Confidence Man review: Maggie Haberman takes down Trump

The New York Times reporter presents a forensic account of the damage he has done to America

Maggie Haberman, the New York Times’ Trump whisperer, delivers. Her latest book is much more than 600 pages of context, scoop and drama. It is a political epic, tracing Donald Trump’s journey from the streets of Queens to Manhattan’s Upper East Side, from the White House to Mar-a-Lago, his Elba. There, the 45th president holds court – and broods and plots his return.

Haberman gives Trump and those close to him plenty of voice – and rope. The result is a cacophonous symphony. Confidence Man informs and entertains but is simultaneously absolutely not funny. Trumpworld presents a reptilian tableau – reality TV does Lord of the Flies.

For just one example, Mark Meadows, Trump’s last White House chief of staff, is depicted as erratic and detestable. Then there’s the family. Haberman reports how, after the 2016 election, Melania Trump won a renegotiated pre-nuptial agreement. Haberman also describes Trump repeatedly dumping on his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. If only he looked like Tom Brady and spoke in a deeper register. If only Ivanka had not converted to Judaism.

The abuse gets absurd – even a kind of baroque. According to Haberman, at one 2020 campaign strategy meeting Trump implied Kushner might be brutally attacked, even raped, if he ever went camping: “Can you imagine Jared and his skinny ass camping? It’d be like something out of Deliverance.”

The reader, however, should not weep for Jared. In Haberman’s telling, he is the kid who was born on third base and mistakes his good fortune with hitting a triple. For his part, Kushner is shown trashing Steve Bannon, the far-right ideologue who was campaign chair and chief White House strategist but was forced out within months.

Haberman catches Kushner gleefully asking a White House visitor: “Did you see I cut Bannon’s balls off?”

To quote Peter Navarro, like Bannon now a former Trump official under indictment, “nepotism and excrement roll downhill”.

As it happens, Bannon’s testicles grew back. Like Charlie Kushner, Jared’s father, he received a Trump pardon. Bannon also helped propagate the big lie that Trump won the election, stoking the Capitol attack.

These days, Bannon awaits sentencing, convicted of contempt of Congress. He also faces felony fraud charges arising from an alleged border-wall charity scam. In Trump’s universe, there is always a grift.

For Confidence Man, Haberman interviewed Trump three times. He confesses that he is drawn to her, like a moth to a flame.

“I love being with her,” he says. “She’s like my psychiatrist”.

The daughter of Clyde Haberman, a legendary New York Times reporter, is not flattered or amused. She sees through her subject.

“The reality is that he treats everyone like they are his psychiatrists,” Haberman writes. “All present a chance for him to vent or test reactions or gauge how his statements are playing or discover how he is feeling.”

Also, Trump and Haberman have not always had a rapport. When he was president, she would interview him and he would attack her. In April 2018, Trump tweeted that Haberman was a Clinton “flunkie” he didn’t know or speak with, a “third-rate reporter” at that. He called her “Maggot Haberman” and even contemplated obtaining her phone records to identify her sources.

Trump is 76 but he remains the envious boy from a New York outer borough, face pressed against the Midtown glass. Haberman is not the only Manhattan reporter he has courted and attacked. In 2018, he threatened Michael Wolff for writing Fire and Fury, the Trump book that started it all. Later, he welcomed Wolff to Mar-a-Lago.

Haberman vividly captures Trump’s lack of couth. For just one example, according to Haberman the president chose to enrich his first meeting with a foreign leader, Theresa May, by asking the British prime minister to “imagine if some animals with tattoos raped your daughter and she got pregnant”.

Each of Trump’s three supreme court justices voted to overturn Roe v Wade. One might wonder how the young woman in Trump’s hypothetical would feel about that.

Haberman also pierces Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns. All that talk about an “audit” was a simple dodge, birthed on a campaign plane.

In the run-up to Super Tuesday, the crucial day of primaries in March 2016, aides confronted Trump about his taxes. The candidate, Haberman writes, “thought for a second about how to ‘get myself out of this’, as he said. He leaned back, before snapping up to a sudden thought.

