In “The Simpsons Movie,” Americans elected a celebrity president – Arnold Schwarzenegger – who’s advised by a White House aide that there’s a crisis in Springfield. His staffer presented him with five folders, each of which included a different response. Schwarzenegger couldn’t be bothered to review any of them.
“I was elected to lead, not to read,” he said before choosing folder #3 without opening it.
As regular readers may recall, four years later, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain was pressed to explain his incoherence about international affairs. Cain said knowing details wasn’t important because, as he put it at the time, “We need a leader, not a reader.”
And then, of course, there’s Donald Trump, who explained in July 2016 that he doesn’t read much because, as he sees it, he doesn’t have to. The Republican told the Washington Post at the time that he believes he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense.”
The Washington Post comes closest to addressing the mystery, yet fails to resolve the matter. The Post reports that the president “tuned in to cable television segments about the memo. He talked to friends and advisers about it.” He thereby “became absolutely convinced” it must be published. After becoming convinced, Trump “was then left alone to read the memo in its entirety.” And then Chief of Staff John Kelly “returned a few hours later and shared with the president his opinion.”
“A few hours” is obviously ample time to read a three-and-a-half-page memo. But the Post does not say that Trump read it, or even that he claimed to have read it. All we know is that he was left alone with a copy.
Could Trump have read the memo if he wanted to?
We’ll probably never know for sure, but we can also make an educated guess.
It’s already clear that Trump endorsed the memo’s release before House Republicans formally sent the document to the White House. What’s more, Jon listed several reports of the president preferring to read very brief documents – usually featuring pictures, maps, and bullet points.
But he may have understated matters. Last summer, for example, the Washington Post reported that the White House national security team wanted to brief Trump on Afghanistan, but they found that “even a single page of bullet points on the country seemed to tax the president’s attention span on the subject.”
“I call the president the two-minute man,” one Trump confidant said. “The president has patience for a half-page.”
The Nunes memo is seven times that length.
More recently, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) briefed the president on the GOP’s midterm election prospects. The Washington Post added soon after, “According to two people familiar with the presentation, Trump appreciated McCarthy’s use of pictures and charts rather than a memo [emphasis added].”
Raise your hand if you genuinely believe the president sat down and read the Nunes memo from start to finish.