The enemy of my enemy is my friend is as good a guide to relationships in tribal Washington as anything. But like so much else, that maxim is being shredded by President Donald Trump.
Look at Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. The two Democratic leaders were at the White House again last night, this visit including a plate of crispy beef and promises to save the Dreamers in exchange for “massive border security.” That didn’t mean a spanking new wall but something more like renovations to the existing one. That brings to mind hotel developer Trump reviewing samples of flagstone, brick, and, perhaps, something in a colorful concrete to spruce up what’s there, not at all what his base, Steve Bannon, or hardliners in his own party had in mind. Ann Coulter is calling for his impeachment.
The visitors hardly had time to get hungry again after their Chinese meal before the White House sought to translate Trump’s evening with his enemies into something palatable to his friends. But Trump, on his way to Marine One the next morning for a trip to view hurricane damage in Florida, confirmed the important parts of the deal on the table as described by Democrats.
What a whirlwind: The wall, chanted loudly at every campaign rally, is crumbling. A week ago, Trump’s Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security were locked and loaded for deportation of Dreamers warning them to be packed and ready to leave. Today, he’s green-lighting legislation that will remove fear of that forever.
He has good reason. He might get a win, something he badly needs, by dealing with the enemy. Only 12 percent of Americans want to deport Dreamers. What’s more, he knows in his heart of hearts the wall will never be more than a metaphor for stemming illegal immigration. It’s a bargaining chip now.
Dealing with Democratic enemies comes just as Trump has virtually friended another enemy, Hillary Clinton, in a common crusade to destroy the reputation of former FBI Director James Comey. They share a visceral dislike for the prickly stuffed shirt—always white with heavy starch—for being sanctimonious and overly tall. Both feel he’s responsible for ruining their lives. For Trump, it was that the lawman wouldn’t pledge his loyalty or declare publicly that Trump wasn’t a target of his Russia investigation. For Clinton, Comey wouldn’t let go of the investigation of her emails. In the extraordinary press conference Comey held ending the inquiry, he implicated her further. Worse, days before voting began, Comey announced he was reopening the inquiry on the slim reed that the laptop of former sexting Congressman Anthony Weiner, married to a Clinton aide, might contain incriminating emails from her.
While Clinton takes some blame for her loss and has words for Trump (“hateful,” “flagrantly sexist,” a “fraud” who ran a “reality TV show” campaign who can’t rise to the reality of governing), it is Comey who animates her. She’s convinced he cost her the election.
Comey is to Trump like the bad boyfriend you just can’t get over. You marry, have children, you live in the White House with a copter on the back lawn but still he gnaws at you. It’s so bad that six months after the breakup, Trump is retaliating by asserting baseless charges of criminal behavior that he wants prosecuted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions if he’s any kind of friend at all. This despite the fact that there’s nothing in the bill of particulars, read word for word from notes by Sara Huckabee Sanders at Wednesday’s press briefing, that holds legal water: no violation of the many FBI rules—not of property, not of an employment agreement, not of anything. He may have done Trump wrong but he wasn’t wrong to do it.
Comey elicits the same kind of enmity in Clinton, who doesn’t have the solace of the Lincoln Bedroom or Air Force One. It’s front and center in interviews to promote her book, What Happened, in which she takes a fair amount of blame for “what happened” but in which she offloads a lot to him. She has a point. No FBI director has ever injected himself more into an election, while insisting he wasn’t, than Comey. No one used the cloak of independence more. He bent over backward so far to be that way that he tilted against her and so, inevitably, toward her opponent. There’s no way of knowing if it was decisive but Clinton has good reason to think so.
Clinton’s resentment comes out strategically—it helps promote her book—but also because she can’t help it. Bill Clinton has told many friends that nothing else that happened in the campaign mattered given Comey’s actions. Hillary’s been first lady, Senator from New York, and secretary of State, but those triumphs fade next to losing the presidency. Comey kept that from her. The pain will never go away.
And perhaps not for Trump either. Comey may ultimately cost him the presidency as well. His latest assault comes as his most trusted aide outside family, Steve Bannon, called firing Comey the biggest mistake “in modern political history” in his first major interview since leaving the White House. Trump knows that impulsive act gave him special counsel Robert Mueller, who is closing in not just on him but on his family.
“What if” is the question that visits all of us. To avoid the most painful answer to that question, Clinton and Trump, like most of us, obsess over the injustice done to them, not the hurt they’ve brought on themselves. Whatever gets you through the night.