Although it is being gleefully eaten up by #Resistards looking for validation of their hatred for Cheeto Hitler, the book is not at all a demonography of an Anti-President, and they are not the intended audience. They may be the most likely buyers -- desperate for anything negative about Trump -- but the tone is clinical rather than tabloid, and the overall portrait naturalistic rather than sensationalized.
The inside look also denies them the confirmation they're so eager to find that he truly is a far-right nutjob spoiling to blow up the whole world. From the chapter on the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, he voices his longstanding support for single-payer, just like progressives such as Bernie Sanders:
In fact, [Trump] probably favored government-funded health care more than any other Republican. “Why can’t Medicare simply cover everybody?” he had impatiently wondered aloud during one discussion with aides, all of whom were careful not to react to this heresy.
In the chapter on the decision to bomb Syria, both Trump and Bannon -- another far-right boogeyman to the liberals -- are shown to favor military restraint, pragmatism, and getting along with Russia (although they are ultimately worn down by the interventionist side led by the Pentagon generals):
But Trump was also drawn to Bannon’s strategic view [to "keep the United States out of intractable problems, and certainly don’t increase our involvement in them"]: Why do anything, if you don’t have to? Or, why would you do something that doesn’t actually get you anything? Since taking office, the president had been developing an intuitive national security view: keep as many despots who might otherwise screw you as happy as possible. A self-styled strongman, he was also a fundamental appeaser. In this instance, then, why cross the Russians?
If the book is not a concentrated hate-pill for those who are convinced Trump is the Devil, then neither, obviously, is it meant for consumption by members of the personality cult of Angry-White-Male Jesus -- and for exactly the same reasons. The cultists bathe in endorphin waves from the same conception of the presidency that sends "the losers and haters" into apoplexy. Where one group suffers from Trump Derangement Syndrome, the other suffers from Trump Mania Syndrome.
If their shared conception of the presidency is not true, as is made clear in Fire and Fury, they both will respond to the book not as a realistic account whose various internal pieces are to be evaluated, but as an opaque symbolic object only. There will be reflexive fist-pumping from the Democrats and reflexive hand-waving from the Republicans. Its long-term reception will be like that of The Bell Curve, with the sides switched around, and neither reading it open-mindedly.
Many of the Trump cultists accept that he is not a far-right ideologue, and is actually a pragmatist whose instincts reach toward the progressive Left as much as the nationalist Right. But they, along with the #ShePersisted crowd, all believe that he is an omnipotent God-Emperor single-handedly re-shaping the course of history from the White House, for better or worse.
This is the aspect of Trump's persona that is most exposed as fanciful in Wolff's book. Instead of a mighty central authority hurtling down lightning bolts upon mere political mortals, there is a great big power void left by an absentee would-be god.
According to the inside account, the president spends most of his time crafting his persona of being a ruler, publicizing this persona into the media, monitoring his persona's treatment by media figures (who he binge-watches on a three-screen set-up in his bedroom), repairing any damage they do to his persona, and launching retaliatory attacks of his own on their personas. All of it obsessively focused on mass media personas, rather than the real-world tasks of implementing the agenda he campaigned and won the election on.
We all knew Trump to be an inveterate showman who made his fortune by licensing his persona or brand to a developer's project, and by starring in hit entertainment shows. We assumed this would continue, but may not have expected it to be the primary focus of his finite time and energy in the White House -- as though his career had not changed from "being Donald Trump," only now in a presidential setting.
This impression comports with Axios' assessment of narrative threads from the book that are overwhelmingly true. Roger Stone, longtime Trump confidant and Washington insider, has been saying the same thing for months on Infowars broadcasts, albeit more sympathetically. He really is a cable news junkie, he does have good instincts but little patience for governance, and he's called "dope" by his cabinet members such as General McMaster.
As it happens, Stone is taking notes for a book on the Trump presidency that, so far, does not bode well, although he hopes it turns out better. He places most of the blame on those surrounding the president, who give him misleading or incomplete information, have ulterior motives, and so on. I was struck by how familiar the Wolff account read after having listened to Stone's independent account for the better part of a year now. It's not a partisan or ideological matter, it's there for any honest cold hard looker to observe.
As Ann Coulter pointed out after that clusterfuck of an on-camera negotiation about immigration, Trump only proved Wolff's portrayal accurate, being more concerned with the image-management and stagecraft of being president, while remaining wholly ignorant of most of the basic aspects of the debate -- that he gave such emphasis to during the campaign -- not knowing who stood where, and as a result of not caring about these things, outsourcing all negotiating and decision-making to the Congressmen for him to later rubber-stamp.
As the various factions in the administration discover that the media-oriented president has de facto abdicated his duties and powers as ruler, they scramble to fill the power vacuum. One faction is the Manhattan Democrats (Jared, Ivanka, Cohn, Powell), another is the Republican Establishment (Priebus, Spicer, Walsh), and the last is the populist-nationalist insurgency (Bannon and his crew).
Each faction has their own press secretary, as does Trump himself, which results in constant leaking against the other factions. Functionally, there is no organizational chart, and each faction is equally able to get Trump's ear and lobby him for or against some view or action.
The story is not one of garden variety palace intrigue, as the absence of a strong central power means there is more of a three-way civil war, as opposed to the usual petty backbiting among pacified courtiers.
This period ends when General Kelly assumes the Chief of Staff role, insisting that all requests for contact with the president go through him. That effectively demotes the Javanka family faction, and Kelly outright purges the Bannon faction. That leaves the Establishment GOP types, but they are too ineffectual to be trusted with running the government, so a power figure from the Pentagon -- which is aligned with, and indeed controls the GOP -- steps in to take their place.
That explains why the Trump administration took a far more conventional GOP turn afterward. There were no more populist-nationalists, the Manhattan Democrats took the hint that their party had lost the election, while the GOP-aligned Pentagon had enough institutional power to take over the White House operations.
Yet that would not have been possible if the president himself had not already checked out and burrowed away in the media world of persona construction and destruction.
I've been defending Trump's not-so-Trumpian outcomes as president, arguing that as an outsider novice he came into office with no political capital (rather, with debt, given his salted-earth campaign as a candidate), and that he faced monumental pressures from the institutions of both parties (Wall Street, Pentagon, etc.). At least he could push as hard as possible within those constraints, though, right?
Disturbingly, the account in Fire and Fury is that he checked out from actually governing already during the transition. He gave an eager go-ahead to making Paul Ryan the Speaker of the House again, despite being his antithesis, and immediately outsourced the legislative agenda to Ryan and McConnell, rather than track down other seasoned pros who would better channel Trump's campaign agenda. Ditto for executive-branch decision-making.
We know how that turned out, but the hopeful and charitable view I had was that they had simply out-maneuvered the new guy who had no political capital. Instead it seems like he has always been more focused on the media-persona aspect of being president, continuing rather than changing careers.
The point for Trump supporters is not to throw our hands up and say "Game Over!" It is simply to say we need to temper expectations about the remainder of Trump's term, to realize the institutional pressures we're up against, and to make better decisions about choosing leaders and candidates in the future. They must be eager to carry out the tasks needed to govern, and they should have more of a background in politics.
With another outsider, especially one from a field far removed from politics like media / entertainment, there would only be another power vacuum in their office that would open up a vicious civil war at first, before getting filled by the powerful unelected institutions like Wall Street or the Pentagon.