7 points on the anonymous New York Times ‘resistance’ op-ed
The New York Times’ publication of an anonymously-authored article, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” set the world of political commentary on fire Wednesday afternoon. The author, whom the Times identified only as “a senior official in the Trump administration,” claimed that he used his government position to thwart President Trump’s “more misguided impulses.” Others, also unnamed, joined him in the effort, he said. The article, quickly denounced by the president, promised to dominate cable news for days. Here are seven thoughts on what it means:
1) It concedes Trump’s accomplishments are big. Early in the piece, the author admits that the Trump administration has had significant success on the issues most important to American voters. “Many of [the administration’s] policies have already made America safer and more prosperous,” he writes. Later, he makes a list: “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.” Perhaps the author doesn’t see it that way, but peace and prosperity are any president’s two most important accomplishments. Conceding Trump’s achievement undercuts the broader theme of the article.
2) Its complaints are small. Why does the author object to Trump? The president is not a true philosophical conservative, he says: “The president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people.” In addition, the author complains that the president’s “leadership style” is “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.” And that can make White House meetings an ordeal: “Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.” The author may view that as a devastating critique, but to others it will seem like style points and inside baseball. And compared to his admission that Trump has made the country “safer and more prosperous,” the article’s gripes are relatively minor.
3) It suggests there is a government conspiracy to thwart the president. The author writes that he and others inside the administration are secretly working “to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.” At the same time, the author denies that there is a “deep state” seeking to stop Trump, preferring to call it a “steady state.” That’s not a distinction likely to make much of a difference. Certainly Trump has long believed that a “deep state” was out to get him. And now, as the conservative lawyer Will Chamberlain tweeted, the Times op-ed serves as “a confession that there is a deep state conspiracy to subvert” Trump. Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith tweeted: “I worry about how an open but anonymous celebration of a self-proclaimed ‘steady state’ thwarting not just the elected president’s lying or illegality, but his whole policy agenda, will play before the many who believe that we’re witnessing a soft coup by undemocratic means.”
4) A “senior official” could be a lot of people. The Times identified the author only as “a senior official in the Trump administration.” That could be anyone from officials we all have heard of, like the White House chief of staff, to an official in one of the departments whom no one has heard of. “There are hundreds of people at the White House who think they’re ‘senior’ officials,” former Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer tweeted Wednesday. “If this is a cabinet secretary, it’s a problem. Maybe it’s a National Security Council senior director. There are more than a dozen of them, and they’re three levels down the NSC foodchain.” Added former Obama White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri, “this person could easily be someone most of us have never heard of and more junior than you’d expect.” On the other hand, the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty tweeted, “It is hard to imagine the NYT would have given anonymity on something like this to someone who was not at least as high as a cabinet secretary or assistant to the president.” The truth of it all is, of course, unknown.
5) Anonymity is good marketing. What if the author had simply identified himself? Not only would everyone be able to evaluate his position, they would also look into his background and try to draw connections between his past and his role as self-appointed, in-house Trump resister. Instead, by remaining anonymous, the author — and the Times — have not only avoided scrutiny but have added an irresistible element of mystery and suspense to the story. That means more attention.
6) It looks like a Woodward tie-in. Perhaps the author has been planning the piece for months. Perhaps its release had nothing to do with the publicity campaign for “Fear: Trump in the White House”, the new book by Bob Woodward. And perhaps the similarity between the article’s theme and the book’s theme — a small group of good-guy grown-ups protecting the country from Trump — is just a coincidence. But the article appears to be an effort to draft on the publicity around the Woodward effort.
7) We’ll know more soon enough. The Times wrote that it granted the author anonymity because his “job would be jeopardized” by disclosure of his name. It seems hard to believe the author truly thinks he can remain anonymous — and keep his job — in the white-hot public attention his article will attract. One way or the other, his identity will likely come out, probably sooner rather than later. And then the story could become even more interesting.