Begala: Donald Trump is no 'idiot.' He's something worse

Add the name of White House chief of staff John Kelly to the astonishingly long list of close Trump aides who have re...

Posted: May 2, 2018 11:11 AM
Updated: May 2, 2018 11:11 AM

Add the name of White House chief of staff John Kelly to the astonishingly long list of close Trump aides who have reportedly disparaged the President's intellect, in his case referring to the leader of the free world as "an idiot." Kelly called the report "total B.S."

But, like the dog that didn't bark, Kelly's statement reveals more by what it does not say. It does not say the President is bright. It does not say he is engaged. It does not say he digs into the impossibly difficult issues that come into the Oval Office each day. And Kelly's silence on those matters is telling.

Of course, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called President Trump "a [expletive deleted] moron" then heroically refused to participate in the ritualistic dishonest denial. Tillerson told CNN's Jake Tapper, "I'm not going to get into that kind of petty stuff."

National security adviser H.R. McMaster, according to a report in BuzzFeed, has called President Trump an "idiot," a "dope" and a man with the brain of a "kindergartner."

In Michael Wolff's book, "Fire and Fury" (which ought to be taken with an entire salt lick), the former chief of staff Reince Priebus and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin refer to the President as an "idiot." Then-chief economic adviser Gary Cohn says Trump is "dumb as [poop]," and is "an idiot surrounded by clowns." (Note that this was at the time that Cohn himself was one of the people surrounding the President. Does that make him Clarabell?). And billionaire media baron Rupert Murdoch reportedly called President Trump "a [effing] idiot" after a phone call on immigration.

I'm beginning to see a pattern here. Those closest to the President think, well, it's pretty clear what they think.

But I dissent.

I think Donald J. Trump is plenty bright. Not in the intellectual, Mensa-meeting sense, but he has, I think, an undeniable intelligence. He is street smart, savvy, clever. No one can be that conniving and be an idiot.

So why the disconnect? Why do I as an outside analyst see an intelligence that those closest to the President do not? Because there are different kinds of intelligence that are useful for different purposes. The kind of intelligence I believe Trump has is enormously useful if you want to, say, be a politician -- even better if you want to be a demagogue.

He has a cynical, innate intelligence for what his base wants to hear. It's like a divining rod for division, prejudice and stereotyping. His relentless rhetorical repetition ("No collusion, no collusion, no collusion") is brilliantly designed to tell folks who are predisposed to like him what they want to hear. Forget the objective reality that his campaign chairman, his son and his son-in-law all met with Russians who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government, helping make the case for why Robert Mueller should be investigating potential collusion.

He has an unerring sense for how to command media attention, whether it was assuming a pseudonym and leaking the "Best Sex I Ever Had" myth to the New York tabloids, or dominating water coolers across the country by attacking NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem. It's like he knows what every barstool blowhard is about to say before he or she even says it.

His penchant for third-grade nicknames undoubtedly demeans the discourse, and yet otherwise sophisticated people repeat them: "Lyin' Ted," "Little Marco," "Crooked Hillary." So who's really the idiot?

The problem is, Trump's idiosyncratic intelligence, while enough to propel him to the White House, does not serve him well for the job of President. He lacks, by most accounts, the broad curiosity, the policy depth, the healthy skepticism of his own positions, the attention span, the appreciation of nuance, and most of all, the intellectual humility that successful presidents must have.

Serving President Clinton in the West Wing was the highlight of my professional life. He is the smartest person I have ever known -- and he never, ever acted like (or felt like) the smartest person in the room. He paired his astonishing intellect with an immeasurable empathy, and the combination brought out the best in everyone around him.

He didn't merely want to know; he wanted to understand. Then he would integrate, cross-pollinating new information about farm prices with the latest briefing on the French military budget, and seeing the world in subtle hues. It is impossible to imagine any of his top aides speaking as contemptuously of him as President Trump's do of him.

Finally, a word of caution for the Democrats: Don't attack Donald Trump's intelligence. Liberals already suffer from the conceit that they are more intelligent, and it can make them insufferable. Plus, in a weird way, calling President Trump stupid excuses his intentional acts of malice.

So, don't call him "moron" or "idiot;" call him what he is: a conniving, corrupt con man, a dangerous, divisive demagogue -- and, most sobering of all, the man who carried 30 states in the last election, and may well do it again if Democrats don't focus their fire more effectively.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 119336

Reported Deaths: 3328
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds8109180
DeSoto734280
Harrison553785
Jackson488488
Rankin412386
Madison388094
Lee368682
Forrest313478
Jones298484
Washington2644100
Lauderdale2611135
Lafayette256043
Lamar234040
Oktibbeha206055
Bolivar205279
Neshoba1883111
Lowndes182862
Leflore173088
Panola172241
Sunflower165949
Warren156656
Monroe154873
Pontotoc151520
Marshall150530
Lincoln144859
Pike140956
Copiah139936
Scott128129
Coahoma126537
Union126025
Yazoo124534
Simpson124049
Grenada123139
Tate123039
Pearl River117960
Itawamba117827
Leake117042
Holmes115160
Adams110245
Prentiss109520
Alcorn105012
Wayne103422
George103020
Covington99729
Marion96944
Tippah95124
Hancock88128
Newton88128
Chickasaw87028
Winston85921
Tallahatchie85826
Tishomingo83141
Attala80927
Clarke78353
Clay71522
Jasper69817
Walthall64827
Calhoun63613
Smith60816
Noxubee60317
Yalobusha56616
Montgomery56523
Lawrence55314
Claiborne54216
Tunica53917
Perry52823
Carroll50912
Stone49814
Greene48218
Humphreys45817
Amite43413
Jefferson Davis42412
Quitman4246
Webster38213
Benton36911
Wilkinson34321
Kemper33415
Sharkey29115
Jefferson28110
Franklin2533
Choctaw2096
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 162720

Reported Deaths: 2735
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23940385
Mobile17123319
Tuscaloosa10602141
Montgomery10503199
Madison955798
Shelby760565
Baldwin676869
Lee664965
Calhoun476562
Marshall447451
Etowah441952
Morgan430835
Houston423934
DeKalb355429
Elmore327858
St. Clair311342
Limestone297031
Walker287493
Talladega276437
Cullman266525
Lauderdale240543
Jackson225317
Autauga212631
Colbert210232
Franklin209432
Blount200925
Russell19833
Chilton192332
Dallas189227
Dale184952
Coffee183611
Covington177329
Escambia175831
Clarke138717
Chambers138047
Tallapoosa137287
Pike136414
Marion110931
Barbour10559
Marengo104622
Butler101941
Winston94713
Geneva9427
Pickens89018
Lawrence88533
Bibb86115
Randolph84616
Hale78130
Cherokee76414
Clay76312
Washington75812
Henry7316
Lowndes72128
Monroe66310
Bullock65117
Crenshaw61230
Fayette59913
Perry5996
Cleburne5799
Conecuh57213
Wilcox57112
Macon54320
Lamar5235
Sumter48621
Choctaw39512
Greene34516
Coosa2173
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