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June 23, 2017

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Pence would push agenda without creating turmoil

You know, it might be less terrifying if Donald Trump had cannily tried to obstruct justice, plying his FBI director with flattery and carefully scripted suggestions.

At least we’d think he had some control. Instead, we know the country’s being run by a guy who wanders around in an ego-filled cloud, saying whatever the heck pops into his head. It’s a combination of id, ineptitude and bad intent.

On Friday the president denied that he had asked then-FBI Director James Comey to go easy on Mike Flynn, the disaster-ridden former national security adviser. “I will tell you I didn’t say that. And there’d be nothing wrong if I did, according to everybody that I’ve read today,” he told a press conference.

He probably meant nothing indictable. But we have a chief executive who says there’d be “nothing wrong” if he asked the FBI director not to investigate a former member of his administration suspected of having improper relations with a country that tried to interfere with our election.

Trump was at a press conference, his first chance to speak to the American people in messages longer than 140 characters since Comey’s testimony. And he used the opportunity to:

A) Brag about having won the election. (“It’s almost impossible for the Democrats to lose the Electoral College, as you know.”) Actually nobody knows that, since the Republicans have a huge advantage in the Electoral College. That hasn’t stopped Trump from saying it constantly.

B) Brag about meeting with Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia. (“It was truly historic. There has never been anything like it before and, perhaps, there never will be again.”)

C) Lash out at Qatar for being “a funder of terrorism at a very high level” about an hour after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called on Gulf nations to go easier on Qatar.

He was standing next to visiting Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, and you had to wonder what Iohannis’ advisers told him to prep for the event. How to react if the president said Romania was part of Italy? For sure they told him to flatter his host. Iohannis came through with a paean to Trump’s “strong leadership” in NATO, and a reminder that Romania had heard his call and stepped up to the alliance targets for spending on national defense.

As a reward, Trump suggested that members who hadn’t been hitting that mark before should make up for “the many past years where you haven’t paid.”

“Now I know no president has ever asked that question, but I do,” he preened. This is perhaps because previous presidents had less trouble understanding that the NATO guideline was not like dues to a golf club. Or maybe because some of them felt an impoverished and debt-ridden country like Romania has better things to do with its money than buy more tanks.

But we digress. The bottom line here is that our president appears to be unnervingly loony. Not just in the normal political way, with bad judgment or an overblown sense of importance. Loony like your cousin Fred who lives with his mother and isn’t allowed out of the house with more than $2 in pocket money.

He has a minimal ongoing relationship with reality, let alone truth. During Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the fired FBI director said that the first time he met the president-elect, he was so freaked out that when he got back into his car he typed up a memo of everything that had happened, just to protect himself. (“I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting. ... It led me to believe that I gotta write it down and I gotta write it down in a very detailed way.”)

It sounded believable. There certainly wasn’t any outcry on the part of top Republicans that the value-free bully Comey described wasn’t the Donald they knew. The best defense House Speaker Paul Ryan could come up with was, “He’s new to government.” The 70-year-old billionaire doesn’t know any better.

Do you think Trump has to go, people? The Comey crisis won’t get him impeached, but something else will come up. If he did leave, he’d be replaced by Mike Pence. Then Pence would ram ahead with a social-conservative agenda on every topic having to do with people having sex. He’d also be much more efficient at liberating Wall Street from post-crash reforms and cutting taxes on the wealthy.

Unlike Trump, Pence is very boring. So instead of spending the next 3 1/2 years in a state of perpetual outrage, you’d be in a state of perpetual depression.

On the plus side, it’s hard to imagine Pence sending out a tweet attacking the mayor of a city that is mourning citizens lost to terrorism. Or, you know, just getting teed off at something he heard on TV and starting a nuclear war.

Can’t help imagining. ...

Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.

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