DC Confidential: Isabella Mikki

Our Beltway insider on why Republicans are worried about Trump’s loneliness


Here’s a question. What was the second item on the BBC News the day Boris Johnson won the election? It was the news that Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, had chosen to proceed with impeachment articles. The two stories – Johnson’s majority and Trump’s predicament – looked interrelated: as if the UK event had something to teach the US as it enters this year of senate trial and general election.

These parallels can sometimes seem a little facile. It might be a lazy habit to think of US presidents and UK prime ministers as pairs: Churchill and FDR, Thatcher and Reagan, Blair and Clinton, Obama and Cameron – and now, Trump and Johnson.

But it doesn’t stop us doing precisely that. Pete King, the US Representative for New York’s 2nd congressional district, said: “Boris Johnson’s overwhelming victory is a very positive indicator for President Trump”, pointing to the fact that both men are “unorthodox.” Meanwhile, on the Democrat side, Mark Penn, who chaired Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign, recalled: “I am the last successful Labour Party consultant from 2005; it’s a title I may hold for a long time. Labour’s imploded. It’s an outcome that could be echoed if the Democrats pick a candidate too far from the mainstream.”

The result therefore chimed well with the candidacies of Joseph Biden and Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is now out in front in the early voting states Iowa and New Hampshire, though he trails to such an extent among the black vote that the nomination looks likely to go to Biden. Incidentally, according to sources, this hints at the eventuality Trump most fears – Biden, at the top of the ticket, with Buttigieg as his running mate.

But for Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, even these so-called moderates are not sufficiently moderate to pass the smell test on tax. Norquist explained: “Bernie Sanders’ [senator for Vermont and having his second tilt at the presidency] ‘Green New Deal’ costs $98 trillion over a ten-year period. Taxing a few American billionaires wouldn’t achieve his budget.” And Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren? “She’s backed down on her $32 trillion budget for ‘Medicare for all’ but again her numbers don’t add up. The voters see through this posturing.”

But for Norquist, even Biden’s spending plans can’t really be described as moderate. “He suggests many trillions of dollars in higher taxes and spending – over a 10-year period, but his plan has $1.4 trillion more than the budget coming from taxes, so how will he raise that money?”

Shades, then, of Corbyn’s Christmas splurge manifesto. But what about Trump in all this? Is he worried? Not really, although high-level sources say he is frustrated. They know all of the above, but fear also that Trump’s is a different situation. Impeachment is more serious than, say, Johnson’s Supreme Court saga over prorogation. In particular, sources fear that the president, though media-savvy, doesn’t listen to his lawyers, and has therefore failed to amend his tweeting habits. In reality, the impeachment proceedings failed almost as quickly as they began.

In fact, the Republicans’ real worry is more prosaic. It’s that the president spends an inordinate amount of time alone. I used to work with Bill Clinton: he was with people from 8am to 9pm. The only time he was alone was when he turned in – and even then, as the world knows, he wasn’t always quite so solitary as wisdom might have warranted.

Trump is completely different: unless he’s in a meeting, he dismisses the secret service and watches TV. He’s alone and tweeting – and has no one to rein him in. His wife and him live different lives. It’s true that his daughter Ivanka is in and out; she’s her dad’s favourite and she’s his. It’s true also that he’s close with his children, but they have their own lives as well.

In that respect, he’s different to the convivial Boris Johnson: as inscrutable as he sometimes seems to be to his closest associates, the PM is a sociable animal. So if Trump ever needs to pick up the phone, at least he has a kindred spirit to talk to in Downing Street.

Isabella Mikki has worked for Fox News and CNN

16th January 2020