It is a well-established fact that Donald Trump carries a magic shield. No matter what preposterous thing he does or inane or intentionally false thing he says, he survives to fight another day. When Trump said he could shoot someone on Fifth Ave. and not lose votes, he was attesting to the existence of his invisible armor.
But at Wednesday’s press conference at Trump Tower, we gained some inklings of how the magic shield might one day — possibly sooner rather than later — fall away.
To begin with, the uproar over the Russian intelligence dossier, about which Trump was first officially informed at or after an intelligence briefing this past Friday, is not likely to subside anytime soon. Elements of the file — put out onto the web in its salacious entirety by BuzzFeed — are already turning out to be false.
But portions of the document may nonetheless either be true or plausible enough to generate many more questions. The media and the federal investigators reported to be probing the Trump campaign’s financial ties to Russia will not let go. One revelation will beget another. Drip, drip, drip. The acid will eat away at the shield.
Moreover, Trump’s handling of the dossier, both at the press conference and on Twitter, seemed likely to spark new bonfires that will not be easy for him to extinguish. He suggested in a morning tweet that the U.S. intelligence community is conspiring against him and asked if such behavior means “we are living in Nazi Germany?”
He doubled down on this at the press conference, saying: “I think it was disgraceful — disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out….that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”
Trump has fired previous salvos at the nation’s spies, but this kind of assault is a dramatic escalation. No public servant, in particular those who sacrifice greatly to protect the United States, can accept being likened to Nazis. Trump has plainly not yet figured out that fighting with the intelligence agencies is a losing battle.
Even when he installs his own team at their helm, the nation’s spy agencies will continue to have interests wholly separate from his, interests which they will ardently and skillfully defend, relying on the wealth of information, secret and open, at their disposal.
What is more, the substance of Trump’s responses to the Russian dossier are less than convincing. In one tweet, Trump, protesting his innocence, cited Vladimir Putin’s own denial that he was blackmailing America’s President-elect. At the press conference, Trump doubled down on this as well, explaining that “President Putin and Russia put out a statement today that this fake news was indeed fake news. They said it totally never happened.” Not to be disrespectful to the President-elect, but to take such a defense seriously, one has to be a moron.
That is not the end of the illogic. At the presser, Trump added: “I’ll be honest, I think if he (Putin) did have something, they would’ve released it; they would’ve been glad to release it.”
I’ll be honest in return. I think if a Russian blackmailer did have something, he would not be glad to release it. Quite the contrary. To do so would be to relinquish all advantages over his victim just as that victim was poised to become president of the United States.
Such nonsensical utterances suggest only two possibilities: Trump is either not displaying high regard for the intelligence of the American people or does not have high intelligence himself.
Of course, Trump’s shield will not fall by itself. It will need to be hammered on or pierced. The sharp exchanges at Trump Tower on Wednesday suggest that the Fourth Estate is gradually gearing up for the task. Case in point: Toward the close of the press conference, Trump threw a brickbat at CNN and its journalists, refusing to take a question from Jim Acosta, saying to him, among other things, “your organization is terrible,” and a purveyor of “fake news.”
That kind of barrage is nothing new for a President-elect who regularly calls the media as a whole “lying,” “disgusting” and “dishonest.” But what is new are signs of solidarity among journalists from competing organizations. And not just any competing organizations. It fell to Fox News anchor Shep Smith to go on air to defend his CNN colleague, saying that no news organization should be “subjected to belittling and delegitimizing by the president of the United States.”
This may prove to be a significant turn of the wheel. When Trump starts to lose even Fox News, his invisible shield is exhibiting more than hairline fractures.
Of course, it may take some time for the magic shield to crack apart in its entirety. But when the spell breaks, beware. A wounded Trump will be even more unpredictable than he has been up to date, and in possession of unimaginable power.