for the NYT op-ed writer

What do you do when your boss is dangerously unstable, often clueless and, oh yes ... the President of the U...

Posted: Sep 7, 2018 10:42 AM
Updated: Sep 7, 2018 10:42 AM

What do you do when your boss is dangerously unstable, often clueless and, oh yes ... the President of the United States?

One senior administration official resolved that question Wednesday by unburdening himself -- or herself -- on the op-ed page of The New York Times, describing a "resistance" within the upper echelons of the Trump administration that has acted to protect the country from an unmoored President.

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The author suggested that Trump-appointed Cabinet members even discussed the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment, declaring him unfit and removing him from office. Instead, the author said, they resolved to rein in the volcanic President from the inside.

The timing of the piece, coming a day after excerpts were released from Bob Woodward's new investigative tome, "Fear: Trump in the White House," deepened the portrait of an ignorant and amoral President whose escalator isn't stopping at every floor.

The question I keep asking is: What exactly was its intended purpose?

Was it to embolden a GOP-led Congress, currently in the President's thrall, to provide greater oversight?

Was it to warn voters that he's an erratic and dangerous dolt in advance of the critical midterm elections, with the expectation that a Democratic Congress will provide the oversight the Republicans have not?

Was this merely the work of someone who, after nearly two years in the White House of Horrors, felt the need to unburden himself -- or herself -- and bear witness to the disturbing things they had seen.

Or was it meant to defend the honor of those, like the author, who have decided to stay, despite deep misgivings and fears about the President? This, it seems, is the most logical and understandable explanation for taking this extraordinary step.

But if your resolve is to stay inside and quietly work to help rein in Trump's excesses, wouldn't it have been more effective to suffer in silence a while longer rather than poking an already raging bear?

The essay predictably infuriated Trump and his supporters. "TREASON?" the President thundered through his favorite medium, as his aides launched their own witch hunt to identify the offender in their midst. (Good luck with that. Like "Murder on the Orient Express," the list of suspects is voluminous.)

The President also hurled yet another assault at one of his favorite targets, the Times, for publishing the piece, going so far as to suggest the renegade author was the paper's fictitious invention.

Of course, the Times editors know the identity of the author and, as with any unnamed source, ran the piece only after judging him or her credible. This wasn't treason or fakery. It was journalism.

The high-ranking whistleblower also came in for criticism from some opponents of the President for hiding behind anonymity instead of quitting and for failing to act on the 25th Amendment (instead of "whisper" about it, as the op-ed writer put it), which could be invoked to remove an unhinged commander in chief.

We shouldn't minimize the fear the author shared about tearing the country apart by precipitously triggering a rare provision of the Constitution to strip an elected President of his authority -- despite the risk of a reckless Trump.

As Trump's fire and fury grows, we may be headed for a reckoning in open proceedings before the courts and the Congress. Most important, there will be a reckoning at the polls this November and two years from now. An act of the Cabinet behind closed doors to decommission Trump -- if this was truly considered -- would have been greeted by his supporters as a bloodless coup. On this, I am sympathetic with the whistleblower's concern.

The Times piece was stunning and, like so much in the world of Trump, wholly unprecedented. The observations of the anonymous author certainly ring true. They are consistent with Woodward's findings about the President's erratic behavior and plenty of other reporting that has been done about it over the past two years.

Yet, at the end of the day, I still find myself wondering: If the game plan is to stay in place and continue to act as a guardrail, why write the piece at all?

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