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What Trump's choice for intel director says about his presidency

John Ratcliffe nomination to serve as the Director of National Intelligence suggests Trump's presidency might actually be getting worse.
In this file photo taken on July 24, 2019 Representative John Ratcliffe, Republican of Texas, listens as former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies in Washington, D.C.
In this file photo taken on July 24, 2019 Representative John Ratcliffe, Republican of Texas, listens as former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies in Washington, D.C. 

Time magazine had an interesting report today on the process Donald Trump followed in choosing an inexperienced far-right congressman to oversee the U.S. intelligence community:

In naming Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe to be Director of National Intelligence, Trump ignored a warning from Republican Sen. Richard Burr, the chairman of the intelligence committee, according to Congressional aides familiar with the matter. Burr told the White House last week that the move would inject more partisan politics into the work of the intelligence agencies, said the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter.The 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) stipulates that the DNI must have "extensive national security experience".

It's plainly obvious that John Ratcliffe does not have "extensive national security experience." It's equally clear that the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee gave the president worthwhile advice about choosing someone better suited for the position.

But as is usually the case, Trump didn't much care. He'd seen Ratcliffe on television; he has confidence that Ratcliffe would be a knee-jerk partisan; and the president recognized Ratcliffe as an opponent of the Mueller investigation. There was little else to consider.

Stepping back, it's worth considering what this tells us about the state of Trump's presidency.

After Stephen Moore's Federal Reserve nomination collapsed, a former senior White House official told Politico, in reference to the president, "He's impatient and impulsive. When he makes a decision, he wants to move forward. There aren't any people around him urging caution."

That's very easy to believe. It's also an enormous problem.

As we recently discussed, Trump appears unrestrained at this point in his presidency. The ostensible grown-ups have left the White House; the hand-holding period is over; and what’s left is a hapless president with no one willing to tell him, “This is crazy.”

Just the opposite is true: Trump has now surrounded himself with officials who take pride in letting the president do as he pleases.

And so, as Dan Coats prepared to exit the stage, members of Trump's team suggested he pick a congressman with no credibility and none of the necessary qualifications to serve in the nation's most important intelligence post.

As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent put it this morning, Ratcliffe "passed what might be called the Fox News stage of the interview process -- that is, the ability to enter the political/media arena and push Trump's corrupt alt-narratives with maximum aggressiveness and shamelessness."

No other considerations -- ones a responsible president would be expected to make -- entered the equation. Trump spoke to the Republican who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee; his ally tried to steer him in a smarter course; and the president blew off the good advice.

All of which brings us to a familiar point: Trump may actually be getting worse at his job.

In his first two years, there was an implicit understanding that in some areas, the president couldn't play reckless and unnecessary games. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence appeared to be one of these areas -- this was too important for amateurish nonsense -- and Trump tapped someone qualified for the position. That official proceeded to approach his duties with the requisite seriousness.

And that, naturally, created untenable conditions. Dan Coats wasn't the hack Trump wanted him to be.

I'm skeptical John Ratcliffe would be suited for any job in the intelligence community, much less the person responsible for overseeing all of it. Trump's indifference toward that reality tells us quite a bit about the state of his presidency.