Newsweek reports: He’d promised to build the wall. To make America great again. To lock her up. Now, in the last weeks of his campaign for president, Donald J. Trump needed one more stirring slogan. And since he was badly trailing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, it would have to be a marketing marvel worthy of Mad Men’s Don Draper, one that encapsulated the vague yet compelling promise of his candidacy—its worship of American ideals and its total break from them.
On October 17, 2016, the Trump-Pence campaign released a five-point plan for ethics reform that featured lobbying restrictions that would insulate Trump and his administration from corporate and interests. The plan was called “drain the swamp.
Trump tried out the phrase that day at a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He used it the next day at a rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “We’re going to end the government corruption,” Trump vowed, “and we’re going to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.” He then recited a litany of accusations regarding Clinton and her use of a private email server, calling her “the most corrupt person to ever run for the presidency.”
“Build the wall” had been the raw opening cry of the Trump campaign. “Make America great again” was its chorus. “Drain the swamp” was its closing number. But while talk of a border wall plainly thrilled Trump, he was apparently never too worked up about the festering bog that was the nation’s capital. He said as much in an October 26 rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, in one of his unsettling bouts of honesty: “I said that about a week ago, and I didn’t like it that much, didn’t sound that great. And the whole world picked it up.… Funny how things like that happen.… So ‘drain the swamp,’ I didn’t like it. Now, I love it, right?”
“Drain the swamp” fit perfectly with Trump’s constant complaints about the “rigged system,” thereby excusing what some said was going to be a historic defeat. As the campaign concluded, Trump turned himself into a martyr for the cause of American democracy, waging a principled but doomed campaign.
But a funny thing happened on the way to a third Obama term. Winning endowed the things Trump said during the campaign with an import they’d previously lacked. He was, back then, a hopeless renegade, troubling but not threatening. Then, the returns from Florida and Wisconsin came in on the evening of November 8. And while many understood that his “rigged system” was just an excuse, “drain the swamp” sure sounded like a promise.
So as the presidential inauguration approached, anticipation bubbled through the sulfurous nexus of Capitol Hill politicians, special interest groups and their K Street lobbyists, the media, the establishment and just about everyone else who had dismissed Trump and his slogans as a publicity stunt. There was now a question, rather urgently in need of an answer: Was he serious about all that “swamp” stuff?
Not really, revealed former House Speaker and loyal Trump supporter Newt Gingrich, admitting to NPR on December 21 that “drain the swamp” was never a genuine promise. “I’m told he now just disclaims that,” Gingrich said a month before Trump was to assume the Oval Office. “He now says it was cute, but he doesn’t want to use it anymore.”
Someone from Trump Tower must have placed an angry call, because the former speaker soon tweeted that he’d overstated the case. But that didn’t kill the story. That same day, Politico wondered if “drain the swamp” would be Trump’s “first broken promise.” It cited the access-peddling lobbying firm of Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey R. Lewandowski, as well as the consulting firm with troubling foreign ties run by his incoming national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. “Trump and his allies have engaged in some of the same practices they accused Hillary Clinton of exploiting and vowed to change,” Politico wrote.
Now, a year after the election—and more than a year after Trump first made that pledge to the American people—many observers believe the swamp has grown into a sinkhole that threatens to swallow the entire Trump administration. The number of White House officials currently facing questions, lawsuits or investigation is astonishing: Trump, being sued for violating the “emoluments clause” of the U.S. Constitution by running his Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.; Paul J. Manafort, the second Trump campaign manager, indicted on money laundering charges in late October; Flynn, for undisclosed lobbying work done on behalf of the Turkish government; son-in-law and consigliere Jared Kushner, for failing to disclose $1 billion in loans tied to his real-estate company; and at least six Cabinet heads being investigated for or asked about exorbitant travel expenses, security details or business dealings. [Continue reading…]