Four Potential Explanations Behind Internal "Resist" Trump Op-Ed By Luke Perry
Yesterday was an extraordinary moment in American government and presidential politics. Why would a “senior official” in the Trump administration write an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times claiming people in the administration are actively seeking to thwart the president's amoral and anti-democratic impulses? Here are four potential reasons and analysis of each.
Adults in the Room
This person may be trying to reassure Americans there are “adults in the room” who are intimately aware of Trump’s destructive and dangerous behaviors, and actively seeking to manage them.
This is hardly reassuring, as the whole country speculates about the authorship of the op-ed, and counter-productive, as an already distrustful president and Cabinet become even more distrustful and dysfunctional.
There is no empirical evidence supporting the notion that a few allied Cabinet members can secretly provide a viable and reliable alternative leadership structure to the president, nor is this a politically stable or democratically sound manner to oppose a presidency.
Leadership and Policy Change
This person may be trying to promote a presidential leadership style that places more priority on ethical and moral considerations, and is more in line with traditional Republican values.
There is also no empirical evidence to support the notion that attacking Trump anonymously would result in either. The president has a deeply personal approach to politics and has been very outspoken about his perceived entitlement to attack anyone who slights him much worse than he was originally attacked.
Not surprisingly, the president’s response to the op-ed has been to personally attack the message and the messengers, suggesting the “gutless” author committed “treason” and “the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!”
Self-interest may have been consideration by the author. This person may directly benefit from a politically hobbled Donald Trump, perhaps even a scenario where the president is removed from office.
Vice-President Mike Pence quickly became a focus, though Pence denies being the author. The author is unlikely to admit authorship now, after going to great lengths to be anonymous, though at some point, this will likely come out.
If problems persist for this presidency, or things get worse, legally or politically, the author can now point to his/her documented opposition to the president as a means of self-protection and vindication.
The author may be pursing self-serving means beyond career advancement as well. The author may be leaving his/her position soon and believe (not unreasonably) that now is the best moment to maximize the public impact his/her advocacy.
Given the timing in relation to the midterm campaign, the op-ed could also be seeking to enhance Democratic chances of taking control of Congress. Even though the individual is not a Democrat, Democratic control of the House or Senate would assume major responsibility for opposing the most negative aspects of the Trump presidency under divided government.
Corroborate Bob Woodward
The author may have been interviewed for Bob Woodward’s new book that made news this week, describing the “nervous breakdown of Trump’s presidency.”
The President, and other Cabinet members who are reportedly critical of the president, including John Kelly and Secretary Mattis, have rebuked Woodward’s reporting.
It’s possible the author is seeking to refute criticism of book by corroborating the president’s behavior and the lengths to which senior officials have sought to mitigate it.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.