«Trump is too stupid to go to war»

In an interview, Michael Wolff, author of the bestselling book Fire and Fury, tells «Schweiz am Wochenende» that the Trump presidency has entered a new, dramatic phase. Even if the Republicans hold the House in the midterm elections, Wolff sees several «potentially mortal events» for Trump: Robert Mueller, Russia, the women, and new scandals.

Patrik Müller, New York
Michael Wolff in his apartment.

Michael Wolff in his apartment.

Ali Smith/Redux/laif

Michael Wolff, you must be a rich man...

Michael Wolff: So they tell me.

How many copies of Fire and Fury have been sold?

Two million in the U.S., and now up to one million in Europe.

Since the book‘s release in January, Trump‘s presidency has become even more dramatic: He has been firing secretaries and top advisers in a weekly circle, and two former mistresses revealed their sex affairs with Trump. When will you publish part two?

Very good question. When I was doing the book, I knew that this was the first act of his presidency, and that there will be two more acts. We are clearly in the second act: Everyone is coming to the understanding that this is an imperiled president; that there are poison-tipped arrows coming at him from all directions.

In the first phase of Trump‘s presidency, which you describe, at least three different fractions were fighting each other in the White House.

Exactly. It was chaos.

In the last few weeks, it seems, the presidency has entered a new phase: Trump now fires everybody who isn‘t 100%in line with him.

You can say now: He is alone. He is home alone right now.

Really? He removed Rex Tillerson and H. R. McMaster, but he replaced them with loyalists, who don‘t question his agenda and his instincts. He still finds secretaries and advisors.

It‘s very hard for him to find them. The advisors who he is choosing now are in fact the only people who take these jobs. It‘s even worse with his lawyers: Literally no lawyer would take this job.

Trump tweeted that every law firm would like to work for him.

The lawyers he has now are either lawyers who are in retirement or there are no lawyers. Not only are we looking forward to the impeachment of this president, but we are looking forward to him going to the impeachment without any lawyers.

More than ever, Trump relies only on himself. Isn‘t this a sign of his independence: From the Washington establishment, and also from the Republican Party?

More and more, yes.

Ali Smith/Redux/laif

What should be wrong about this? That‘s what his voters wanted.

What did they really want? One of the ways you can look at this is: After a generation or more of increasing disillusion of politics and politicians, people elected the exact opposite. Here is a man who is temperamentally, verbally, intellectually and sexually the opposite of what we think a politician should be. And that‘s what he is. It‘s the great experiment. And it‘s a failed experiment.

According to a new CNN poll, Trump is more popular than his party. How do you explain this?

If anything about the Trump era has taught us, it is to be careful of polls.

Many of the new appointees have been television commentators — for example Larry Kudlov, his new economic advisor, and John Bolton, the new national security advisor. Why does Trump like media guys?

He does like media people, but as I said, in this instance, he is literally hiring any people who want to work for him. I know and I like Larry Kudlow, but his job at CNBC has come to its last... (hesitating)

His television career was over?

Yes. John Bolton the same. He needed a new job.

You are a media guy, too: How would you react if Trump offered you a job in his administration?

Among the many things that might improbably happen in this world that‘s probably the most improbable.

After all, Trump promoted your book by posting a lot of angry tweets about you, which is what you hoped for.

I am grateful.

To what extent does Fox news determine Trump‘s political views and even decisions? He tweets while watching Fox and Friends in the morning.

This is true. But it‘s also a slight, but important, misnomer. He doesn‘t really watch Fox. He watches CNN, because he thinks that‘s the big brand. And there is something he is drawn to. It‘s more that he reacts against CNN that he reacts to Fox.

You repeatedly write in your book that Trump wants to be loved by the media. Is this why he reacts to CNN and gives The New York Times which he denounces as “fake news,” most of his interviews?

Completely, he seeks their respect. It‘s a delusion and one of the Trumpian things: He doesn‘t understand why The New York Times and other prestigious media might not like him. Well, I asked Donald Trump, “Why do you speak to The New York Times?”

