DANIEL VAUGHAN: No matter how you look at it, the anonymous NYT op-ed defeats its own purpose

September 7, 2018

I’ve scoured the internet in search of any rational reason why The New York Times published an anonymously written opinion column by “a senior official in the Trump administration” — but I’ve yet to find a single good reason why that column exists, whether it’s real or fake.

The essay, published late Wednesday, tries to make the case that there’s a group of officials in the White House who have formed a sort of quasi-resistance against President Donald Trump. The writer goes to considerable lengths to insist it’s not a left-wing resistance, however.

According to the author, all the things conservatives like about the current White House were only made possible by this “other resistance.” (Apparently, if something conservatives didn’t like happened, it was probably Trump himself.)

I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of the argument.

The problem is that it just doesn’t make any sense to write it, from any vantage point.

Let’s say the column is a fake and the New York Times invented the entire episode. That would go down as one of the most politically destructive moves by a newspaper ever.

First Amendment protections are pretty broad, and while I don’t know how a court would handle a lawsuit against a column like that, I just can’t imagine any newspaper general counsel green-lighting that column. The legal risks are just too high for the paper.

All of that risk just to run a column to poke the President of the United States? That seems unlikely.

People also floated the idea that the column was purposely faked by pro-Trump factions in the White House to conjure up an excuse to flush out people who are less than loyal to the president. The New York Post op-ed editor Seth Mandel described this theory best:

“The only possible author that makes any sense is a full-MAGAite who is trying to undermine the ‘two track presidency’ and undo the moderating influence of others by forcing Trump to clamp down on dissent and fold the second track back into MAGAland,” Mandel tweeted. “Let me put it this way: it is incomprehensible that someone who was genuinely seeking to protect the ‘moderate track’ would put four sticks of dynamite under the only steady floorboard of this White House.”

But while that may be a plausible theory, I still don’t think it’s likely in this case that the Trump administration faked an op-ed to expunge people they don’t trust. The New York Times ran this essay, and it’s unlikely they’d want to run something that would be beneficial to the Trump administration.

This leaves us with only one option: that a true believer wrote the column. And that means it’s a self-own so bad, it destroys its own argument.

As Ross Douthat, an NYT opinion columnist himself, said, it makes sense for the Times to publish such a column. But it doesn’t make much sense for the author to write it. Here’s why:

First, let’s assume all the presumptions in the article are correct. Even if the anonymous “senior official” views their job in the White House as one that involves protecting the country from the poor decisions of the president, why would he or she ever write a column bragging about that fact?

The publication of the column almost ensured that the president and his allies would try to flush out those pushing back against Trump’s agenda. In short, the author has made targets of all the people who he or she claimed were doing good work.

Brit Hume of Fox News agreed with this sentiment, saying: “If you’re in the Trump admin[istration] seeking to restrain his most reckless impulses, you’re doing the Lord’s work. If you write an anonymous article attacking him and taking credit for the administration’s achievements, you’re not.”

Additionally, if a true believer wrote this essay, then all they did was prove that Trump’s narrative about the deep-state trying to undermine him is true. The anonymous author’s less-than-reassuring words on this front?

“This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state,” they wrote. “It’s the work of the steady state.”

But just because you change the words doesn’t mean you’re not the same thing that Trump accuses you of being. You’re still a government bureaucrat opposing the will of a duly elected leader.

In short, the column set out to describe a situation in which people — particularly White House staffers — are working hard to protect the country. But the result was an essay that effectively describes a shadow government of people opposing a duly elected leader.

Jonah Goldberg at National Review raised a point worth considering: the writer of this column may be trying to preempt criticism ahead of his or her post-Trump presidency life.

But then again, if self-preservation is the goal of this column, then that also defeats its stated purpose. Self-preservation means you’re not out to save the country — you’re only out to save yourself.

Still, the problem is not that administration officials are opposing or questioning the president. History is replete with countless examples where the restraint of some White House official was an unmistakable good for the country as a whole.

But those officials didn’t then boast about their accomplishments in a column for the Times.

I don’t believe the conspiracy theories around this column. You can explain most of its issues by blaming pride and gross incompetence.

In the end, the column is nothing more than a self-defeating essay that only further harms all of its stated goals. The author, whoever they may be, should have never written it.


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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.