Major Garrett has been reporting on the White House for nearly two decades, covering four different presidencies for three news outlets. But if he thought that his distinguished journalistic career had prepared him for the unique challenges of covering Donald Trump, he was in for a surprise.
Like many others in Washington, Garrett found himself having to unlearn many of his own settled notions about the nature and function of the presidency. He also had to separate the carnival-like noise of the Trump presidency from its underlying substance. For even in its first half, Trump’s tenure has been highly consequential.
In Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride, Major Garrett provides what journalists are often said to do, but usually don’t: a true first draft of history. His goal was to sift through the mountains of distracting tweets and shrieking headlines in order to focus on the most significant moments of Trump’s young presidency, the ones that Garrett believes will have a lasting impact. The result is an authoritative, mature, and consistently entertaining account of one of the strangest eras in American political history.
A consummate professional with unimpeachable integrity, remarkable storytelling skills, and a deep knowledge of his subject earned through decades of experience, Garrett brings to life the twists and turns of covering this White House and its unconventional occupant with wit, sagacity and style. Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride should place him securely in the first rank of Washington journalists.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
MAJOR GARRETT has been a fixture in executive branch reporting for seventeen years, serving as a White House correspondent for three news outlets during the last four administrations. He has been CBS News' Chief White House Correspondent since 2012, and is a substitute anchor of Face the Nation. GARRETT graduated from the University of Missouri with degrees in journalism and political science. A native of San Diego, he lives in Washington, D.C.
Read an Excerpt
Does Trump Matter?
The first year of the Trump presidency ended as it had begun: a cauldron of confusion, legislative disarray, international disbelief, Democratic rage and Republican bewilderment — all simmering over the coals of racism. That's one perspective. Every part of it objectively accurate. Another is Trump's first year ended with a smashing legislative victory that lowered individual and corporate tax rates and simplified the tax code for the first time since 1986. That capped a year of accelerating economic growth, a hefty populating of the federal bench with judicial conservatives, a new European conversation edging toward Trumpian precepts on immigration and military burden-sharing and revamped federal regulations as unabashedly pro-business as any administration since Ronald Reagan.
These vastly different interpretations of Trump's first year, both accurate, illustrate the conundrum that is Trump and his confounding presidency. It accomplished as it appalled. It was chaotic, confusing and, despite itself, historically competent. Much of the hand-wringing that was visited upon Trump's first year was, justifiably, focused upon this unique new president's effect on American institutions — the White House, Congress, the courts, the free press, even the resilience of America's identity — and what shape they would find themselves in at the end, however long it might be, of Trump's reign.
Trump matters more than we can currently comprehend. His very presidency still startles because it's real, and the reality TV part is both a joke and a truism. Historians have long debated how much the president reflects the country or the country comes to reflect the president. Trump is the first president never to have held public office or to have led armies to victory in battle. Already this tells us something about a new American idea of what makes a president. Personally, Trump disdained politics and avoided active duty military service. He is a hero and an antihero at the same time. His long history of self-promotion and fascination with tabloid culture fits more seamlessly than we might want to admit into our current selfie and social media mind-set and mania — a place where relentless self-branding can be a path to notoriety, infamy, riches and at times all three.
From the moment of his election, Trump was a force for and a crucible of division ... and devotion. His presidency, quite apart from its record, is already original. No one has been more publicly tempestuous, dare we say stormy, with the words and mannerisms of the presidency. Trump is recklessly authentic — a living, breathing, orangish and hair-sprayed Rorschach test of what early-21st-century America wants and expects from politics and the presidency. Importantly, Trump is also a barometer of how much we as a nation are prepared for this highly personalized and vocalized presidency to permeate — through the minor miracle of digital technology — every moment of our waking lives. Eleven days into Trump's presidency, one of the great satirists of our times, Jon Stewart, read aloud on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert a mock executive order: 'I, Donald J. Trump, do declare by executive order that I, Donald J. Trump, am exhausting.' It has been 11 days, Stephen," Stewart said to the host. "Eleven fucking days. Eleven! The presidency is supposed to age the president, not the public. We have never faced this before. Purposeful, vindictive chaos." Part of Trump's originalism exists within that humor, that truth and that collective (and possibly exaggerated) anxiety.
And yet on Inauguration Day, my CBS colleague Dean Reynolds was in Kenosha, Wisconsin, one of the crucial states in Trump's electoral map. He was surveying voter attitudes and expectations at Frank's Diner. "I think you got a country that's fed up with the establishment and they wanted change and they didn't want a politician," said Jim Roberts, a Kenosha city worker. Glen Woods, sitting at the diner's counter, summed up the Trump mystique. "He's a pit bull. He swam upstream against both parties. I've never seen that before." Reynolds asked if Woods considered Trump a disruptive force. "Oh, absolutely. Tear 90 percent of it down. He was the only candidate who seemed to really hammer in that you can't tell people to go get a job if there aren't any." All presidencies arrive with lofty expectations. Historic ones leave behind big ideas and big changes. What kind of presidency is Trump's? What kind of president is he?
