Tell-all book may hurt but won't derail Trump

Customers lining up at Kramerbooks late on Thursday for the midnight sale of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff. Journalists also turned out in large numbers.
Customers lining up at Kramerbooks late on Thursday for the midnight sale of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff. Journalists also turned out in large numbers.PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

Claims made will dent President's image, but book is not the silver bullet Trump haters and critics hope for, say analysts

In this character-constrained digital age, it took a book after all.

Mr Lynn Schwartz, 43, has worked in Kramerbooks at Dupont Circle in Washington for 15years, and not since the release of new Harry Potter titles has he ever seen such a rush as for Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

The store had 75 copies at midnight on Thursday - and sold them all in 20 minutes.

Now, they answer the phone with the words: "Kramerbooks! We're sold out of Fire and Fury."

Enough said.

Other book stores in the capital similarly reported that they sold out in minutes. Across the country in California, Fire and Fury set a new waiting list record at the San Francisco Public Library, with more than 900 hold requests.

Customers lining up at Kramerbooks late on Thursday for the midnight sale of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff. Journalists also turned out in large numbers. PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

The first extracts from the book written by Michael Wolff landed in Washington last week out of a blue sky on a sub-zero morning.

"Even for a White House press corps jaded by the unconventional actions of this administration, and the near-daily revelations by competitors about the Russia probe and West Wing intrigue, Wolff's book dropped as a political bombshell," said Mr Steve Herman, White House bureau chief for the Voice of America.

The media went into a frenzy as bits of the book dribbled out. Questions about it dominated subsequent White House press briefings.

"It was hopeless trying to get in a serious foreign policy question," Mr Herman said.

White House correspondents, who have had to get used to an unpredictable news cycle since President Donald Trump moved in, were generally aware of Wolff's access for months as a fly on the wall in the White House. They knew he was working on a book, and widely assumed it would be quite friendly to the President.

But in Fire and Fury, Mr Trump emerges as capricious and impulsive as a child, an object of derision even from people who know him well. In essence, the picture that emerges is one of a president not up to or capable of doing the job. As such, it was an affirmation for many in the deeply divided country who have believed this for a long time, and were primed to believe the absolute worst.

But though the book was grist to the mill of Trump haters and a liberal mainstream media obsessed with every move the President makes, it is still not the silver bullet they hope for, analysts said.

The flashy tycoon from Queens - who was always short of acceptance in snooty Manhattan - was being made fun of by late-night comedians long before he decided to run for president. Regardless, he spread his empire, rode out bankruptcies, made it big in reality TV and won the presidency.

He famously thrives on enemies and is a masterful manipulator of the media.

Tomorrow, he will be giving out his own "Fake News" awards - characteristic showmanship that goes down well with his support base and continues his war on the mainstream media, with the exception of the pro-Trump Fox News. The media has little choice but to play along.

Yesterday, Mr Trump described himself as a "very stable genius", hitting back at doubts over his ability to govern.

"Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart," he said on Twitter.

"I went from VERY successful businessman, to top TV Star... to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius... and a very stable genius at that!"

He had rapidly struck back at the book last week, reinforcing the administration's narrative that the "fake news" media is out to get him.

The White House slammed the book as "sad" and "pathetic" tabloid-style gossip.

There has been no sign of Republicans turning against Mr Trump. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a rare interview, told CNN last Friday: "I have no reason to question his mental fitness."

Wolff has since done the rounds of the big networks, saying he has tapes and notes, and stands by everything in the book. But he has been criticised for being sloppy on details.

What he had done was to "linger around and collect gossip and call it news", a political analyst told The Sunday Times on condition of anonymity.

The book does not address deeper political issues, she said, adding: "I do not think it amounts to anything."

Dr Michael Gerhardt, a professor of constitutional law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told The Sunday Times in an e-mail: "These allegations hurt the President's image, but it's hard to know whether they are quirks of his personality or temperament, rather than more serious signs that he literally lacks the capacity to serve as president.

"A book is not likely to hurt him as much as his own behaviour in public and what the aides tell Congress either in open or closed-door conversations."

Mr Trump is now in a fight in an ecosystem he arguably knows best - the media.

"To be honest, the press corps thought (the Trump candidacy) was a joke and gave this man a platform and now they are absolutely scared - but they created this," said the analyst who asked not to be named.

"But this is a test of a strong democracy," she said.

"We don't get to give the candidates back. And we don't have coups."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 07, 2018, with the headline 'Tell-all book may hurt but won't derail Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe