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Report: Trump believes Porter is guilty, called him “sick” in private

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That’s not what some were reporting on Friday night but I hope this Axios story is true. No matter what POTUS is saying publicly, it’d be reassuring to know on a human level that he gagged when he saw that photo of Porter’s ex-wife with a black eye.

Behind closed doors: The president has told multiple people that he believes the accusations about Porter, and finds him “sick.”

Four sources who have spoken directly with Trump tell me his private comments about ex-aide Porter — whose two ex-wives accused of violent attacks — have been brutal…

Trump has also told associates that he views men who beat their wives the same way he views child molesters: as “sick puppies.” (This sits uncomfortably beside the fact that Trump stood by accused child molester Roy Moore.)

Kaitlan Collins of CNN appears to back that up:

Even White House officials are baffled by Trump’s conflicting stances on Porter, with several questioning how he can go from calling him “a sick puppy” in private to being defensive of him in public. They are left wondering where Trump truly stands on this issue.

— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) February 12, 2018

If he thinks Porter’s a “sick puppy” when the cameras aren’t around, why not say that when they are? It would be especially good press for a president who’s been accused of sexual assault himself. Make a show of your contempt for Porter and some voters who don’t know what to make of the allegations against Trump will inevitably grow more skeptical of them.

Four possibilities:

1. Loyalty uber alles. Whatever POTUS thinks of Porter privately, he was a team player in front of reporters on Friday afternoon. He wants to inculcate that same ethic in his deputies: No leaking, no badmouthing the president to the media. Criticism stays in-house. When the cameras are on, everyone’s on the same team, even if that means speaking warmly of a very credibly accused spousal abuser.

2. He may loathe Porter but he loathes the past four months of prominent men being blown up professionally by accusatory women even more. According to Axios, “Trump tells friends that he deplores the #MeToo movement and believes it unfairly exposes CEOs to lawsuits from their female employees. The fact that women frequently face sexual predation in the workplace doesn’t impact his view on this.” Reminding the world on Friday that Porter is innocent until proven guilty was less about Porter himself than it was about underlining the principle that no one should be judged too hastily just because they’ve been accused of something terrible. Including, needless to say, the president.

3. It’s strategic. Whatever his personal feelings about #MeToo, POTUS knows that his base will approach an overly feminist movement with suspicion. He defeated the first woman nominee for president two years ago by being a loud-and-proud alpha male; now suddenly other alpha males are being drummed out of their professions for misconduct. He sees some rich culture-war potential here, consistent with a favorite theme of his about “witch hunts.” Russiagate is supposedly a “witch hunt” organized by the deep state to take him down; maybe he’ll try to cast #MeToo as a “witch hunt” this year as well to galvanize the right. Axios claims (in a different piece) that he’s already sniffing around for new culture-war material:

A source close to the White House tells me that with an eye to getting Republicans excited about voting for Republicans in midterms, the president this year will be looking for “unexpected cultural flashpoints” — like the NFL and kneeling — that he can latch onto in person and on Twitter.

The source said Trump “is going to be looking for opportunities to stir up the base, more than focusing on any particular legislation or issue.”

Maybe there’ll be a big infrastructure deal or a shocking immigration compromise but in all probability the only major legislation the GOP will have to run on in the fall is tax cuts. POTUS needs something else to keep voters motivated over the next nine months. Policy wins are hard to come by but “cultural flashpoints” are not. And there was, and is, a question of which would be Trump’s first priority even if big legislative shifts were in the cards. It’s possible that the culture war is his chief interest and policy is just a sideshow to keep the malcontents happy rather than vice versa. And if that’s true, with his fans howling that no one’s proved that Porter did anything wrong, how could he go out there and call him a “sick puppy” in front of the media?

4. It’s not true. Maybe Trump’s not actually badmouthing Porter privately at all, that that’s just something White House spin doctors came up with to put a better face on how he and Kelly have reacted to the news over the past week. Axios claims four separate sources say Trump is disgusted with Porter, though. That’s a lot of spin doctors.

Here’s a Trump deputy, Hogan Gidley, being asked on “Fox & Friends” this morning why, if Trump is upset about Porter, he doesn’t make that clear publicly. Well, says Gidley, he’s been very clear that abusing women is heinous — to which Brian Kilmeade, co-host of POTUS’s favorite show, interrupts to remind him that Trump *hasn’t actually said that.* The media gave him a golden opportunity on Friday to say it about Porter and he whiffed. Why?

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