On “NBC Nightly News” last night, Chuck Todd expressed a sentiment that was very much in line with my own thinking. Reflecting on Donald Trump’s depraved press conference, Todd said, “This is so bad that I think John Kelly, the chief of staff, is going to have more than one phone call trying to talk staffers or administration officials from resigning.”
And that would certainly make sense. The president of the United States yesterday had just defended racist activists and equated opponents of racism with white supremacists. Trump publicly insisted that some of the torch-wielding extremists are “very fine people” who’ve been treated “unfairly” by journalists.
Of course this would lead some White House officials to walk away in disgust, right? Who’d want to be associated with an unhinged leader expressing such ugliness?
Apparently, all of them.
There have been plenty of pieces published since the president walked away from the podium yesterday afternoon, featuring quotes from members of Team Trump distancing themselves from their boss. Staffers were reportedly “frustrated,” “startled,” and “stunned.” A New York Times reporter said Gary Cohn, the chair of the White House Economic Council, was “disgusted” by Trump’s comments.
Whether these accounts are true or not is hard to say. It’s awfully easy for various officials – many of whom are unnamed – to quietly tell reporters that they’re uncomfortable with their boss’ racist display. It’s less easy to do something meaningful, such as typing a resignation letter.
And yet, at least as of this morning, that hasn’t happened. It’s worth considering why.
The New York Times had an interesting piece this morning on what some White House insiders were saying last night.
No word in the Trump lexicon is as tread-worn as “unprecedented.” But members of the president’s staff, stunned and disheartened, said they never expected to hear such a voluble articulation of opinions that the president had long expressed in private.
That’s quite an insight. It’s not that members of the president’s team were surprised to hear him make such offensive comments; rather, they were “stunned” he made these comments to a national audience.
Evidently, he’s supposed to keep these offensive rants in-house.
This helps explain why no one has quit over the last 20 hours because it’s a reminder that members of Team Trump knew what they signed up for. When they chose to work for this president, they knew about the racism. And the reluctance to condemn white supremacists. And the misogyny. And the narcissistic megalomania. And the rhetoric in support of violence. And the admiration of authoritarian dictators. And the delusional conspiracy theories. And the uncontrollable dishonesty.
Each of them – from cabinet secretaries to White House aides to interns – knew exactly who Donald J. Trump is, and they took the job anyway.
Nicole Wallace, a Republican veteran of George W. Bush’s White House, said on MSNBC earlier that if Trump staffers “don’t resign en masse this morning, they’re forever tainted with the stench of what he did.” And while that assessment is more than fair, the fact remains that everyone in Trump World is already tainted, and has been for quite a while.
Yesterday made the stain harder to wash off, but they still showed up for work today. That’s unlikely to change.