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Trump may be dumb, but he's a talented con man

By Robert B. Reich, Tribune Content Agency on

For more than a year now, I've been hearing from people in the inner circles of official Washington -- GOP lobbyists, Republican pundits, even a few Republican members of Congress -- that Donald Trump is remarkably stupid.

I figured they couldn't be right because really stupid people don't become presidents of the United States. Even George W. Bush was smart enough to hire smart people to run his campaign and then his White House.

Several months back, when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly called Trump a "f---king moron," I discounted it. I know firsthand how frustrating it can be to serve in a president's Cabinet, and I've heard members of other presidents' Cabinets describe their bosses in similar terms.

Now comes "Fire and Fury," a book by journalist Michael Wolff, who interviewed more than 200 people who dealt with Trump as a candidate and president, including senior White House staff members. In it, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster calls Trump a "dope." Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus both refer to Trump as an "idiot." Rupert Murdoch says Trump is a "f---king idiot."

Trump's chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, describes Trump as "dumb as s--t," explaining that, "Trump won't read anything -- not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers, nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored."

When one of Trump's campaign aides tried to educate him about the Constitution, Trump couldn't focus. "I got as far as the Fourth Amendment," the aide recalled, "before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head."

 

Trump doesn't think he's stupid. "Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart," he tweeted on Saturday. In October, he said, "I went to an Ivy League college. ... I did very well. I'm a very intelligent person."

Trump wasn't exactly an academic star. One of his professors at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School purportedly said that he was "the dumbest g**damn student I ever had."

Trump biographer Gwenda Blair wrote in 2001 that Trump was admitted to Wharton on a special favor from a "friendly" admissions officer who had known Trump's older brother.

But hold on. It would be dangerous to underestimate this man.

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