Should Donald Trump be afraid of Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book Fear: Trump in the White House? The book title comes from a remark that Trump apparently made to Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Robert Costa in 2016: “Real power is through respect… real power is, I don’t even want to use the word, ‘fear.’” The legendary Watergate reporter’s latest effort is said to be stuffed with numerous interviews of top Trump officials whom Woodward—drumroll here—apparently often visited late at night to get the inside dope on the nefarious activities occurring in the Trump White House. It’s supposed to be Watergate all over again. Trump, who was already incensed when the Wolff was at the door (remember Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury?), is sure to erupt in pustular wrath at the appearance of Woodward’s new tome, which is already being advertised as an account of the “harrowing life inside Donald Trump’s White House.”
Somehow it cannot be that harrowing, however, if White House chief of staff John Kelly can announce today that he’s sticking it out through 2020. Others such as national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seem to be in it for the long haul as well. Maybe Bolton, who got to meet his former bête noire Kim Jong-un in Singapore, reckons that it will also be a gas to break bread with the Ayatollahs.
Woodward’s book may also simply provide Trump a fresh opportunity to ventilate his outrage at the target of the moment. Indeed Trump is feeling quite frisky as the midterm elections approach, whether it is threatening a government shutdown or lambasting the Koch brothers for being insufficiently deferential to him. In a tweet this morning, Trump declared that Charles and David Koch are, among other things, “a joke,” “overrated,” and — perhaps his most censorious epithet—“globalist.”
The Kochs’ views on issues such as free trade are eminently sensible, but Trump apparently believes he can win some points with his base by assailing them as well as distract it from the economic harm his tariffs are causing. Writing in the Atlantic, Reihan Salam speculates that the Kochs might begin to support Democrats rather than Republicans: “Koch and his allies have, for example, financed digital advertisements praising Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, a Democrat, for her vigorous opposition to the Trump administration’s tariff hikes. …Can we thus expect the Koch network to play an increasingly influential role in Democratic politics? The answer will depend on the Koch network’s priorities: If its commitment to cosmopolitanism comes first, and it is willing to swallow its long-standing objections to the expansion of the public sector, anything is possible.”
What seems clear is that a war is breaking out in the GOP between Trump and its more mainstream elements. Trump has already relegated the NeverTrump faction to the margins of the party. Now he is apparently seeking to quash any resistance to his protectionist policies among libertarians such as the Kochs. It’s a conservative civil war that could endure up through 2020. Perhaps Woodward can make that the subject of his next book.