Trump isn’t the main issue anymore
The Republican Party is
How many times have we been through this?
Donald Trump commits some colossal trespass of existing political morality (no, that is not an oxymoron), and frenzied friends and foes ask, “Is this it? Is it curtains for The Donald?” The answer has always been, “No, not yet.”
The current frenzy feels like the biggest one yet, but so did all the earlier ones. The consequences of Trump’s actions and words defy prediction. Will Trump get more innings at bat after this latest triple play of recklessness (firing James Comey, giving key intelligence to Russia and, according to reports, telling Comey to back off the Michael Flynn investigation)? No one knows what will happen with this man, who is immune from karma and justice.
What now we know with certainty is this: The presidency will not change Donald Trump.
We also know Trump will not be constrained by his hired hands. The law, the Democrats and the system of checks and balances might prevent some of his actions from having practical consequences, but will not constrain his actions and words. Trump will continue to be Trump in ways that are entirely predictable for their unpredictability even if the fallout is not.
In that sense, the big story right now is not Trump. He is a known quantity. His antics know no low and can no longer surprise.
Until November 2018, the main story will be about the Republican Party. For more than a year now, they have backed Trump with craven obsequiousness. For more than a year, reporters have been writing stories with headlines such as this one from Politico this week, “Republicans may be reaching their breaking point with Trump.”
How many times have you read headlines and stories like that?
Yet, that is the story now. Until the GOP abandons Trump, he’ll survive in his perverse bubble. Every day, it becomes harder and harder to imagine what it would take for his co-religionists to ditch the man they totally believed in when he said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman thinks he knows how the Republicans will behave.
“With Democrats lacking any real governing power, are there a few good elected men or women in the Republican Party who will stand up to the president’s abuse of power as their predecessors did during Watergate?” Friedman wrote this week.
“[W]e already know the answer: No.”
Friedman’s response is that every sane voter needs to do whatever they can to elect Democrats or independents in 2018. They need to run for office, volunteer for campaigns, donate money, lend expertise — whatever it takes.
It will take a lot.
Modern congressional districts are engineered to re-elect incumbents, especially Republican incumbents since Republicans have controlled more states in recent years. Republicans would have to lose about 25 seats next year to lose control of the House.
The GOP is even safer in the Senate. Only nine Republicans are up for re-election, while 25 Democrats are up. The Republicans come from these states: Arizona, Nevada, Alabama, Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. It is a GOP fantasy map come true.
On top of that, the Republicans have even more dumb luck; they are running against the Democrats. If it is predictable that congressional Republicans will not abandon Trump unless there is a political bazooka to their heads, it is certain the Democrats will run tone-deaf races and recruit second-rate candidates. They might capture the House or the Senate but only if there is a naturally occurring electoral tidal wave.
I would prefer to believe — and think it is more likely — that Trump can be impeached, forced to resign or thoroughly shackled before then by a combination of three forces: citizen (not Democratic) activism, the craven calculations of Republican incumbents about their next election and, by far the most important, the decency of a cadre of public servants in intelligence and national security jobs.
If Trump is truly in trouble now, it is because of leaks from dutiful people in the government. If the leaks continue, the trouble continues. If top players go public and take an open stand, one would imagine Trump’s troubles would compound.
That would not alter Republican consciences but it might alter public opinion and that, in turn, would alter Republicans behavior. If polls clearly show core Republicans have soured on Trump, Republican politicians will turn on him like laughing hyenas feasting on a water buffalo carcass.
Trump this week is breaking his own milestones of unpopularity for a new president. But support from Republicans remains high enough to silence the consciences of Republican incumbents.
That is the story to watch now — the polls, not the president. Sad.