Doubtless, President Donald Trump and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats don’t find it easy to understand each other.
Trump sees the world as part circus, part cage match.
He craves attention and considers every moment he’s not in the spotlight a moment wasted. He believes doing research or even paying attention to briefings is for losers. He doesn’t pay much attention to what he says or what he promises because he sees pledges and commitments as commodities, things to be traded or discarded as his needs or interests dictate. That’s why he’s been married three times and in and out of more beds than he likely can remember.
Coats is a different animal altogether.
The former Republican U.S. senator from Indiana doesn’t much care for journalists and the public focus they drag along with them. He’s a grind, a guy who always does his homework and makes it clear to his staff that he doesn’t like to be surprised by undiscovered or undisclosed information. He’s careful with his words because he expects to be held to account for what he says. He’s been married to same woman for more than 50 years.
Donald Trump and Dan Coats don’t just have different world views.
They might as well live on different planets.
Maybe even different solar systems.
(If the president ever took an astronomy class, he probably was disappointed to learn that the planets revolve around the sun, not him.)
Given all this, it isn’t surprising that Trump and Coats weren’t on the same page in recent days.
Coats told Congress that North Korea likely won’t ever give up its nuclear weapons.
Trump contradicted Coats soon after, tweeting that there is a “decent chance of Denuclearization.” He continued, “Progress being made — big difference.”
The president, who in the field of foreign affairs really does believe wishes are horses and beggars can ride, also took a shot at Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel. Haspel had the temerity to report that Iran was honoring the nuclear deal Trump has criticized.
“The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naïve when it comes to the dangers or Iran. They are wrong!” the president tweeted.
“Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” Trump fulminated in conclusion.
Still later, the president suggested that journalists had led Coats and Haspel into misinterpreting their positions.
I don’t know Gina Haspel.
I do know Dan Coats.
The notion that he has looked at the North Korean situation in anything other than a clear-eyed fashion is laughable.
And the implication that anyone could get Coats to say something he didn’t wish to say is just flat ridiculous.
If there is anything that defines Dan Coats, it is discipline. He always thinks before he talks. He never uses two words when one will do. And he never, ever veers off message.
I remember traveling with Coats more than 25 years ago in 1992. He was running for re-election to the Senate at the same time his former boss, Vice President Dan Quayle, and President George H.W. Bush were about to lose their seats to the challenge from Democrats Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
It was the last weekend of the campaign. Speculation was heavy that Quayle would return to Indiana to run for governor as a launching pad for a future presidential run. My editors had directed me to get a comment from Coats about that possibility, one the paper wouldn’t use until after the election.
I explained that to Coats and asked him the question about Quayle’s future.
“Why would he run for governor if he’s serving as vice president?” Coats said.
I explained things again.
Coats smiled again.
“Why would he run for governor if he’s serving as vice president?” he said.
Round and round we went for long minutes.
Finally, he looked at me.
“Dan Quayle’s my friend. You’re not going to get me to say anything but what I’ve said,” Coats said.
I yielded the point.
I don’t agree with Dan Coats on many things. But he’s always been a straight shooter with me.
And that means that, if I have to choose whether to believe Donald Trump or Dan Coats about anything, I go with Coats.
JOHN KRULL is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism.