This time, however, the compulsive playboy may have finally played the game with a woman who can end his career if he doesn't do what she says -- none other than neocon rising star Nikki Haley.
Now is a defining moment for the would-be re-alignment under Trump because it goes beyond the mere matter of adultery vs. fidelity, opening up a "workplace harassment" can of worms during the #MeToo period that could lead to his impeachment if she doesn't get what she wants out of him, and revealing how easily Trump can be co-opted or compromised into promoting neocons and their ilk, against the will of the GOP's own voters who keep rejecting them.
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Over the weekend, Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff was asked in two separate interviews (perhaps at his own suggestion), Was there anything in the book that no one has noticed or asked you about yet?
He said he's almost entirely certain, but doesn't have "the blue dress" (a la Monica Lewinsky), that the president is having an affair in the White House. Without 100% proof, he instead wrote up a few suggestive paragraphs that he hoped would tip readers off. He said the details come "toward the end" of the book, and that if you re-read them, the paragraph should pop out.
The only woman who fits those clues is UN ambassador Nikki Haley. She is only mentioned in the epilogue, unlike other women who are mentioned in the beginning and middle portions of the book, like Hope Hicks (really the only other contender).
The epilogue of the book is about the changes being made after the power void begins to be filled by General Kelly, with Bannon hoping to lead a populist-nationalist movement apart from Trump. The Alabama GOP primary figures prominently, and in interviews, Wolff said he believed Bannon was planning a prominent break from Trump after the Alabama general election, and the publication of Fire and Fury would have formalized the divorce.
In the context of the Bannon crew trying to salvage a Trumpian administration out of an administration run by Trump, Wolff discusses who they fear as would-be usurpers:
By October, however, many on the president’s staff took particular notice of one of the few remaining Trump opportunists: Nikki Haley, the UN ambassador. Haley -- “as ambitious as Lucifer,” in the characterization of one member of the senior staff -- had concluded that Trump’s tenure would last, at best, a single term, and that she, with requisite submission, could be his heir apparent. Haley had courted and befriended Ivanka, and Ivanka had brought her into the family circle, where she had become a particular focus of Trump’s attention, and he of hers. Haley, as had become increasingly evident to the wider foreign policy and national security team, was the family’s pick for secretary of state after Rex Tillerson’s inevitable resignation. (Likewise, in this shuffle, Dina Powell would replace Haley at the UN.)
This portrayal of Haley as eager to suck up to Trump would make her an outlier among the career politicians in his cabinet, who insult the president behind his back and can't wait to get out of there. It's even more unusual considering that Haley gave the nationally televised anti-Trump speech after the 2016 State of the Union address. You'd think she'd still hate his guts, but maybe not if he can make things happen for her career. She is an amoral ladder-climber.
The president had been spending a notable amount of private time with Haley on Air Force One and was seen to be grooming her for a national political future. Haley, who was much more of a traditional Republican, one with a pronounced moderate streak -- a type increasingly known as a Jarvanka Republican -- was, evident to many, being mentored in Trumpian ways. The danger here, offered one senior Trumper, “is that she is so much smarter than him.”
Since the UN ambassador is an empty assignment, and especially since Trump couldn't care less about the UN or what the global elites think of us, he has no reason to be spending that much time talking to her in an official capacity, let alone during so much "private time" on Air Force One.
The stakes were very clear to Bannon. Haley, quite an un-Trumpian figure, but by far the closest of any of his cabinet members to him, might, with clever political wiles, entice Trump to hand her the Trumpian revolution.
The account above does not come from just one source, who might have a grudge, but from "many of the president's staff". The Trump-Haley mentorship was "evident to many". We already know that Trump loves women, loves hiring and promoting them, and according to Fire and Fury, seeks their approval and counsel at least as much as men's, and often more so. We outside observers can also tell that Haley is indeed one of the few cabinet members who does not continually call Trump names, and does not seem to mind her assignment -- on the contrary, that if anything she is angling for something higher-up.
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Would he have an affair with one of his subordinates? The pee-pee dossier never made sense because we know that Trump is a germophobe and would never partake of such a transgressive physical act. But Trump has been a lifelong pursuer of socially transgressive sex -- having sex with individuals who you are not supposed to be with, based on your relationship to them. It's part of his broader personality trait of doggedly trying to do what others tell him he is forbidden from doing.
