Politics

Buck Stops Here? Not So Much for President Trump

Fox interview shows how he practices the art of distance and wiggle room

President Donald Trump leaves after chairing a United Nations (U.N.) Security Council meeting on September 26, 2018 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS | Most of Donald Trump’s predecessors endorsed the notion of the buck stopping “here,” meaning on their desks. But for the 45th president, the buck often stops elsewhere.

Trump sat down with Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace for a 15-minute interview that aired Sunday. Even though the sit-down in the White House’s Roosevelt Room was relatively brief, the president showed several times how just about everything political is fungible — especially when the stakes are high for himself.

For instance, the president teased a handful of additional Cabinet and staff changes during the interview. Then he said he might just switch out two more officials. From his staff to whether he will sit down with Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III to the outcome of the midterm elections, Trump often makes declarative statements, while leaving just enough wiggle room to make one of his frequent changes of mind.

‘I won the Senate’

The midterms look worse for Trump and Republicans than they did the day after Election Day, when he painted House losses as a historically lighter blow than his modern predecessors suffered while touting the GOP’s Senate gains. During a rowdy press conference on Nov. 7, he declared the election “close to a complete victory.”

Fast forward to nearly two weeks later and Democrats are poised to pick up around 40 House seats. Wallace pressed Trump on this point, but the president refused anew to repeat some version of George W. Bush’s 2006 admission of suffering a “thumping” or Barack Obama’s 2010 “shellacking” assessment.

“Excuse me, I won the Senate,” he interjected sharply.

The buck, in short, stops elsewhere when it comes to House GOP losses.

On the ballot?

“I’m not on the ballot, but in a certain way I’m on the ballot, so please go out and vote,” Trump urged a crowd of supporters in Southaven, Mississippi, on Oct. 2.

Fast forward 46 days: “But I have people and you see the polls, how good they are, I have people that won’t vote unless I’m on the ballot, OK? And I wasn’t on the ballot,” he said before saying he personally tipped Senate and gubernatorial races in Florida and Georgia that have officially been secured by the GOP candidates.

The president’s attempts to build some wiggle room into what happened on Election Day boils down to a claim that he cannot control what his supporters do.

“I didn’t run. I wasn’t running. My name wasn’t on the ballot,” he said. “‘Sir, we’ll never vote unless you’re on the ballot.’ I get it all the time. … As much as I try and convince people to go vote, I’m not on the ballot.” Shorter Trump: Don’t blame me — I did my part.

Finished. ‘Probably.’

As he did in the Fox interview, the president has vacillated for months about whether or not he will sit for an interview with Mueller. At one point Sunday, he appeared to rule it out.

“I think we’ve wasted enough time on this witch hunt and the answer is probably, we’re finished,” the president said of his intention to submit to the special counsel written answers he claims to have penned himself but have been worked on extensively by his legal team.

But there’s that penchant for wiggle room again.

“We gave very, very complete answers to a lot of questions that I shouldn’t have even been asked and I think that should solve the problem. I hope it solves the problem,” he said. “If it doesn’t, you know, I’ll be told and we’ll make a decision at that time.”

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