The Moment the GOP Turned on Donald Trump
The White House is doing some desperate base-stroking, precisely because the president’s party is losing patience with him.
Another WTF week.
The Boy Scouts, the president of Mexico, that Stephen Miller press briefing, the leaked phone call transcripts, the huge grand jury news, and the news that Senior wrote Junior’s lying statement on the Russia meeting (remember that one? That was just Tuesday, but it already feels about eight scandals ago).
And the rally Thursday night in Huntington, West Virginia, where all the above was either not mentioned or waved away to thunderous cheers.
Sure “this is not normal” is the new normal. But if you looked a little closer, this week was different. This week, for the first time, congressional Republicans started saying they’re not going to be led around by the nose by this president or this White House. This has enormous potential ramifications.
Think back. How many times have you asked yourself in these last six-plus months, “How can these people just sit there and take this and say nothing?” How many times a day? How many times an hour?
Well, it’s changing. It’s the beginning of the moment that non-Trump America has been waiting for.
You could see it in the way Joe and Mika and the gang, who embody official Washington opinion as accurately as anybody, were just openly laughing at Trump on Thursday morning while discussing those phantom Boy Scout-Mexico phone calls.
You could see it in that Times story from Tuesday that quoted a few senators saying it was time to move on from health care and they didn’t really care what the White House thought. There was even some snark in those comments. Did you see what John Cornyn said? “I don’t think he’s got much experience in the Senate, as I recall.” That’s Mitch McConnell’s deputy. And from Texas!
You could see it in how fast Lindsey Graham shot down the Miller-unveiled immigration proposal: “Hotels, restaurants, golf courses, and farmers will tell you this proposal—to cut legal immigration in half—would put their business in peril.”
And most of all, you could see it in the bipartisan—and yes, really bipartisan!—moves Thursday in the House and Senate to protect Mueller in the event Trump fires him by letting the special counsel challenge that in court.
That immigration proposal had the smell of something designed to go nowhere. You don’t have your one administration official who’s most closely associated with the so-far spectacularly failed Muslim ban introduce a proposal and yell at reporters while doing it if you want that proposal to be taken seriously. It was a base-feeding exercise, as the reported post-press-conference West Wing high-fiving over Miller’s performance affirms.
And let’s pause here to note: It’s telling that the White House feels it even needs to do base-stroking right now. That Quinnipiac poll everyone is buzzing about, showing Trump at 33 percent approval, had him down to 76 percent among Republicans (PDF). That’s not the danger zone yet, but neither is it the comfort zone, which is north of 80.
It’s just one poll, but it reflects the tremors everyone is feeling. Graham and Cornyn know.
People have to go through emotional and psychological stages. Up to now, congressional Republicans have been in the stage of some combination of fear and resignation. That’s lifting. We’re not to outright opposition, of course, but things are moving encouragingly in that direction.
So how will it play out? Let’s look at tax reform, which is what they all say they want to do now.
Recently, key GOP tax-writing committee chairs in Congress signed an agreement with Steve Mnuchin and Gary Cohn of the administration on basic principles. But the agreement didn’t include a single deduction to be eliminated. You can’t cut the corporate tax rate by more than half without eliminating any deductions. As Matt Cooper wrote in Newsweek, it’s “akin to a call for losing weight without a diet.”
I can’t predict exactly what’s going to happen, but that’s a totally unserious approach to trying to write a bill no Congress has been able to write in 30 years. And if the health care repeal experience revealed anything, we’re probably on pretty solid ground in guessing that the process will be a huge mess, and it’ll be a huge mess for the same Trumpy reasons health care was.
Trump will have no knowledge of policy and no patience for learning it. He’ll say A is the goal one day and the next day he’ll say Not A. He’ll tweet something petty about the chairwoman of the House Budget Committee (yes, the chair is a woman, although the committee’s official web site calls her “chairman”!?). He’ll tell the week’s usual allotment of run-of-the-mill lies, which will grab all the attention. The Times and the Post will pop big Russia stories, which Trump will call fake news.
Even Republicans are going to run out of patience with all that.
Now, what America really needs, to stand a chance of becoming a semi-functioning polity again, is for the Republicans to realize not just that Donald Trump is a dangerous ignoramus, but that he is a dangerous ignoramus they created. Then we can get back to normal, whatever that is. At this point, I’d settle for the atmosphere of the Clinton era, which was plenty poisonous but seems light opera by comparison to now.
We’re a long way from the Republicans actually looking in the mirror. But let’s take what we get. If they’re staring at that Trump umbilical cord while twirling the knife in their collective hand, it means they’re bound to cut it one of these days. This is the week they started contemplating that.