Legislatively, Trump's first year was both active and inert. He failed with the legislative goal that started his presidency — repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act — and succeeded on his biggest legislative push, to reduce corporate and individual tax rates and simplify the federal tax code for the first time since 1986. He also nominated and saw confirmed a Supreme Court Justice, nominated another Supreme Court Justice in 2018, peppered the federal judiciary with constitutional originalists and allied with the GOP-led Congress to dismantle many Obama-era regulations.
In between this activism lay months of headline-grabbing nothingness — another novelty. Here is a short list of campaign promises that became vaporous memories: paid family leave; infrastructure; criminal justice reform; combatting the opioid crisis; price controls on prescription drugs. Even in the second year, these promises received token attention or none at all. What Trump did achieve came by virtue of two tools: executive orders (which he had scorned Obama for) and simple majority bludgeoning in the Senate. If legislation required compromise or a modicum of cleverness, it often eluded Trump and the Republican-led Congress (a problem that persisted in 2018). Throughout the first year, Trump would rage about the glacial pace of Washington, about how little Republicans accomplished on his behalf and how much of his agenda was stalled. He papered over these anxieties with cartoonish tweets — also a new presidential coping mechanism.
This reminded me of an interview I did with Trump in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a few days before the primary. The main topic was Trump's unexpected spat with Pope Francis over immigration. But I sensed Trump was heading for a big victory in South Carolina and from there had a bead on the GOP nomination. I wanted to talk about the massive crowds that came to see Trump at almost every step along the way. Their expectations for Trump appeared limitless. I knew well the frustrations of past presidents I had covered and how the office could consume them and how frustrations with the slow pace of change could make the most powerful person on the planet feel hemmed in, stuck and always, always, always underappreciated and overcriticized. I reminded Trump of Dwight Eisenhower's predicament as president, the very one President Harry Truman predicted with reporters from the Oval Office shortly before Eisenhower's inauguration: "He'll sit right here, and he'll say 'do this, do that'! And nothing will happen. Poor Ike. It won't be a bit like the Army. He'll find it very frustrating."
I stood with Trump directly behind the blue drape separating him from the stage and the thousands of people who had been standing in line in the parking lot outside since before dawn.
"Do you ever worry if you're elected president you will let them down, that you can't accomplish all the things you're hoping to accomplish?"
Trump looked at me appreciatively. This was a question about being president. Now, he was really getting somewhere.
"I will be so disappointed in myself," he said. "We're going to have strong borders. We're going to have a great military that hopefully we won't have to use. We're going to take care of our vets. We're going to get rid of Obamacare, replace it with really good and much less expensive care. We're going to get rid of Common Core and have local education. There are so many things to do. Our country's so far behind. We owe 19 trillion dollars and we're going to start chopping away at that. No, I don't want to let these people down."
"Do you feel," I asked, "like that's a burden, though, if you become president?"
"It's a burden," Trump said. "It makes it tougher, but I don't want to let these people down. And you're right. People come here seven, eight hours in advance. I say, 'What are you doing?' They want to come. And I won't let them down."
At the end of his first year, Trump made some inroads on border security and military funding, but not nearly as much as he had promised or anticipated. He failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and by 2018 that goal had completely vanished from his agenda or long-term aspirations. Some states left Common Core but at their initiative and not at the behest of Trump's Education Department. As for the national debt, it rose on Trump's watch to more than $21 trillion. The gulf between reality and those Myrtle Beach promises — as well as others — haunted Trump and he became much like his predecessors, irritated with the inability to move matters along. Those frustrations were taken out on White House staff and cabinet secretaries, many of whom resigned or were fired. Trump found the job, at times, bigger than he had imagined. Interestingly, that appeared more often with domestic matters than with his initial encounters with foreign leaders.
During Trump's first year, world leaders came calling in droves. They were as startled as half of America. They quickly realized how nationalistic Trump was and how much of his rhetoric was real. Washington was shifting and many leaders, at least rhetorically, began to adapt. As the year wore on, heads of state adopted some code words on trade, immigration and burden-sharing (spending more on military operations to take the pressure off the United States). Whether this reflects a genuine change or temporary tactical adjustment is unclear. What is clear is that Trump forced the country and the world to study what "America First" meant. Trump stepped away from multilateralism. He stepped toward tariffs. He resurrected the word "reciprocal" to describe new trade arrangements. In Europe and Asia, these words crept into the conversation. The Trump effect on language was real.
Politically, Trump inspired a political backlash that imperiled Republican majorities in the House and Senate. In numerous elections in 2017 turnout among Democrats exceeded projections while Republican turnout met historical projections or fell short. Even in special elections Republicans won, the victory margins were startlingly small. Democrats won races in unexpected places like Alabama (U.S. Senate), Wisconsin (state legislature and supreme court), Oklahoma (legislature) and Virginia (governor and legislature). Republicans consider this midterm cycle (2018) the most daunting since the party lost the House and Senate in 2006. History shall be found in the action and reaction of this year's midterms — will pro-Trumpers rally to the president's cause? Will Democratic-leaning voters storm the polls in an act of post-2016 primal scream therapy?
