The phrase “new low” has lost all meaning in the Trump era, but those Puerto Rico tweets over the weekend were something else. Our old Beast jefe John Avlon put it well:
These tweets were worse than usual because they were not political per se, as are for example his tweets about Robert Mueller. Yes, there’s a political element to them, but mostly, these Puerto Rico tweets were about President Trump’s character—his petty, vengeful, self-absorbed nature. No boss of any enterprise could tweet like that and keep his job. He’d be fired out of shame and revulsion.
And yet Trump keeps his because there are only two ways to fire him, impeachment and election. Well, we’re not going to impeach him. Fifteen or 17 or whatever Senate Republicans are sooner going to vote to put Barack Obama on Mount Rushmore than they’re going to vote to remove Trump from office. They won’t do it. We have to.
Democrats and liberals are going to spend a lot of time debating the best way to beat Trump, and that debate is going to come down to the classic polarization-age question of ginning up turnout among the base or reaching out to swing voters. Fine, whatever. But there’s a way to do both of those things and to reach all but the 30 or so percent of voters who adore Trump. Run on his character.
Before we get to 2020, let’s go back to 2016. I can understand a lot of reasons, good and bad, why a person might have supported Trump. Some people believed his promises about the economy, which so far, we have to admit, is doing very well. Some people hated Hillary Clinton. Some people are pro-life and couldn’t vote for a pro-choice presidential candidate. There are of course other less defensible reasons. Racists voted for him because… he’s a racist. But still—I get all this.
I can also understand why some people don’t accept that he lies virtually every time he opens his mouth. A quarter-century of being told that it’s people like me and outlets like The Daily Beast that are the real liars has had an impact. Trump partisans hear us correcting him and assume we’re the ones who are lying. And whatever the truth of any given matter, they love it that he makes us crazy.
So I get that too.
But the one thing I don’t get is how they can overlook what a horrible human being he is. He cheated people he did business with, he thinks women are just pieces of ass (or they aren’t, in which case they’re disgusting pigs)—you know it all, you don’t need me to catalog it. He’s a total thug, and his people don’t seem to care.
There are two broadly possible explanations here, and I suppose each is true for some percentage of his supporters. One, they genuinely don’t recognize what an awful person he is. Two, they do recognize it on some level, but they just don’t think it matters much. The way he sticks it to liberals, or the way he speaks for and defends a lost culture for which they yearn, is more important.
We’re getting close now to the halfway point of this madness, and as we move toward 2020, it’s only going to get worse. Probably a lot worse. Paul Manafort’s plea agreement means that he’s going to be telling prosecutors everything he knows about the campaign and Trump’s finances. The way this plea agreement was both struck and announced suggests that Manafort has a lot of beans to spill. This means in turn that eventually, when Mueller files his report, we’re going to learn things about Trump, and probably his family, that will shock average people.
And if the Democrats retake the House, they’re going to issue subpoena after subpoena and launch investigation after investigation. I’ve heard talk of Democratic House members who will be subcommittee chairs if the chamber flips who already have briefing books full of matters they want to look into and administration officials they want to grill. This will drive Trump totally bananas, and he’ll get even pettier and more hateful than he is now.
So suppose Mueller issues a damning report—an 8 or 8.5 on a scale of 10, say—but Republicans won’t vote to remove him from office and he’s down to around 30 percent approval as the campaign nears. He and the right-wing propaganda network that will seek to reelect him will have one play: Make the Democratic candidate seem as awful as he is so that enough people decide to stick with the awful person they know. I guarantee you this is what they will do. It’s going to be their only option, especially if the economy has gone a little south on them. And it won’t be easy to beat.
The Democrats need a candidate who rebuts this just by standing there. I don’t mean a good Christian or a good family man or woman, although I suppose those things can’t hurt. I mean someone who exudes that antique but beloved (by me!) quality of small-r republican virtue. Go Google it. I’m not gonna bore you with it. But it was of first-order importance to the men who founded this country, and I think it’s becoming more important to more and more people as they watch this goon try to destroy the presidency, the Justice Department, and whatever else gets in his way.
The Democrats are going to spend all their time debating left vs. mainstream, single payer vs. Obamacare, class warfare vs. not class warfare, and so on. I guess they have to. But that’s not what’s going to beat Trump. What’s going to beat Trump—and undo the damage he’s done—is a candidate who reminds people, without even seeming to try too hard, that the presidency was supposed to be a thing of honor and can be again.
NOTE: News developments on the Brett Kavanaugh front have led me to conclude that one criticism I made of Dianne Feinstein in my last column was a little unfair. The bulk of that column argued that Feinstein should have shared Christine Blasey Ford’s letter to her with her Democratic committee colleagues and that she could have done so while not revealing to them her name. That point still stands.
But the column also mentioned as a secondary point that Feinstein should have made the letter public, and that’s a murkier question. The big Washington Post story Sunday that revealed Ford’s identity for the first time said she “expected her story to be kept confidential.” But that’s incomplete. On Sunday afternoon, CNN published the text of the letter, in which Ford writes that she expected confidentiality “until we have further opportunity to speak.” We don’t know when they spoke and what Feinstein said. Even so, I appreciate that she was in a complicated position, and I should have limited my criticism to her not sharing the letter with her colleagues.