First, there are those you are paying in some way or another, making the relationship between buyer and seller. We just heard about his one-night-stand with a porn star, and it wouldn't surprise us to find prostitutes or escorts for that reason. Then there was that very cryptic exchange between Trump and O'Reilly, where the Fox News anchor was pleading with Trump to not skip out on the network's debate. After pleading failed, O'Reilly reveals that Trump owes him for all those "vanilla milkshakes" he's bought him over the years, and Trump says they had an agreement beforehand not to bring that debt up during the on-air interview. Probably high-priced escorts, or fresh-faced Fox News interns on a casting couch. I noticed this at the time, but few others read between the lines and naively believed that a massive debt could accrue to literal vanilla milkshakes.
Second, there are other men's wives. In Fire and Fury, there's an anecdote about Trump saying the thing that makes life worth living is sleeping with your friends' wives, and recounts how he would dupe the wife into sleeping with him after encouraging the husband over the phone to admit how bland their sex life was, with the wife herself eavesdropping on the call.
Third, there are your blood relatives. Trump has repeatedly commented on what a bombshell his daughter is, talking about her naked body and sexuality, often with her sitting right next to him, and how he'd be dating her "if I weren't her father". No one has accused him of actually doing anything incestuous, but his mind has clearly gone there many times.
Modern societies with women in the workplace have introduced a new category of people you aren't supposed to have sex with -- your co-workers perhaps, but certainly not your subordinates. There's a power imbalance and ability to lower their material welfare if they don't give you want you want. It borders on coercion. Even when the subordinate eagerly pursues it, it leads to sexual favoritism in place of merit-based promotion, and corrodes morale among the workers ("So that's how you have to get ahead...").
Based on his longstanding pattern of thinking about and taking part in socially transgressive sex, what would keep him from having an affair with a member of his staff or cabinet? Remember that Trump's career has been in media & entertainment, where all of the #MeToo accusations are coming from.
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What are the implications for Trump supporters? Obviously this is the kind of thing that can sink his presidency and leave the Trump movement in infamy. It's not just any old adultery -- it would be with one of the groups of people you aren't allowed to have sex with (workplace subordinate), during a cultural background where just this kind of thing is being blown up every day in the media.
Case #1: Haley uses Trump to get ahead in her career without the word of an alleged affair getting out -- or if it does, she denies it. Trump's reputation survives, and so does that of the movement, but he ends up promoting one of the most destructive neocons to a top position like Secretary of State or GOP presidential front-runner. These people need to be driven back into the grave, not resurrected and pulled out by the hand.
Case #2: Haley perceives Trump to not be upholding his end of the bargain, or to have been just leading her on about career advancement, and she then lets the word get out -- perhaps making a victimized drama-queen revelation herself, and begins posting with the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter. This particular neocon does not get promoted higher up (though who knows about any others), yet Trump's reputation as president is so ruined that he resigns, with or without impeachment.
A major scandal like that is one of the reliable things that affects the next presidential election, and can crowd out anything else in the historical memory. Watergate has obscured Nixon's pulling out of Vietnam, creating affirmative action, founding the Environmental Protection Agency, and so on.
I'm torn between which scenario would be better for the populist-nationalist cause. Without the scandal, we still get a neocon into a powerful position where she can really fuck up the country and the world. With the scandal, no harm done there, but the administration becomes permanently discredited -- good if only the GOP were tainted, and not so bad if Trump personally took a lot of heat, but bad if that stain spread out to his supporters as well. Judging from Watergate or Monica Lewinsky, though, it doesn't seem like the president's voters would be discredited in the public eye.
Either way, the result may not be known for awhile -- even if she does end up concluding that he's just jerked her around and decides to spill the beans, she'd likely give him enough time to prove himself, say until the final year of the term.
Supposing that there is no truth to the insinuation, there is plenty reason to believe that something like it could happen in the future with some other member of his staff or cabinet. There's no avoiding who he is.
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In the meantime, watch for clues. Just last month, on a major Sunday news show, Haley said that Trump's sexual harassment accusers deserve to be heard -- that the 2016 election did not settle the matter once and for all, and anyone should always feel comfortable coming forward to be heard. Was that a warning shot to let Trump know that she isn't shooting with blanks, and you'd better not cross her because she reserves the right to be the next one to come forward against him and be heard?
Unlike the underlings of the Trump Organization or high-priced escorts, he can't just rely on using an NDA and six-figure pay-offs to hush up Haley or any other government employee. He has little political capital, Haley has more than he does, and the public sympathy would be entirely with her, especially if he succumbed to his vengeful impulses and gave her the epithet treatment on Twitter.
If anything in his personal character, as opposed to larger events, brings down the unlikely rise of President Trump, the fatal flaw will be his penchant for socially transgressive sex. And in some areas of life, there's just no reaching the Boomers, so don't expect any successful interventions either.