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It's the same all-Trump, all-the-time madness, only exponentially worse. One turns to a colleague and silently mouths: "U-S-A? " Nearby, another press nerd is frowning to himself and counting on his fingers, apparently trying to use visual aids to retrace Trump's reasoning.
Morning, February 24th, National Harbor, Maryland, the Conservative Political Action Conference. So they will say, ' He never got a standing ovation.' Right? Trump leans over and pauses to soak in the love, his trademark red tie hanging like the tongue of a sled dog. Was the idea that reporters wouldn't notice a standing ovation unless the crowd eventually sat down? In a flash, Trump is launching into a furious 15-minute diatribe, bashing the "Clinton News Network" (Trump continually refers to Hillary Clinton as if the campaign were still going on) and describing the press as the "enemy of the people." Within hours, Trump's aides will bar a group of news outlets from a White House gaggle, in a formal declaration of war against the media.
His shocking victory had been won almost entirely outside the Beltway, via a Shermanesque barnstorming tour through white-discontent meccas in states like Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where he devoured popular support by promising wrath and vengeance on the federal government.
Trump didn't appeal to K Street for help, didn't beg for mailing lists or the phone numbers of millionaire bundlers, and never wrung his hands waiting for favorable reviews on Meet the Press. They were like shopkeepers awaiting the arrival of a notorious biker gang.
Treasury pick Steven Mnuchin would struggle to make a list of the 30 most loathsome Goldman Sachs veterans.
These and a few others were merely worst-case-scenario corporate-influence types, industry foxes sent to man regulatory henhouses.
For Trump and his inner circle to name Perry to any Cabinet post at all felt like trolling, like a football team wrapping the mascot in packing tape and mailing him to Canada.
But to send someone you're on record calling an idiot to run the nation's nuclear arsenal, that doesn't fit easily in any bucket: mischief, evil, incompetence – it's even a little extreme for nihilism.
They were mute bystanders seconds ago; now they're the 1980 Soviet hockey team.
Trump's pick for energy secretary, Rick Perry, reportedly not only admitted that he didn't know what the Department of Energy actually does, but had called for that very agency's elimination as a presidential candidate (and forgot that fact during a debate).
Moreover, Trump had brutalized Perry during the campaign as a dimwit among dimwits, whose "smart glasses" affectation didn't fool anyone.
Last year at this time, Trump was bailing on a CPAC invite because a rat's nest of National Review types was threatening a walkout to protest him. Back then he was introduced to the beat of the O' Jays soul hit "For the Love of Money," and over the course of 13 uncomfortably autoerotic minutes flogged his résumé and declared it a myth that a "very successful person" couldn't run for president. "You know," he says, "the dishonest media, they'll say, ' He didn't get a standing ovation.' You know why? There is no other story in the world, no other show to watch.
There was talk of 300 conservatives planning a simultaneous march to the toilet if the formerly pro-choice New Yorker was allowed onstage. He starts to tell that story, when suddenly he spots something in the audience that knocks him off script. A lot of the people can't sit down because they're in standing-room-only sections. " Those of us in the dishonest-media section shoot befuddled looks at one another. The first and most notable consequence of Trump's administration is that his ability to generate celebrity has massively increased, his persona now turbocharged by the vast powers of the presidency.