For political observers and reporters, every day since the November 2016 election seems to have contained some sort of absurd twist or development. The pace of the Donald Trump–era news cycle has made it difficult to separate signal from noise—the truly important, like a Supreme Court–nomination battle, from the simply bizarre or dramatic, like anonymous Trump officials testifying to the president’s incompetence.
On Wednesday, The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed from a senior official claiming to be part of the “resistance” inside the Trump administration. The piece sparked a media frenzy, with some commentators, including my colleague David Graham, alleging that government officials are engaged in a kind of coup against the elected president. “If protecting the rules requires tearing down the rules,” Graham writes, “what is there to be gained?”
But the Times op-ed is not resistance; it is public relations. It’s a first-person version of the anonymously sourced pieces claiming Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have been restraining the president’s worst impulses. And it joins an avalanche of efforts by Trump officials, afraid the walls are closing in on his presidency, to save their own skins. As emotionally erratic as the president appears to be, his consistent adherence to an ethno-nationalist agenda suggests that the president has enough focus not to be deterred from something he really wants by someone removing a paper from his desk or ignoring a direct order. Bureaucratic infighting is a common feature of presidential administrations; what makes this one unique is Trump’s distinct inability to do the job he was elected to do.