Nearly a week after Trump gave an off-the-wall press conference, in which he continued to blame “both sides” for Charlottesville violence, the political fallout continues. Some folks wondered how Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin (who is Jewish) could keep a straight face while standing next to Trump as he rambled about “fine people” within the Nazi/white supremacist contingent. The same question has been posed about other members of the administration who, for reasons of their own, were reportedly mortified by Trump’s comments. A new Axios report claims to have the scoop — after speaking with a “half dozen senior administration officials” — on why they choose to stay despite their disgust:
“You have no idea how much crazy stuff we kill”: The most common response centers on the urgent importance of having smart, sane people around Trump to fight his worst impulses. If they weren’t there, they say, we would have a trade war with China, massive deportations, and a government shutdown to force construction of a Southern wall.
Other reasons given to Axios include “General Mattis needs us,” “Trump’s not as evil as portrayed,” and “we like the power.” That last one feels like the most candid response — and one that arguably applies universally to politics.
As for Mnuchin, he chooses to believe Trump’s very belated denunciation of extremist groups after Charlottesville criticism showed no signs of slowing. Mnuchin strenuously defended the president in a tweeted statement:
“[A]s someone who is Jewish, I believe I understand the long history of violence and hatred against the Jews (and other minorities) … I feel compelled to let you know that the President in no way, shape or form, believes that neo-Nazi and other hate groups who endorse violence are equivalent to groups that demonstrate in peaceful and lawful ways … I don’t believe the allegations against the President are accurate.”
Well, this should insulate Mnuchin — who also stresses that all of the “highly talented” people within the Trump administration “should be reassuring” to the American people — from being a Trump target anytime soon. It also feels like he’s telling America that White House officials are doing the best they can right now. This might be a fair point after the firing of Steve Bannon, who has already rejoined Breitbart and is preparing for an all-out media war. And with the far-right battling the White House, those embattled officials will only feel more pressure. The coming weeks will be ones to watch.