by David Margolick
It sounds more like an ad for a legendary electronics store than an appraisal of a former President of the United States. But according to Michael Wolff, Donald Trump is… insane!
And “crazy.” And “off his rocker.” And “occupying a different reality than literally everyone else.” And “incompetent,” spending his time “talking and talking and just spewing forth and saying whatever comes into his mind.” And illiterate (“He doesn’t read”), which is “compounded by the fact that he doesn’t listen, either.”
“I don’t think he has dementia,” Wolff allowed in his very frank and highly entertaining virtual talk before the Silurians on November 17. “I think he is just crazy. I think he has been crazy for a very long time.”
Wolff has followed Trump for years, dating back to his days as a columnist for New York Magazine, when the President-to-be would hock him semimonthly for leaving him out of something he’d just written. And his trilogy of best-selling books on the man could well prove the most enduring chronicle of the bizarre and exhausting and ongoing Trump years.
As Wolff sees it, his work has proceeded on a fundamentally different premise than the one followed by the mainstream press. By instinct and tradition, he believes, most White House reporters approached Trump on the mistaken assumption that he was sane, and that his presidency was within traditional norms. He, by contrast, covered Trump as the nut case he was and is and always will be.
“I don’t think they got close to understanding that this was in every way, shape and form an aberrant presidency,” Wolff said. “Not just a deceitful presidency or corrupt presidency or a wrongheaded presidency or a disorganized presidency, but a presidency that had no relationship to any presidency that has occurred in the past. There was no way for a whole swath of institutional journalists to say the President of the United States is insane. I can say that. They cannot.”
But remarkably, Trump hadn’t taken anything Wolff has written about him personally, at least for very long. After the publication of Wolff’s first Trump book, Fire and Fury, Trump threatened to sue him. But when Wolff worked on the third, Landslide, Trump laid out the red carpet for him in Palm Beach, and for a simple reason. “The guy gets ratings,” Trump told a flunky.
“So I’m in Mar-a-Lago and he’s introducing me to everybody as ‘Michael Wolff, the best writer in America,'” Wolff recalled. Trump acolytes like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who’d been deputized to badmouth Wolff, looked on dumbfounded. “Reality changes on his timetable, and that can be minute-to-minute,” Wolff observed.
But to Wolff, the very chaos in Trump’s brain is his best defense against the swirl of conspiracy charges leveled against him, whether over financial legerdemain, electoral manipulation, or Capitol insurrections. “He has no plans,” said Wolff. “He has no intentions. He has no follow through — none of the things that you need to pin a crime on somebody. How do you convict a crazy man of conspiracy? If, literally in every cognitive aspect, he does not have the ability to conspire?”
“The ideal of Trump leading a conspiracy is, frankly, ludicrous and ill-informed,” he said. And because growing celebrity and power have only “fueled his insanity,” such charges have only become more untenable over time. And speaking of conspiracies, Wolff said no one in Trump’s inner circle, including his own family, believes he won the 2020 presidential election. Even in that crowd, Wolff said, Trump “occupies an absolutely different reality.”
Wolff said he’d first proposed a fly-on-the-wall book on the early days of the Trump Administration to President-elect’s newly-minted consigliere, Steve Bannon. When Trump didn’t exactly turn him down, Wolff started showing up at the White House, installing himself on a strategically-located couch in the West Wing. “I got to be a familiar face and people assumed I must be there for some reason,” he recalled.
Wolff’s talk ventured for a time into Jeffrey Epstein, whom he also got to know well, and to whom he devotes a chapter in his latest book, Too Famous. But that detour quickly doubled back to Trump thanks to a question from Allan Dodds Frank, who wondered how much Epstein knew about the former President.
“An immense amount,” replied Wolff, noting that for fifteen years the two men were “inseparable.” “I think Epstein knew all about Trump’s finances,” he said. “He knew all about Trump’s women, as Trump knew about his women.” Searching Epstein’s house, he went on, the FBI found a dozen or so pictures of Trump, some with the same young girls whose testimony, according to Epstein, helped send him to jail. According to Wolff, Epstein believed it was Trump who ratted him out to the Palm Beach police, after Trump double-crossed him on a real estate deal.
Shortly after Trump’s elected, Wolff said, Bannon told Epstein he’d been the only person he’d been afraid of during the Presidential campaign, and that Epstein replied, “You should have been.” Wolff added that Bannon and Epstein quickly bonded, in part over their shared conviction “that Donald was a crazy person.”
Despite a terrible diet — and a daily regimen of “at least” 12 Diet Cokes — Wolff described Trump as “indomitable” and said he looked “fantastic” the last time he saw him, certainly in shape for another presidential run. Though awful for the country, Trump had been a “gift” to him, he said, one likely to keep on giving. “Put it this way: there’s every reason for him to run,” Wolff concluded. “He can’t really continue to be Donald Trump without running.”