MAggie Haberman, the New York Times Trump whisperer, delivers. His latest book is well over 600 pages of context, scoop and drama. It’s a political epic, trace the course of Donald Trump from the streets of Queens to Manhattan’s Upper East Side, from the White House to Mar-a-Lago, Son Elba. There, the 45th president holds court – and ruminates and plots his return.
Haberman gives Trump and those close to him plenty of voice — and string. The result is a cacophonous symphony. Confidence Man informs and entertains but is absolutely not funny at the same time. Trumpworld presents a reptilian tableau – reality TV does Lord of the Flies.
For just one example, Mark Meadows, Trump’s last White House chief of staff, is portrayed as erratic and detestable. Then there is the family. Haberman recounts how, after the 2016 election, Melania Trump won a renegotiated prenuptial agreement. Haberman also describes Trump repeatedly dumping on his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. If only he sounded like Tom Brady and spoke in a deeper register. If only Ivanka hadn’t converted to Judaism.
The abuse becomes absurd – even a kind of baroque. According to Haberman, during a 2020 campaign strategy meeting, Trump hinted that Kushner could be brutally attacked, even raped, if he ever went camping: “Can you imagine Jared and his skinny ass camping? It would be like something out of Deliverance.
The reader, however, shouldn’t mourn Jared. In Haberman’s story, he’s the kid who was born on third base and mistaken his good fortune by hitting a triple. For his part, Kushner is shown trashing Steve Bannon, the far-right ideologue who was campaign chairman and chief White House strategist but was kicked out within months.
Haberman overhears Kushner happily asking a visitor to the White House, “Did you see that I cut off Bannon’s balls?”
To quote Peter Navarro, like Bannon now a former Trump official facing impeachment, “the nepotism and the feces are getting worse.”
It turns out that Bannon’s testicles grew back. Like Charlie Kushner, Jared’s father, he was pardoned by Trump. Bannon also helped spread the big lie that Trump won the election, stoking the attack on Capitol Hill.
These days, Bannon awaits sentencing, found guilty of contempt of Congress. He also faces criminal fraud charges stemming from an alleged charity scam at the border wall. In the Trump universe, there’s always a scam.
For Confidence Man, Haberman interviewed Trump three times. He confesses that he is drawn to her, like a moth to a flame.
“I love being with her,” he says. “She’s like my psychiatrist”.
Clyde Haberman’s daughter, a legendary New York Times reporter, is neither flattered nor amused. She sees through her subject.
“The reality is that he treats everyone as if they were his psychiatrists,” Haberman writes. “All of them give him a chance to let off steam or test reactions or gauge how his statements play or find out how he feels.”
Also, Trump and Haberman haven’t always had a relationship. When he was president, she would interview him and he would attack him. In April 2018, Trump tweeted that Haberman was a Clinton “lackey” he didn’t know or talk to, a “third rate reporter” to boot. He called him “Maggot Haberman” and even considered obtain his phone records to identify his sources.
Trump is 76 but he remains the envious boy of an outer New York neighborhood, his face pressed against the glass of Midtown. Haberman isn’t the only Manhattan reporter he’s wooed and attacked. In 2018, he threatened Michael Wolff for writing Fire and Fury, Trump’s book that started it all. Later, he hosted Wolff at Mar-a-Lago.
Haberman vividly captures Trump’s lack of elbows. For just one example, according to Haberman, the president chose to enrich his first meeting with a foreign leader, Theresa May, by asking the British prime minister to “imagine if tattooed animals raped your daughter and she got pregnant.” .
Each of Trump’s three Supreme Court justices voted to overturn Roe v Wade. One wonders what the young woman in Trump’s hypothetical would think about it.
Haberman also pierces Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns. All this talk about an “audit” was a simple dodge, born on a campaign plane.
As Super Tuesday approached, the crucial primary day in March 2016, aides confronted Trump about his taxes. The candidate, writes Haberman, “thought for a second about how to ‘get me out of this,’ as he put it. He leaned back, before launching into a sudden thought.
“’Well, you know my taxes are being audited. I’m still audited… So what I mean is I could just say, “I’ll post them when I’m no longer audited. Because I will never be audited.'”
These days, the Trump organization faces criminal charges of tax evasion. Along with Ivanka, Don Jr and Eric, his children from his first marriage, Trump is also being sued for fraud by Letitia James, the New York Attorney General.
AAs a young reporter, Haberman made two stints at the New York Post, Rupert Murdoch’s flagship American tabloid. Murdoch’s succession plans — it’s Lachlan, he told Trump — appear in Confidence Man. The same goes for Tucker Carlson, the headline-grabbing Fox News host and Vladimir Putin’s kindred spirit.
According to Haberman, Carlson met with Kushner and asked Trump to commute Roger Stone’s conviction for perjury.
“What happened to Roger Stone should never happen to anyone in this country, regardless of political party,” Carlson reportedly thundered, threatening to go public.
Stone has since become a central figure in the January 6 insurgency. Apparently, he has a weakness for violence. For some Republicans, a commitment to “law and order” is elastic.
As for the attempt to nullify the election and the attack on the Capitol it fueled, Trump’s fate rests with prosecutors in Washington DC and Fulton County, Georgia.
That old campaign song from 2016, “Lock her up”? It carries its own irony.