From praising dictators to alienating allies, Trump made chaos his calling card. But four years into his administration, had his strategy caused more problems than it solved?
Richard Nixon tried it first. Hoping to make communist bloc countries uneasy and thus unstable, Nixon let them think he was just crazy enough to nuke them. He called this “the madman theory.” Nearly half a century later, President Trump employed his own “madman theory,” sometimes intentionally and sometimes not.
Trump praised Kim Jong-un and their “love notes,” admired and flattered Vladimir Putin, and gave a greenlight to Recep Tayyip Erdogan to invade Syria. Meanwhile, he attacked US institutions and officials, ignored his own advisors, and turned his back on US allies from Canada and Mexico to NATO to Ukraine to the Kurds at war with ISIS. Trump was willing to make the nation’s most sensitive and consequential decisions while often ignoring the best information and intelligence available to him. He continually caught the world off guard, but did it work?
In The Madman Theory, Jim Sciutto showed how Trump's supporters assumed he had a strategy for long-term success – that he somehow played three-dimensional chess. Four years into Trump's presidency, it was clear his unpredictable focus on short-term headlines did in fact lead to predictably mediocre results in the short and long run. Trump’s foreign policy undermined American values and national security interests, while hurting allies who had been on our side for decades, leaving them isolated and vulnerable without American support. Meanwhile, Trump had comforted and emboldened our enemies. The White House’s revolving door of staff demonstrated that Trump had no real plan; all serious policymakers—and those who would be a check on his most destructive impulses—were exiled or jumped ship.
Sciutto interviewed a wide swath of then-current and former administration officials to assemble the first comprehensive portrait of the impact of Trump’s erratic foreign policy. Smart, authoritative, and compelling, The Madman Theory is the definitive take on Trump’s calamitous legacy around the globe, showing how his proclivity for chaos was creating a world which was more unstable, violent, and impoverished than it had been before.
Jim Sciutto is CNN's chief national security correspondent and co-anchor of CNN Newsroom. After more than two decades as a foreign correspondent stationed in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, he returned to Washington to cover the Defense Department, the State Department, and intelligence agencies for CNN. His work has earned him Emmy Awards, the George Polk Award, the Edward R. Murrow award, and the Merriman Smith Memorial Award for excellence in presidential coverage. A graduate of Yale and a Fulbright Fellow, he lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Gloria Riviera, who is a crisis communications professional and journalist for ABC News, and their three children.