Of all of President Donald Trump’s close advisers, there is one who perhaps best typifies the worst of Trump’s combative, us-versus-them, fact-free style.
Sebastian Gorka, a “deputy assistant” to the president who shares his views that Muslims are the enemy, bellicosity is strength, and the news media is out to get the president.
For months, Gorka received heavy scrutiny over his ties to far-right, anti-Semitic groups in his native Hungary, leading to widespread rumors last spring that he was going to be dismissed from the White House.
But not only has his White House tenure endured, he has continued to be a ubiquitous Trump surrogate in the media.
Why is Gorka still there?
The best explanation is that Trump loves Gorka’s television performances, whether they are in the Trump-friendly confines of Fox, or in the hostile territory of MSNBC or CNN, where Gorka plays the anti-”fake news” pit bull for his boss.
Gorka hit the airwaves again last week, defending President Trump’s unscripted “fire and fury” bellicosity against North Korea, undercutting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s effort to scale back the president’s rhetoric, and strongly hinting Trump is ready to go to war with Pyongyang.
“You should listen to the president,” Gorka said derisively on the BBC Radio 4’s program Today Thursday morning.
“The idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical.”
In Gorka’s world, only he truly understands not just what the president wants, but also that the president is right about everything.
Gorka has been widely mocked by national security experts as a fringe player with scant credentials for his purported counterterrorism post.
But he has a single piece of expertise that has turned him into a favorite Trump surrogate: A willingness to defend Trump against any perceived enemy, and to project Trump’s us-versus-them mentality to the world - regardless of what more senior administration officials or anyone with actual expertise thinks.
Gorka’s willingness to prostrate himself for Trump appears to have no bounds, including suggesting that the president of the United States is willing to launch a nuclear war.
When pressed Thursday on the BBC about his suggestions that Trump would order a military strike, Gorka maintained, “Donald Trump has been unequivocal - he will use any appropriate measures to protect the United States and her citizens.”
He repeatedly refused to provide further details, but did remind the audience - and perhaps that audience was merely Trump himself - that “there’s only one person in this great country that controls our nuclear arsenal.”
Gorka sent chills down the spines of his British audience Thursday - including among some British members of Parliament - as he seemed to be paying no mind to how Trump’s cabinet and advisers are scrambling to scale back his reckless war threats.
Gorka further defended Trump this week on MSNBC, when asked why the president has not yet condemned the bombing of a mosque in Minnesota.
“We’ve had a series of crimes committed, alleged hate crimes by right wing individuals in the last six months that actually turned out to be propagated by the left,” Gorka said.
When pressed on the fact that Trump has been quick to condemn attacks allegedly perpetrated by Muslims, Gorka retorted: “Sometimes an attack is unequivocally clear for what it is.”
But the mosque bombing in Minnesota, Gorka suggested, could have been committed by “people who fake hate crimes.”
To be sure, some in the White House have apparently tried to get Gorka transferred - to no avail.
As veteran national security reporter Bob Dreyfuss reports Thursday in Rolling Stone, the White House “tried to find him a job at another agency,” but “nobody wanted him,” as a source put it.
Yet, it seems, one very powerful person does want Gorka stay: the president.
As Jonathan Swan has reported, although some West Wing aides consider Gorka’s media appearances “an embarrassment,” his number one fan is none other than Trump himself.
Trump’s admiration seems to stem largely from Gorka’s eagerness to jettison any semblance of custom or charm when appearing on networks Trump considers hostile to his interests.
“Gorka’s stock has soared as President Trump has watched him on various cable channels fighting with the hosts and accusing them of being part of the ‘fake news industrial complex,’” Swan reported.
Indeed, Gorka’s willingness to disparage any media that dare question Trump is what helped make him a regular presence on Fox, where he is frequently called upon to do just that, including by Trump friend Sean Hannity.
Not even the Soviet Union’s media was that bad, Gorka once told Hannity, speaking about CNN, which has become a regular target of the president himself.
Since for Trump all that matters is defending him, it seems that Gorka will remain in the White House as long as his aggressive defenses of Trump continue making him happy.
Sarah Posner is a reporter, contributor to The Washington Post and the author of “God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters.”