Peril: Does the Word Apply More to Trump or Biden?


Photo from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff | Flickr

Photo from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff | Flickr

The hottest book in the country is Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s Peril. It’s a look at both the 2020 campaign and the final days of the Trump administration. 

The book is an indictment of trump personally and relies heavily on the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley. So concerned was Milley about President Tump’s degrading mental state that he used a back-door communication to try to assuage Chinese concerns that Trump would be able to unilaterally start a nuclear war. 

Peril further details the lengths to which Trump was willing to go to hold onto power, including the existence of a two-page memo. It is a battle plan prepared by lawyer John Eastman, laying out a strategy whereby VP Mike Pence would facilitate the overturning of the election outcome. The plan was to either have Pence outright declare Trump the winner or throw the matter to the House of Representatives where a GOP margin would enable Trump to stay in office.   

The Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, re-affirmed to Pence that he was simply a vote counter. Period. 

His old Hoosier buddy Dan Quayle said likewise. And remember John Yoo, the now-Berkeley law professor who wrote memos providing a legal basis for the Bush 43 administration to use hard interrogation or torture methods? He wouldn’t support the idea either.  

Thank god Pence didn’t go along with the coup attempt, but the book has provided a roadmap for further investigation by the House select committee investigating January 6. It is full of allegations of an unfit president hell-bent on holding power. No wonder the book has a one-word title meaning “serious and immediate danger.”  

Which is why a scene in the book toward the end is so incongruent. Trump’s pollster, John McLaughlin, visits the former president last June in Bedminster, New Jersey. He came armed with the results of a recent survey. It showed that 73% of Republicans want him to run again and 82% said they would support him if he got into a primary campaign. 

“These numbers, your numbers are better than what Reagan had,” McLaughlin tells him. “The pendulum is going to swing back, Mr. President. Just be patient. Hang back and wait and see what happens, and there will be buyer’s remorse about Biden.” 

To a reader of Peril, the idea seems fantastical – at odds with the nearly 400 pages that preceded the anecdote. Is it buyer’s remorse about Biden when he followed Trump?

And yet, here we are. Eight months into the Biden administration, and no, he does not pose a perilous threat to the nation, but he is facing political peril.  

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not drawing a moral equivalency between Trump and Biden. I’m saying one brought the nation to peril and the other now finds himself in a perilous place, politically speaking.  

A combination of crises have caused the president’s approval rating to tank, and the relief he hoped to get from the passage of a major, bipartisan infrastructure deal is now in jeopardy.    

First, there was Afghanistan. While a majority of Americans supported the president’s decision to get out, but the withdrawal was haphazard and calamitous for 13 of our servicemen and women. Plus three days after the terror attack that killed Americans at the Kabul airport, a U.S. drone killed 10 innocent Afghans, 7 of them children.  

Then there’s the pandemic. The U.S. vaccination rate is 47th in the world. We are 55 point 1 percent vaccinated. No other wealthy nation is so vaccine-poor. As a result, we are struggling to put an end to the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, there are the harrowing images from Del Rio, Texas of thousands of Haitian migrants who are amassed on our southern border – no doubt motivated to make a dangerous trek because of mixed messaging from the administration on whether the border is open. 

And our oldest ally, France, just recalled its ambassador in protest over the administration’s lack of consultation after reaching a new submarine pact with Australia and Britain.  

Against this backdrop, maybe it’s no wonder that Biden’s approval ratings have dropped significantly since earlier this year. The three most recent polls show an average decline of 11 points compared with around the 100-day mark of his presidency. According to new Gallup numbers released this week, Biden’s job approval now sits at just 43 percent, while a majority (53 percent) disapprove of how he has handled his duties.  

Where he’s showing his greatest decline is with independents. Just 37 percent approve, that’s his lowest to date, and 24 points below his high of 61 percent. The president says he’s unconcerned. 

Remember, I said it’s going to take me a year to deliver everything I’m looking at here. That’s number one. Number two, take a look at what I inherited when I came into office. 

This is a process, and it’s going to be up and down. That’s why I don’t look at the polls. [Biden giggles] Not a joke. 

Relief was hoped for at the White House with the passage of the bipartisan 1.2 trillion dollar infrastructure bill which would fund overdue repairs to American bridges, rail, and broadband.   

But there’s a stalemate between Democratic House moderates – who want immediate passage of that bill – and Democratic House progressives, who want Biden to go bigger, or they might go home.  

Biden’s political peril is no doubt pleasing to the man in Bedminster, who brought a different kind of peril to the nation. 

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