The other day Trump called Bolton "one of the dumbest people in Washington" -- this after the former aide dismissed as appalling a proposal that the president invoke martial law in contesting the election.
To say that Trump’s inner circle is shrinking is an understatement. There is a long list of aides and advisers who were once confidantes and have now been cast out. It ranges from the generals--John Kelly and Jim Mattis--to operatives like Steve Bannon to the attorneys general, first Jeff Sessions and now Bill Barr.
In fairness, some of those now derided by the president attacked him first, either because they were disillusioned (Anthony Scaramucci), criminally charged (Michael Cohen), or decided to make a quick buck (Omarosa and Trump’s niece, Mary). Others were obscure aides showered with media attention after they turned on him (Olivia Troye, "Anonymous" author Miles Taylor). And Bolton, who left when his relationship with Trump became untenable, got into a legal battle over his tell-all book.
This is hardly unusual in Washington. Politicians hire friends and fixers who are jettisoned when they become a liability. Close allies turn into enemies when the winds shift.
But Trump has reached a whole new level as more Republicans have acknowledged Joe Biden’s win after last week’s Electoral College vote. New reports say that those who abandon his election battle are on the outs.
Axios, quoting several unnamed officials, reports that Trump "is turning bitterly on virtually every person around him, griping about anyone who refuses to indulge conspiracy theories or hopeless bids to overturn the election."
The president is "lashing out" at those around him, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and counsel Pat Cippolone, says Axios. They are among those pushing back against suggestions that he declare martial law or try to seize the Dominion voting machines:
"Trump is fed up with Cipollone, his counsel. Some supporters of Cipollone are worried that Trump is on the brink of removing him and replacing him with a fringe loyalist."
And then there’s the vice president: "Trump views Pence as not fighting hard enough for him — the same complaint he uses against virtually everybody who works for him and has been loyal to him." If Pence presides over Congress accepting the official results on Jan. 6, which is his constitutional duty, Trump would view that as "the ultimate betrayal."
The leaks themselves are highly significant. While the president has been undermined by anonymous aides since he took office, the tone of alarm as they whisper to reporters shows this is not just the usual internal sniping.
The Washington Post focuses more on who’s in, describing them dismissively as "a ragtag group of conspiracy theorists, media-hungry lawyers and other political misfits in a desperate attempt to hold on to power after his election loss...
"Trump’s unofficial election advisory council now includes a pardoned felon, adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory, a White House trade adviser and a Russian agent’s former lover." That’s an eye-catching sentence.
The pardoned felon is Mike Flynn, who’s been pitching the notion of the military stepping in to re-run elections in battleground states won by Biden. The QAnon supporter is congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, who plans to challenge the routine congressional acceptance of the Electoral College results on Jan. 6. The trade adviser is Peter Navarro. Former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, who promotes conspiracy theories on his blog, had a romantic relationship with Maria Butina, the Russian student who pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as a Russian agent.
And here comes the blind quote:
"‘He is grasping at straws,’ one senior administration official said. If you come in and tell him he lost, and that it’s over, he doesn’t want to hear from you. He is looking for people to tell him what he wants to hear.’"
One person whose stock is rising is Sidney Powell, whose conspiratorial views have been rejected by other advisers, including Rudy Giuliani. Powell, who was pushed off Trump’s campaign legal team, was back at the Whtie House on Monday, along with Giuliani and Greene. Powell was part of that marathon meeting-slash-shouting-match with Flynn and others on Friday where martial law and the seizure of voting machines were debated.
They are filling a void left by other stalwarts such as Jared Kushner, who have been busy with other projects, in his case in the Middle East, and Kellyanne Conway, who resigned before the election.
What’s fascinating to me is how quickly some on the right turn on Trump associates who they previously adored. Some conservative pundits praised Barr as a courageous truth-teller until the attorney general said his department had found no widespread election fraud. Trump himself has criticized McConnell, his Hill ally, and the Supreme Court, a third of which he nominated, once they broke with him on the election.
It’s got to be difficult for any president defeated at the polls to yield the trappings of power. But when that president refuses to concede, he is strongly drawn to those who keep telling him he is right.