Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” and co-author with Peter Eisner of “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
If President Donald Trump’s binky is his Twitter account – and it’s probably safe to assume it is – then his security blanket is his television. TV offers our tube-addicted President a soothing glow any time of day or night while Twitter gives him something to do with his anxious fingers. Expect both to get a workout as public hearings on his possible impeachment begin on Wednesday.
Morbidly obsessed with his own demise, in the aftermath of the testimony, Trump will undoubtedly feel the impulse to offer commentary on social media. No doubt his advisers have counseled him to refrain, but this kind of advice hasn’t stopped him yet.
The top diplomats called by Congress to testify first know all about Trump’s effort to shakedown Ukraine for dirt on his political rival Joe Biden. They were witnesses to the disruption he caused and to the dangers his action posed to both countries.
Worse for Trump is that these witnesses are serious, sober, experts who clearly place country above self, representing the opposite of the President’s manner and temperament.
That Trump finds himself facing the disgrace of the impeachment inquiry is a reflection of his hunger for attention, even when it hurts him, and a powerful reminder of his limitations. When challenged in any way, he knows only to stay the course while firing in every direction.
Never admit fault and always attack were the main political lessons taught by Roy Cohn, whom Trump adopted as a mentor back in the early 1970. Having displayed himself as a cruel inquisitor during the sordid McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, Cohn had fled Washington for New York where, as dark lord of the local legal and political scenes, he bullied and blustered until, near the end of his life, he was disbarred.
In addition to Trump, Cohn’s protégés included Roger Stone who, it so happens, is currently on trial in a federal courtroom not far from the White House. Stone’s nightmare was born of his involvement in Trump’s 2016 campaign and his response to investigators looking into his possible role in the hacking and distribution of Democrats’ emails. Like Trump, Stone has always pushed things beyond where most others would go and now he’s answering for it. (Stone has been unwavering in his proclaiming his innocence.)
In the President’s case we have both a practitioner of Cohn-style extremism and a man who couldn’t take his chance to quit while he was ahead. His current trouble was sparked on the day after special counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress about his probe of Russia’s cyberattack on the 2016 election to benefit Trump.
Although Mueller noted much evidence of Trump’s possible obstruction of justice, the day ended with the President seemingly in the clear. Not satisfied with well enough, the next day Trump made some requests of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a phone call – namely an investigation of the debunked Crowdstrike conspiracy theory, which would undermine the idea that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and an investigation of the Bidens – with an implied reward of nearly $400 million in military aid that Zelensky needed to fight invading Russian forces and their proxies.
Why did Trump press this issue? At the root of this impulse seems to be some sense that he can’t win a fair fight (thus he needs Biden’s reputation to be besmirched) or some perverse need to not only prevail, but to do so while pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes.
Delighted by dramatic schemes and surprise plot twists (remember, he was a reality TV show host) Donald Trump was likely hoping that Zelensky would also help him confirm a conspiracy theory that puts Ukraine and not Russia at the heart of the 2016 election hack. This cockamamie notion, which has no basis in fact, connects Kiev with Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party and removes the stain from Trump’s election victory. How it must tantalize him to think that with the right pressure applied here and the perfect spin there he could emerge the undisputed champion.
Only a fantasist would imagine getting away with what Trump attempted with Zelensky. But then again only a fantasist would believe that all life requires is the Roy Cohn method. Cohn himself demonstrated the error in this assumption as he died in disgrace. The President seems headed for a similar fate, victim of his own intractable impulses. Sadly, he’s taking the country along on his ride to hell. And we all may need some comfort objects of our own before it’s over.