“‘Well, you know my taxes are under audit. I always get audited … So what I mean is, well I could just say, ‘I’ll release them when I’m no longer under audit. ‘Cause I’ll never not be under audit.’”

These days, the Trump Organization faces criminal tax fraud charges. Together with Ivanka, Don Jr and Eric, his children from his first marriage, Trump is also being sued for fraud by Letitia James, the New York attorney general.


As a younger reporter, Haberman did two stints at the New York Post, Rupert Murdoch’s flagship US tabloid. Murdoch’s succession plans – it’s Lachlan, he told Trump – appear in Confidence Man. So does Tucker Carlson, the headline-making Fox News host and kindred spirit to Vladimir Putin.

According to Haberman, Carlson met Kushner and demanded Trump commute Roger Stone’s conviction for perjury.

“What happened to Roger Stone should never happen to anyone in this country of any political party,” Carlson reportedly thundered, threatening to go public.

Stone has since emerged as a central figure in the January 6 insurrection. Apparently, he has a thing for violence. For some Republicans, a commitment to “law and order” is elastic.

When it comes to the attempt to overturn the election and the Capitol attack it fueled, Trump’s fate rests with prosecutors in Washington DC and Fulton county, Georgia.

That old campaign chant from 2016, “Lock her up”? It carries its own irony.

  • Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America is published in the US by Penguin Random House


Lloyd Green

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Divider review: riveting narrative of Trump’s plot against America
Peter Baker and Susan Glasser offer a beautifully written, utterly dispiriting history of the man who attacked democracy

Lloyd Green

16, Sep, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
The Big Lie review: Jonathan Lemire laments what Trump hath wrought
The Politico reporter and MSNBC host’s book is an indictment of the former president but also his Republican party

Lloyd Green

31, Jul, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
I Alone Can Fix It review: Donald Trump as wannabe Führer – in another riveting read
Gen Mark Milley saw that the US was in a ‘Reichstag moment’ – four days before the Capitol riot. With this and much more startling reporting, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker of the Washington Post deliver the goods once again

Lloyd Green

16, Jul, 2021 @11:37 AM

Article image
Insurgency review: how Trump took over the Republican party
From 2016 to the Capitol riot, Jeremy Peters of the New York Times delivers a meticulously reported and extremely worrying tale of how and why the US came to this

Lloyd Green

13, Feb, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
Kushner, Inc review: Jared, Ivanka Trump and the rise of the American kakistocracy
Vicky Ward has produced a damning depiction, a lethal amalgam of Page Six-like dish and firsthand investigative reporting

Lloyd Green

24, Mar, 2019 @5:00 AM

Article image
Digital Civil War review: a stark call to save American democracy
Peter Daou blames media and the political establishment for failing to combat dishonesty, hypocrisy … and Trump

Charles Kaiser

19, May, 2019 @5:00 AM

Article image
Landslide review: Michael Wolff’s third Trump book is his best – and most alarming
Fire and Fury infuriated a president and fueled a publishing boom. Its latest sequel is required reading for anyone who fears for American democracy

Lloyd Green

12, Jul, 2021 @11:00 PM

Article image
Melania & Me: Ivanka Trump sought to undermine first lady, new book says
Claims by ex-aide who says Ivanka may have planned 2016 plagiarism fiasco come as Melania prepares convention speech

Martin Pengelly

25, Aug, 2020 @10:05 PM

Article image
January 6 report review: 845 pages, countless crimes, one simple truth – Trump did it
The House committee has done its work. The result is a riveting read, utterly damning of the former president and his followers

Lloyd Green

24, Dec, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Trump backed failed campaign coup against Kushner, Navarro book says
Ex-adviser says president agreed son-in-law had to be replaced by Steve Bannon in summer 2020 but did not dare try to fire him

Martin Pengelly in New York

10, Sep, 2022 @6:00 AM