Donald Trump on Twitter:
A low level staffer that I hardly knew named Cliff Sims wrote yet another boring book based on made up stories and fiction. He pretended to be an insider when in fact he was nothing more than a gofer. He signed a non-disclosure agreement. He is a mess!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2019
Oh, hey, thanks for reminding me about this book! I had seen word about it a week or two ago and had made a mental note to consider getting it, but forgot about it until Trump’s tweet.
I’m a sucker for the tell-all books, but Michael Wolff’s, and to a lesser but still significant extent Bob Woodward’s, suffered from the lowered credibility associated with anonymous sourcing. (The anonymity of Woodward’s subjects is wafer thin, but the issue remains.) You always have to take everything with shakerfuls of salt, but you need extra shakers when there is no name behind what’s being said.
I couldn’t care less what, say, Chris Christie has to say about Donald Trump, but Sims interests me. I’m about 5 chapters in (there are 15 total) but so far I find this account very credible — in part because Sims actually seems to like Trump, and thus provides a more nuanced picture of Trump than Wolff or Woodward gave us. Sims left his job as CEO of a media company that had broken major stories about state politics in Alabama to become a communications guy for Trump’s campaign. He was a longtime conservative evangelical who was ideologically more in tune with Cruz than Trump, but thought it was important that Trump beat Hillary and wanted to do his part to help. He was one of the “loyalists” who stuck with Trump after the Access Hollywood tape broke, reasoning that the tape was bad but not a reason to allow Hillary Clinton to win. He came to the Trump White House as one of the loyalists and earned some access to the President by virtue of having been one of the folks who did not abandon Trump in his time of greatest need.
His portrait of Trump so far is not as favorable as you usually see from sycophants, but not anywhere near as critical as the anonymous sources for the more famous previous tell-alls. Sims seems to have a genuine admiration for Trump’s communication skills, and for his ability to stay calm in the midst of crisis. He is clear-eyed about the ways that Trump is less than perfectly beholden to the truth or the facts, but he sounds in tone like a lot of the commenters here: yes, the guy has some obvious flaws, but he certainly is better than Hillary Clinton.
A couple of anecdotes spring to mind. One has to do with Sean Spicer’s initial press briefing — you know, the one where he went wild with a bunch of false facts about the size of the inaugural crowd. Sims ruefully admits culpability for full participation in that fiasco, explaining that Trump was a) justifiably upset about a bogus story in Time magazine concerning the alleged removal of a bust of MLK from the Oval Office (didn’t happen), and b) obsessed with crowd size as a measure of popularity. Spicer’s need to rush the briefing put the comms team in a situation where everyone saw a speedy response as the top priority, and they relied on a set of “facts” provided by the head of Trump’s Inaugural Committee that turned out to be wrong — and that the team had not taken time to fact-check. Spicer could have capitalized on the false story about the MLK bust, but instead spouted a bunch of false facts that doomed his credibility from the start. Sims provides an interesting account of this disaster, from the perspective of someone who was deeply embroiled in it.
Moving from that to a quirkier story: as background, Sims mentions Trump’s unusual OCD penchant for slightly moving objects in front of him, as shown in this video:
Then Sims tells the story about how, on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, there’s a box with a little red button on it. Often, when people come into the Oval Office, Trump does his little move where he pushes the box away half an inch, and says something like: “Don’t worry about that. No one wants me to push that button so we’ll just keep it over here.”
Then, later, Trump will press the button without comment. Whoever is in the office and unfamiliar with its purpose will look around nervously. Finally, a steward comes in with a Diet Coke. Trump laughs and says: “People never know what to think about that red button! Is he launching the nukes?!”
It’s a cute story, and Sims uses it to describe Trump as both a prankster and as someone who is self-aware, playing on his reputation as someone whose access to nuclear bombs makes many nervous.
Everyone has an agenda, and surely Sims is no exception, but to me this insider look is one of the most honest accounts I have run across. Recommended. If you wish, you can buy it at the affiliate link here.
P.S. Here is a video of Sims being interviewed on CNN, and reacting on the fly to Trump’s insulting tweet. I’m starting you at 8:03 to keep the clip short, but feel free to watch the whole thing.
He seems like a good guy.
[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]