And what was his answer?

”Because they are The New York Times.

Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul and owner of Fox News, is an important person for Trump. How do you judge the relationship between the two old men?

It‘s very clear: Murdoch thinks Trump is an idiot. At the same time, Murdoch thinks it‘s important to have a relationship with the person who is president, particularly when he might be able to bring significant influence to that relationship. I think that‘s going on. On Trump‘s part, he thinks Rupert Murdoch is the ultimate businessman, the ultimate man of accomplishment.

Trump sees many leading news media such as The New York Times, The Washington Post , and CNN as “enemies.”. Do they react accurately to his attacks? Or do they overreact by giving up their objectivity?

We‘re in this weird symbiotic relationship. Both need each other; both benefit from each other. Trump is the golden goose for every media outlet. It‘s a kind of almost sexualized relationship. They both have tremors of excitement for each other.

Every Trump headline is a clickbait, but do the news outlets benefit in the long run?

From a business standpoint, there is no long run. Every media outlet is trying to squeeze Donald Trump for everything that he is worth, understanding that when he goes away, we are all screwed.

Will we be screwed without Trump?

Well, the media business will be screwed. Many news media now literally survive on Donald Trump.

He tweets all the time and attacks every critic, but he never mentioned adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and the other woman who says she had a sexual affair with him. Are these women a threat to his presidency?

Yes, they are very much. Remember that since Trump‘s pussy-gate crisis, the whole world has undergone a cultural revolution — in parts because of this crisis. The ultimate target of this movement is Donald Trump. He certainly is the most vivid symbol of what this whole new understanding of harassment is about. He is possibly the greatest harasser ever.

Why do you see this as a big threat?

In this case, and only in this case, Trump follows his lawyer‘s advice and doesn‘t tweet. This shows how seriously he takes this threat.

It’s a threat to his marriage, too.


Will his marriage last longer than the presidency?

I don’t know. By all the evidence, there is a series of arrangements in this marriage. Well, I think in most marriages there are arrangements. But his are more unusual.

In your book, you mention First Lady Melania only a few times. What‘s your take on her role?

I think there is no role. That’s no part of the arrangement. She doesn‘t want a role, and he doesn‘t want her to have a role.

The biggest threat to Trump’s presidency is, most likely, a man: Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Could the Russia probe end up in an impeachment?

Definitely. But I am not even sure if Mueller is the biggest threat. The most immediate risk is that the Republicans are going to lose control of the House in the midterm elections and Trump is facing an impeachment. But Robert Mueller is obviously a significant threat.

Steve Bannon, Trump‘s former chief strategist, told you he believed that there is a 33.3% chance that the Mueller investigation would lead to impeachment. Do you agree with Bannon‘s judgement?

Today, this number has probably grown. I would put that well over 50%.

If Trump fires Robert Mueller would that be, according to the Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the beginning of the end of the presidency?

I would argue that the end has already begun. Mueller‘s dismissal would certainly accelerate this process. This would not be survivable.

It seems clear that the Russians meddled in the 2016 election, favoring the Trump campaign. But the big question is: Did Trump collude with the Russians? What do you think?

In order to have a collusion or a conspiracy, you have to have intent. And it is very hard to prove intent. Stupidity can be a defense against intent. And these guys are certainly stupid, and they are certainly capable of doing things out of stupidity rather than out of design.

Stupidity could protect Trump from an indictment?

Maybe. On the other hand, you obviously have an effort to undermine this investigation, which would seem likely to be an example of an effort to obstruct justice. I don‘t know what the smoking gun is here. I do know that what you will have is a devastating picture of actions that wouldn‘t be hard to describe as impeachable offenses.

Trump once said: “I like conflicts.“ Could it be that he might even like an impeachment, because this would put him in center stage for months?

The Trump habit is to declare victory in circumstances which other people would find to be examples of failure. It‘s just a talent of temperament he has. I think if he could find a way out of this presidency and declare victory, he would take it. He could identify impeachment as an extremely partisan effort to remove him — the legitimate president — from office.

