WASHINGTON — Let’s be clear about what President Donald Trump was up to Tuesday during his press conference in Trump Tower, and what his longer-range plan is for surviving, if not prospering, in the White House for at least four years.

Speaking publicly in the family fortress in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, he wasn’t trying to convince anyone of the facts. There could be no dispute about them if you saw, say, the Vice video of hideous neo-Nazis, KKK members, generic white supremacists and rancid anti-Semites in the streets carrying torches and chanting “Jews will not replace.”

No, the president was doing something else: trolling the media, deliberately goading reporters he knew were waiting for him in his echoing marble lobby. He basked in their urgent outrage and determined focus on Charlottesville. He had scripted himself as the alt-right’s Daniel in a “fake news” lion’s den of his own devising.

Was he upset by the resulting headline and denunciations from the likes of the former presidents Bush, father and son? Hardly. He had sought them. In fact, word on Wednesday was that Trump had been in a good, almost celebratory, mood Tuesday after the confrontation he’d created. He had unleashed himself, perhaps once and for all. He was in the fight, and the fight is all.

Donald Trump seems perfectly willing to destroy the country to maintain his own power.

More broadly and big-picture, look for more of the same. Having risen to power by dividing the country, his party leadership and even, at times, his own campaign team, his aim now is to divide or discredit any institution, tradition or group in his way.

Donald Trump seems perfectly willing to destroy the country to maintain his own power. He is racing to undermine the federal political system — if not all American public life — before still-independent forces (for now, the federal courts, the press and Congress) undermine him.


The goal, as always with Trump, is to win amid the chaos he sows, to be the last man standing in rubble. And “winning” is rapidly being reduced to the raw, basic terms he prefers: brute survival. With a record-setting low approval rating, world crises everywhere and a special counsel on his tail, the main victory he can hope for is staying in office.

It’s not only an emotional imperative for Trump, it’s a deliberate ― and thus far successful ― strategy.

I am told by lawyers familiar with special counsel Robert Mueller’s methods and those of similar investigations that Mueller almost certainly obtained the president’s federal tax returns long ago. Whether Trump knows that directly or not, he has to assume it — and be driven wild by it. The counsel also has assembled an industrial-strength team of experts in international money-laundering, criminal tax fraud and forensic accounting.
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