I read “Fire and Fury” over the weekend. Joe Cunningham has his review of the book here. My reaction is a little different, so I thought I’d offer mine as a counterbalance.
The Good Conservative Take on this is that author Michael Wolff is not to be trusted, therefore literally 100% of the book can be discounted. The latest criticism of Trump dismissed, we can dust off our hands and move on to praising the grand conservative accomplishments of Donald Trump’s administration, including no ObamaCare repeal, adding to our $20 trillion debt, and slightly less regulation. #MAGA!
The liberal take is that the book demonstrates Trump to be unstable and functionally illiterate, with no adults in charge in the White House.
My take is that it’s always dangerous to give too much credence to insider stories in politics, and especially to a book with as many obvious errors as this one has. That said, the book is not bad, and offers some insight into the Trump White House, as long as you take it all with shakerfuls of salt.
Let’s discuss the errors. The book was obviously rushed to print a few days early, but that doesn’t excuse the wretched editing and mistakes. These range from an appalling number of typos, some embarrassing, to sentences missing verbs, to outright and obvious factual errors. Many of these have been pointed out. A reporter is said to have attended a meal at the Four Seasons when he has never been; it turns out that another man with the same name actually attended. The word “pubic” instead of “public” appears twice, leading to embarrassments like this:
The editing in this Wolff book is bad. *Really* bad. pic.twitter.com/BRNrS5ozc1
— Patterico (@Patterico) January 7, 2018
Putting the errors aside, there is the issue of unreliable narrators. In a book about palace intrigue, everyone is jockeying for position. Those still in power are looking to preserve and extend their influence. Those on the outs are looking to preserve their legacy. In politics, the personalities are nastier and more backbiting than in other stories.
That said, we do have a public Trump with which to assess Wolff’s portrait of private Trump — and frankly, it’s the same guy. Early on, one of the most devastating parts of the book, and one that had me laughing out loud, was simply Wolff quoting verbatim Trump’s speech to the CIA shortly after his inauguration. Were it not a public (not pubic, Wolff!) speech, and were you unfamiliar with Donald Trump, you’d read these words and be baffled that they could come from a U.S. President. But the speech is on YouTube. Wolff didn’t make it up.
The book is full of interesting anecdotes that are wholly compatible with what we know about public Trump, but still shed some insight into the workings of the White House. You’ve already read many of the passages. Some you may not have.
I enjoyed reading about how, when Priebus resigned, Priebus and Trump were on Air Force One discussing the timing of the announcement. Trump told Priebus: “You tell me what works for you. Let’s make it good.” When Priebus stepped onto the tarmac, an alert on his phone informed him that Trump had tweeted that Priebus was out, and Kelly was in. Nobody had told Kelly.
Much has been made of the nasty and self-serving things that Steve Bannon says in the book, and there are plenty of them. But I was surprised to find myself liking him at one point in the book, as the sole voice against bombing Syria. I know bombings are popular, and that wars are popular, and this is not a popular thing to say on a conservative blog. So be it. I’m highly skeptical of war and military action and so is Steve Bannon. And after he lost the fight about the bombing, due to Trump being shown pictures of children harmed by Assad’s chemical attacks, Bannon attended the “for-posterity” photo op. The book records that “Bannon glowered from his seat at the table, revolted by the stagecraft and the ‘phoniness of the f*cking thing.'” Another vignette shows Bannon refusing makeup for his CPAC appearance, contrasting with Priebus, who got pancaked up. For all his faults, Bannon comes across as the Holden Caulfield of the White House. And I kinda liked Holden Caulfield.
In another hilarious story, Wolff relates how Bannon learned about that famous Scaramucci interview with the New Yorker when fact checkers called Bannon “for comment about Scaramucci’s accusation that he sucked his own c*ck.”
Overall, it’s a wildly entertaining book. You just can’t take it as reliable history. Neither can you entirely discount it 100%. There’s too much there. I’d credit something like 60% to 90% of what I read.
Go ahead and blow $15 on the Kindle version. If you’re a political nut, you’ll enjoy it.