The question of “What was Trump thinking?” is one that pretty much all of the political world is now puzzling over (even many inside Trumpland). Did the president and his inner circle really fail to fathom the epic fallout that would result from ousting the man in charge of investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia? Did the president simply not care? If the latter, why weren’t his front-line troops better outfitted for battle so that the entire operation didn’t come off looking like an out-of-control clown car? To steal a line from the 1988 comedy A Fish Called Wanda one typically aims to avoid this sort of high-profile meltdown “unless you’re congenitally insane or irretrievably stupid.”
Trump is neither of those things. (This is, I realize, a subject of increasingly hot debate in some circles.) What the president undeniably is, however, is pathologically myopic in his view of the world and how it operates. For him, everything is personal. Period. Ideology, partisanship, institutional norms, law, ethics, morality—none of these seems to mean much to this president. Or rather, none means as much to Trump as do his gut feelings about another individual, which are themselves heavily determined by whether Trump feels as though that individual has displeased and/or disrespected Trump. (Recall Trump’s self-proclaimed rule of thumb for dealing with Vladimir Putin: “If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.”)
Trump had soured on Comey. As all those leaking administration officials tell it, Trump saw the FBI director as too focused on the actual Russia investigation and not nearly focused enough on who had leaked embarrassing information about Trump. Plus, Comey had waved off Trump’s wild-hair claims that President Obama had wire-tapped him. This level of disrespect was intolerable. Trump lost faith in both Comey’s judgment and his loyalty. And so the FBI chief had to go, political and legal considerations be damned.
Viewed through this lens, of course Trump expected even Democrats to more or less accept Comey’s firing. After all, many Dems regard Comey as having cost their team the White House with his October 28 letter to Congress regarding the Hillary email probe. As the president has been defensively tweeting this week, Chuck Schumer is far from the only Democrat to have taken multiple slaps at Comey for his little October surprise.
To a president for whom personal pique is so central, it was natural to assume that Democrats’ burning resentment of Comey would translate into smug delight at his firing—especially with Team Trump asserting that said firing stemmed from Comey’s mistreatment of Hillary.
Admittedly, someone in the White House perhaps should have anticipated that Democrats would gag on the claim that, after months of loudly praising Comey’s rough handling of Hillary, Trump had suddenly undergone a 180-degree change of heart. But, hey, Trump’s inner circle includes few seasoned political pros. And promoting “alternative facts” has been working more or less okay for the team thus far.