It’s no wonder that, when rumors began to swirl that White House chief of staff John Kelly might be on his way out, speculation about possible replacements quickly turned to Mick Mulvaney, currently the director of both the Office of Management and Budget and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Whether or not Mulvaney ascends to Kelly’s position, he showed Sunday how adept he has become at selling President Trump’s big con.
Mulvaney’s appearances on “Fox News Sunday” and “Face the Nation” were a tour de force of confidently delivering outlandish statements. First, Mulvaney dealt with the resignations of two White House staffers over domestic abuse allegations, and the president’s complaints that now-departed staff secretary Rob Porter’s life was being ruined by “a mere allegation.” (In truth, besides multiple allegations from his ex-wives, Porter was denied a full security clearance because of a protective order against him in 2010.) Asked by CBS News’ Major Garrett whether the White House had “a lax attitude when it comes to the question of domestic abuse,” Mulvaney replied, “I think what you saw happened this week, Major, was completely reasonable and normal.”
Yes, “reasonable and normal.” Even the buttoned-up Garrett interrupted to double-check that he’d heard Mulvaney correctly. Mulvaney repeated the sentiment on Fox News, saying the president had “a very normal reaction” to Porter’s resignation, totally in keeping with a “zero tolerance” policy. When Chris Wallace pointed out that the president hadn’t shown any concern for the victims, Mulvaney innocently suggested that the president may have been tweeting not about Porter but about mogul Steve Wynn.
Policy was not spared from Mulvaney’s speciousness. The OMB director told Wallace that the president’s new budget “does move us back towards balance. It does get us away from trillion-dollar deficits.” The latter is technically true, but Mulvaney said those words knowing what The Post reported Sunday night: The budget “falls far short of eliminating the government’s deficit over 10 years,” with yearly deficits still in the hundreds of billions. So much for “balance.”
What makes Mulvaney such a perfect fit for Trump is not the ridiculous claims themselves, but the confidence with which he delivers them. Other Trump lackeys were less “sure” in their defenses. Legislative director Marc Short admitted that he literally did not know what Kelly knew and when he knew it, which led NBC News’ Chuck Todd to reply, “Why come on here and not know?” Kellyanne Conway opted for ridiculous defenses, including the idea that women should just be happy that he created jobs for them. But where Mulvaney was earnest, Conway was resigned, like a beleaguered mother who just wants you to lay off her ill-behaved child.
Trump has made a career out of making false statements with absolute conviction: The GOP tax cut is the “biggest” ever (it’s not); the Nunes memo totally “vindicates Trump” (it doesn’t); “our economy is perhaps the best it’s ever been” (not even close). More broadly, he’s still pledging to “drain the swamp” while Cabinet members fleece taxpayers and corporations and donors receive big giveaways. This two-facedness is best enacted by those who remain committed to the con — which makes Mulvaney the perfect scoundrel for Trump.
James Downie is The Washington Post’s Digital Opinions Editor. He previously wrote for The New Republic and Foreign Policy magazine.