Trump also transformed media coverage of the presidency. Trump arrived at the White House as a political novice, a billionaire (at least on paper), a full-blown media celebrity, global merchandiser, golf course developer, hospitality brand and real estate mogul. He checked more media boxes than any previous president and brought reporters from politics, business and entertainment crashing through the White House gates. New rituals developed. I began showing up to the daily White House briefing 15 minutes ahead of schedule to avoid having to swim through the daily standing-room-only crowd clogging the aisles of the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. News organizations like mine had to set up elaborate, multilayered work shifts at the White House to keep pace with Trump's news-making activity. Some organizations went on hiring binges to meet the demands. White House reporters who used to take meetings and leave the White House to return to their newsrooms became like hermits, staying for hours in the cramped press room or in the briefing room theater seats — fearful that if they left they might miss something. The press room is small. This wasn't a workable option for everyone. Other reporters began camping out in neighboring coffee shops — staying close so they could run over for a just-announced press conference or statement or to seek comment on the latest blunderbuss Trump tweet.
White House coverage has for years been built around TV coverage. The pictures told the story. Well, it takes time to position cameras and connect all the cables that bring the sweep of the presidency to the world. Every White House I have covered built its schedule around this reality and gave the networks and cable channels ample time to prepare. This was not an act of supplication but a realization that properly staged shots and calm technicians produced higher quality pictures. The planning burden thus fell upon the White Houses. Trump reversed that. He sprang events on journalists, knowing they would jump when he commanded and those who did not jump fast enough would be lost — and then better prepared to jump faster the next time.
Another new ritual developed: small hordes of reporters would perform an awkward walk-dance, their cell phones dangling from outstretched arms, chasing White House officials for the scrap of a quote or some nugget of news whenever they emerged from the West Wing for a North Lawn TV interview. (The North Lawn is where all TV stand-up locations, wired for light and sound, have been permanently constructed.) On Capitol Hill, still more hordes of walk-dancing reporters shuffled up and down the hallways, asking lawmakers about Trump's latest tweet or news development. Everything about Trump felt newsy — even when it wasn't. It was a feeding frenzy and I'm sure it felt that way to harried viewers and news-alert cell phone readers.
The Trump story did not deliver the same ratings gold as the campaign, but it was a hell of a journalistic ride just the same. News organizations had a 24/7 story with a charismatic central character, the grandeur of the White House, big issues, real change, politics, celebrity, scandal, soap opera personalities, firings, resignations, humiliations, vicious White House intrigues and an unpredictable parade of slipups, tweetstorms and meltdowns. To be in the middle of it day-in, day-out felt like what I imagine it would be to witness Cirque du Soleil on acid.
Trump also called into question what journalism is and should be. It became an emotional topic in the press room and across the country. What is fake news? Who is dishonest? Does the media hate Trump? Was coverage skeptical or loathing? Many Trump supporters noticed how aggressive reporters became about administration travel expenses, agency staffing, internal bureaucratic clashes, policy disagreements and wondered, not unreasonably, where that intensity was during Obama's or Bush's presidency. To Trump supporters, inquisitive reporters appeared to have a vendetta; their scrutiny seemed disproportionate. Opponents of Trump's found new vitality in the press and rediscovered a lost appreciation for the Fourth Estate. Big newspapers like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post vastly increased their staff size and erected investigative teams to bloodhound the administration — gaining subscribers and market share along the way. Trump pushed back with harsh denunciations. The free press fought back and after a year the forces remained implacably at odds. Trump and his supporters were certain they were getting a raw, biased deal. Journalists and those reassured by their hard work rediscovered the power and purpose of a free press. This clash carries the whiff of history.
An equally important question is whether Trump is changing the Republican Party. This matters greatly while the GOP controls Congress and possibly just as much if Republicans lose control of the House and/or Senate depending on the degree of loyalty to Trump after what might be a 2018 midterm deluge. Another important question: during his first year was Trump a force for domestic policy or did he hitch a ride on the ideological bandwagon Ronald Reagan built and that finally came of age when Trump was elected? On a series of issues, the answer is patently clear: Trump was a means to a predetermined Republican end. He was the final actor and that makes him historically important. Without his signature and advocacy nothing becomes law. In every other sense, though, in 2017 he was a bystander who rarely provided original legislative direction or durable political cover. His achievements reflected not so much his political acumen, guile or clout as the Reagan and Tea Party influences that sought to harness Trump after his unexpected triumph.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Mr. Trump's Wild Ride"
Copyright © 2018 Major Garrett.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue: What I Should Have Learned,
Chapter One: Does Trump Matter?,
Chapter Two: The Lottery Ticket,
Chapter Three: Central Casting,
Chapter Four: Neil Gorsuch,
Chapter Five: Immigration,
Chapter Six: Jeff Sessions,
Chapter Seven: 10 Days in May,
Chapter Eight: Saudi Arabia and the Middle East,
Chapter Nine: Health Care Failure,
Chapter Ten: Race,
Chapter Eleven: North Korea,
Chapter Twelve: Deregulation,
Chapter Thirteen: Tax Reform,
Mr. Trump's Wild Statistics,
About the Author,
Also by Major Garrett,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews