This week my program, The Zero Hour, obtained audio of Donald Trump’s remarks to a lavish Washington fundraiser. Media outlets were quick to highlight Trump’s bashing of CNN when it was first published by The Intercept. But it was clear on first hearing that the recording had implications that went well beyond Trump’s well-documented dislike for the media. Personality quirks and media attacks make good copy, but the diplomatic and political implications of Trump’s remarks are more significant.
Trump delivered his remarks at a $35,000 per person event held at his own hotel, a location that drew inevitable (and warranted) accusations that he is using the presidency for personal enrichment. Attendees looked down from windows in the hotel’s imposing façade like grandees at an auto-da-fé as demonstrators chanted against the GOP’s plans for Dickensian health spending cuts in the streets below.
The personality revealed in the recording is the Donald Trump we have all come to know: narcissistic, vain, and ill-informed. No news there. Nor was it surprising to hear Trump speak of his Democratic opponents in personally insulting terms.
But it was notable that Trump characterized his fellow Republicans in somewhat dismissive terms. He seemed unable to offer the obligatory compliments to party allies without first gloating over the fact that he had brought them to their knees. The resulting bruised egos may haunt him someday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan once disinvited Trump to a campaign event in his native Wisconsin, saying he was “sickened” by Trump’s remarks about women. Ryan quickly reversed himself when Trump won the nomination, and Trump used the fundraiser to remind listeners of that fact.
“We’ve actually done very well together,” Trump said of Ryan. “He gave me a little hard time during the election (inaudible) but now are getting along great. He’s actually a good man,” Trump said.
The good man was out doing the bidding of Trump, Trump told the audience. “Where’s Paul? He’s here somewhere. Oh, he’s doing another fundraiser, I like that about him. They shipped him to another fundraiser.”
Trump’s shout-out to White House Chief of Staff and former RNC chair Reince Priebus, who is well-known and well-liked by party leaders, included several awkward beats as the president mocked Priebus’ first name.
Trump was particularly rough on Ohio Governor John Kasich, his former rival in the Republican presidential primaries. “We were always told you can’t win unless you win Ohio,” the president said. “I had a little problem with Ohio: The governor was against me, and the Republican Party was against me.”
“Now we have everybody,” the president added. “Actually, the governor was very nice. He called me the day after the victory to congratulate me. I said, ‘You’re a little bit late.’”
Trump will need to win Ohio again in 2020.
On matters of policy, Trump cited waiting times at the VA before offering a solution:
“If they have a nine-day wait,” Trump asked rhetorically, “why don’t they just go see a doctor and our country will pay the doctor? It’s really the least expensive thing that could happen. [We would] have to go out and negotiate some good prices with good doctors … Why don’t we do it?”
Although he was speaking of the VA, Trump had just unwittingly endorsed the concept of Medicare For All.
On the international front, Trump said that he supported NATO but repeated his demand that other countries “pay their fair share,” adding: “Aren’t we tired of being the fools in this country?”
Trump waded heavily into an ongoing confrontation involving Saudi Arabia and its allies on one side and Qatar on the other, when he complimented the Saudi king and accused Qatar of providing “hundreds of millions of dollars” in support for “radical Islamic terrorism.” While there have been accusations against Qatar, Saudi Arabia’s support for fundamentalist groups has also been linked to the spread of terror.
Saudi Arabia and its allies have closed the Qatar border and made a number of “non-negotiable” demands, including the closing of the Al-Jazeera news network. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is reportedly trying to mediate between the parties. Trump’s remarks won’t help, especially since he compounded them with a wisecrack about the name “Qatar.”
“We’ve always [pronounced it] Qa-TAR. It’s QAT-er they prefer,” Trump said, adding: “I prefer that they don’t fund terrorists.”
Predictably, mainstream news outlets gave extensive coverage to Trump’s remarks about CNN, its president, and commentator Van Jones. Those remarks ended with Trump wondering whether the president could sue reporters for libel. One legal expert has concluded that he could, although it would be difficult. But another attorney concluded that the president could also be the target of a libel suit, something Trump may want to bear in mind in the future.
We released this recording because we believed it was in the public interest to do so. It offers fertile ground for further investigative journalism, especially regarding Trump’s financial relationships with Saudi Arabia and the likelihood of a political split in the GOP if Trump’s popularity falls among the party’s base voters.
Democrats should bear in mind, however, that Vice President Mike Pence will not be a better president on policy issues, and will probably be worse. Pence would almost certainly also be much more effective at passing the party’s right-wing agenda.