Books on Donald Trump are by authors who either like him or can’t stand him. Finally there’s one – Team of Vipers, by his former special assistant Cliff Sims – which falls into neither camp.
A former journalist in Alabama, the young, religious Mr. Sims signed up with Mr. Trump’s communications team for the 2016 election. He rose swiftly in the ranks, gained the man-child’s confidence, and became part of his inner circle.
But resentment built among others and he was ousted in an internal power struggle. He’d hoped the President would come to his rescue, but that didn’t happen. The lead viper found him disposable – as he does most everyone else.
Now, with the publication of a book that is the most revealing I have read on this President, Mr. Trump and Mr. Sims are commencing legal action against one another.
Mr. Trump has denounced Team of Vipers as fiction by a low-level staffer. But while it reaffirms all the well-known negatives about the 45th President – impulsive, erratic, ignorant – it is by no means one-sided.
Mr. Sims, who trashes Bob Woodward’s reporting on the President in his book, sees him as “a man of extraordinary talents.” Beyond the tumultuous temperament on public display, he writes that Mr. Trump is “the most methodical, patient person I’ve ever seen in the midst of a crisis.” When the Access Hollywood tape was released late in the campaign, causing Republicans to enter full, crawling-up-the-walls panic mode, Mr. Sims found Mr. Trump, who had already been hardened by so many celebrity scandals, not only defiant but actually “relaxed – placid.”
After the news broke, he asked a staffer, a former swimsuit model, if she was offended. She said she couldn’t understand why everyone was so upset. Not buying it, Mr. Trump told her not to be afraid of telling the truth. But she reiterated that she wasn’t offended.
Mr. Sims was within earshot. Walking past him, Mr. Trump noticed the doubt on his face. He tapped him on the chest with the back of his hand and said calmly, “Don’t worry about it, We’ll be fine, believe me.”
To understand Mr. Trump, writes Mr. Sims, you have to understand what he cares about – so try things like door frames and rugs. People forget that this is a guy who is a builder at heart, a developer, a renovator who spent much of his career haggling over designs. It’s what he knows best and still cares about. No item of decor escapes his notice. He runs his hands along door frames, inspects the trim, checks the quality of carpets.
“I found this intriguing,” says Mr. Sims, “considering his general lack of interest in the minutiae of – well, pretty much everything else.”
Intriguing is that the daily disarray and havoc on display in the Oval Office is often by design. Mr. Trump actually craves and creates it. He believes that “creating chaos gives him an advantage because he’s more comfortable in the mayhem than anyone else.”
Canada and the North American free-trade agreement renegotiation was but one example: Mr. Trump constantly kept everyone off guard with outrageous threats or demands or changes of direction.
Other Trump layers in the Sims analysis? His management style sees personal relationships as paramount, above everything else in importance, especially with foreign leaders.
He’s the hedgehog, not the fox. He stubbornly believes that he alone can solve problems, often through personal will. He believes that all of life is a negotiation, a win-or-lose game, not much in between. To win requires being in control, having confidence and a killer mentality.
To develop that attitude, he tells Mr. Sims one day, “You have to love the fight. Killers have a certain way about them where they are out there getting the hell knocked out of them and they still love the game.”
The author, who says Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is the power behind the throne in the White House, recalled the President’s killer mentality in brutally taking on National Football League players who refused to stand for the national anthem. The media came down hard on him. But Mr. Sims brought him polling that showed the public favoured his tough stance.
“Of course I’m right about this,” Mr. Trump responded. “The Democrats – you watch – they’re going to nominate a kneeler and I’m going to beat the hell out of them.”
It’s how Cliff Sims concludes the book. Killers win.