Sometime soon, Donald Trump, the third president in the history of the United States to be impeached, is expected to face a trial in the Senate, charged with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Traced back to its roots, this is a crisis entirely of his own creation: He came across a sketchy scrap of information, a debunked piece of Russian propaganda relating to Ukraine, and he saw it as something he could use, to help himself and to hurt an opponent. He latched onto it, pumped it up, and passed it along.
Anyone wondering how the president could make this kind of mistake has missed something important about Trump’s rise. For as long as he has been in politics—in fact, for longer—he has been a ruthlessly effective practitioner of the art of parroting others’ most provocative, salacious ideas. “There are a lot of people that think …” “That’s what I heard …” “Some people even say …” His gossipy M.O. was a staple of his campaign, propelling his historic victory, but it also has driven the scandal that has consumed his presidency—“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike,” he said on the now well-known call last July with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
If what he was referencing sounded kind of like a dodgy talk radio rant, that’s not an accident. It’s a deliberate tactic, one that Trump was developing, and exploiting, from the moment he first seriously started to consider a run for the White House.
In the early to middle part of the previous decade, Trump’s proto-political operation was essentially a two-man team—there was Roger Stone, now a felon, and there was Stone’s protégé, Sam Nunberg. One of Nunberg’s self-appointed tasks was to help Trump understand what the masses on the right really wanted. And one way he did that was by listening to Mark Levin’s increasingly popular radio show. The people who were tuning in most intently to Levin, Nunberg thought, were the people most likely to vote for Trump if he launched an actual bid. “Donald Trump,” Nunberg told me, meaning his candidacy, meaning his victory, “would never have happened without Mark Levin.” [Continue reading…]