Then he would celebrate himself as a martyr.

For sure.

The biggest conflict, the biggest show in Trump‘s view could be a war. He just appointed several hawkish advisors. Do you think he could seek a war against Iran, against North Korea?

I do not believe that Donald Trump has the ability to go to war. War is an incredibly complex, bureaucratic undertaking. It‘s not just pushing the button. You have to make a whole series of decisions that lead you to that point. Making one decision mandates five other decisions. We are in an intellectual ecosystem that Trump could literally not function in. He is not capable — too stupid if you will — to actually go to war.

Perhaps he sees himself capable of going to war.

This doesn‘t make any difference. You have to sit in the room. He can‘t stand more than three minutes in the room with the generals. He cannot do it. The image that we have of war as something stupid is not true. It‘s complicated, too complicated for Donald Trump, and if he tried, this would become manifest. He cannot let this happen.

Trump's stupidity protects the U.S. from war.

I believe so, yes.

What about the meeting with Kim. The North Korean leader is said to be carefully preparing for the conversation with the president. And Trump?

This meeting won‘t ever happen.

What makes you so sure?

It‘s in neither of their interests that this meeting does happen. Donald Trump will be dissuaded in so many instances from this happening.

Assume it does happen. How would this conservation unfold?

Then it would be just a symbolic statement rather than any negotiations.

It‘s in Trump‘s interest to prove himself to be the best dealmaker: Only he can take Kim‘s nukes.

You are thinking in traditional political terms. You have a rational view of cause and effect. This is not what Trump does. He doesn‘t know anything about North Korea and the nukes. And, besides: He is not a dealmaker. He is a person who sometimes takes credit for other people‘s deals. Make a deal, that‘s a detail-oriented process, and he cannot do details.

I‘m wondering how this 71-year-old man physically gets through his very busy, dizzy days with the multifront-war on his many enemies and the execution of his office. And he still has enough time to watch TV!

Every day for this president is an existential day. How do you survive this? He gets through this as he has gotten through his whole life: He watches television and calls friends. He does not work very hard.

Sometimes he seems to enjoy his job.

He likes the process of people coming into his office and praising him, and, in return, praising them. He loves that. But he hates many other things. Part of the second act of this presidency is that he understands now that he is the target. When Robert Mueller subpoenaed the Trump organization records, this was a “oh shit” moment for Trump.

Robert Mueller was appointed after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Does he regret his decision?

I don‘t think that he has enough self-awareness to criticize his own actions.

You describe a devastating picture of this president and of this presidency. Don’t you underestimate him? Trump has a very loyal base, and as president, he has gained support from many traditional republicans.

His base has not expanded to the extent he wanted it to expand since he took office. Trump doesn‘t have a party that stands behind him. And there is an overwhelming likelihood that Congress will shift in a way that will be a mortal event.

But when the Republicans hold their majority in the House, Trump has a good chance to survive his term.

If the Republicans hold the House, we still have potentially mortal events: Mueller, Russia, the women, new scandals...

What about Steve Bannon, Trump‘s former chief strategist: Will he recover from the excommunication, initiated by the president because of Bannon’s illoyal quotes in your book?

I don‘t see him in this administration anymore. Steve Bannon wasn‘t really happy working for Donald Trump. Bannon sees Trump as a passing chapter in a much bigger story: the nationalist-populist revolution, which is, for him, a global phenomenon.

Most people are all hungry for Trump stories, whether they love or hate him. We can‘t stop watching. Why is this?

It‘s not that complicated: A trainwreck is a trainwreck, and a television performer is a television performer — you can‘t take your eyes off. Trump is performing for the camera and for the audience. Let‘s remove the issues of good and evil and right or left, and you just have a world-class character here.

The day comes when we will be fed up.

Maybe in terms of politics, but you have to look at this in terms of drama. Who doesn‘t get up and think: Oh my God, this is incredible. In-cre-di-ble! Never once during eight years of Obama did anybody wake up and say, “This is incredible.” Just on any empirical bases: Trump is the greatest story of all time.