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What Trump’s ‘special bond’ with supporters means now — and beyond his presidency

President Trump’s termination of Christopher Krebs, the top Department of Homeland Security official for cybersecurity, drew criticism from prominent lawmakers, including several Republicans. What does the move suggest about Trump’s outlook for the remainder of his term -- and beyond? Journalist Ron Suskind joins William Brangham to discuss.

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  • William Brangham:

    So, now, for a much broader look at this moment, both for the president and for the country, I'm joined now by Ron Suskind. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and reporter.

    Ron, great to have you back on the "NewsHour."

  • Ron Suskind:

    Great to be here, William.

  • William Brangham:

    You have been covering this president since the get-go.

    We have now seen Christopher Krebs fired. We have seen the leadership at the Pentagon lopped off and replaced.

    Help us understand how we ought to be seeing these events.

  • Ron Suskind:

    What you're seeing here is Trump executing his loyalty test that really has been active since around early 2018, where he really realized, in a moment of clarity, that loyalty was his key word.

    He had lots of officials who would not take an oath of personal loyalty. They took an oath to the Constitution. Trump accepted them at the beginning, and then said, I got to get rid of all of them.

    Krebs and others and Esper are almost the last of that array of officials that were once populating different parts of the government that would not take this oath of loyalty to Trump and Trump's interests, however he defines them.

  • William Brangham:

    You recently wrote a terrific piece in The New York Times, opinion piece, that was based on a lot of deep reporting with several dozen former and current high-level administration officials.

    And the concern expressed was, what happens after the election? And many of the things that you reported they worried about have come to pass, sort of refusal to concede, allegations of fraud, lawsuits.

    I know you have continued to talk with many of those same people. What is it that they're worried about happening from this point forward?

  • Ron Suskind:

    Well, they, William, really saw this period between the election and the inauguration as arguably the most dangerous time.

    And what they're specifically fearful of, most pointedly, is Trump activating his loyalists. Remember, he has an enormous army, if you will, of people deeply committed to him in a way that I don't think we have seen in modern political history, especially a core of the core, maybe half of the half.

    That's where much of their concern is focused. Trump has not been back meeting with them since the election. It's almost like lovers separated from one another. He will at some point. No one doubts that, and at which point you're going to see the nature of power that he possesses outside of that the Article 2 powers of the Constitution give him until the 20th of January.

    That community is, in a way, waiting for direction from their leader, for whom they have really a deep bond and a love.

  • William Brangham:

    So, how would — let's talk a little bit about specifically how that might play out.

    I mean, you have got the powers of the presidency, and you have got the powers of a devoted, devoted base of followers. How do the people you're talking to — and, again, these are military, intelligence, administration people.

    How does that play out in a way that troubles them?

  • Ron Suskind:

    Well, think about a left hand and a right hand.

    With his right hand, he has the powers of the government. That means federal forces to quell demonstrations. That means bringing law and order and maybe even activating National Guards in various states, Article 2 powers.

    On the other hand, he has real direction over an enormous array of people who might be at the source of a significant amount of chaos, demonstrations, protests, and all sorts of things that really may change the landscape of states.

    For instance, if Trump goes out, as people are expecting, to do stadium shows in the next couple weeks, well, 100,000 people, 50,000 people cheering, whipped into a frenzy by their leader, who then has the option to say, either I will cut you loose, or I will tell you to stand by — or stand down and stand by, that's an enormous amount of power he retains.

  • William Brangham:

    Devil's advocate here.

    I hear all the concerns you're expressing and that these people are expressing. But is it possible that we're not seeing something larger going on, that this could simply be the tail end of an administration headed by a man who simply doesn't want to give up power, he's firing some people, and that it may not end up being anything more than just that?

  • Ron Suskind:

    It could be.

    But one thing that I think is important to keep focused on is that those folks deeply committed to Donald Trump, some portion of that 72 million who voted for him, he is taking that with him. He's not giving them up.

    We could be in a situation where the Biden presidency is in a day-to-day conflict for ratings with a man who I would not fight on a ratings landscape in any day. I would not wish that on my worst enemy.

    He is a master of that terrain. That's what I think is going to be so interesting and maybe what's, frankly, so unsettling about the years that we certainly will have ahead of us. What will Trump do with the power he's already accrued and is likely not to be giving up, all those people who say, he's my guy?

    And I don't see anyone necessarily replacing him in the Republican array. He's got a special bond that he's developed with them. And I don't see anybody essentially taking that from him. It's his own and his to use. How will he use it? That's what we're all watching.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Ron Suskind, always good to have you. Thank you very much.

  • Ron Suskind:

    Great to be with you, William.

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