Get Him Out Of There

Trump is a walking, one-man campaign for ending nuclear deterrence.

Jeffrey Lewis

After half a year of comic internal disarray, even in the face of broad public dismay, Trump’s administration had, through most of July, managed to hold together some basic level of partisan cohesion with a still-enthusiastic base and supportive partners in Congress. This has quickly collapsed.

Signs of the disintegration have popped up everywhere. The usual Trumo_mussolinistaff turmoil came to a boil in the course of ten days, during which the following occurred: The president denounced his own attorney general in public, the press secretary quit, a new communications director came aboard, the chief of staff was fired, the communications director accused the chief strategist of auto-fellatio in an interview, then he was himself fired. Meanwhile, the secretary of State and national-security adviser were both reported to be eyeing the exits.

More disturbingly for Trump, Republicans in Congress have openly broken ranks. When the Senate voted down the latest (and weakest) proposal to repeal Obamacare, Trump demanded the chamber resume the effort, as he has before. This time, Republican leaders defied him and declared the question settled for the year. When the president threatened to withhold promised payments to insurers in retribution, Republicans in Congress proposed to continue making them. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley, responding to the president’s threat to sack Jeff Sessions, announced he had no time to confirm a new attorney general. Many Republican senators have endorsed bills to block the president from firing the special counsel.

The most humiliating rebuke came in the form of a bill to lock in sanctions on Russia, passed by Congress without the president’s consent. The premise of the sanctions law is that Congress cannot trust the president to safeguard the national interest, treating him as a potential Russian dupe. It passed through both chambers almost unanimously. Trump delayed signing the bill for days, then submitted to its passage in the most begrudging fashion possible, releasing a statement that reads less like something a president would publish to commemorate the signing of a law than a petulant handwritten note a grounded teen might tape to the bedroom door.

During his very brief tenure as communications director, Anthony Scaramucci blurted out something very telling: “There are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president.” The conviction that Trump is dangerously unfit to hold office is indeed shared widely within his own administration. Leaked accounts consistently depict the president as unable to read briefing materials written at an adult level, easily angered, prone to manipulation through flattery, subject to change his mind frequently to agree with whomever he spoke with last, and consumed with the superficiality of cable television. In the early days of the administration, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and then–Homeland Security Director John Kelly secretly agreed that one of the two should remain in the country at all times “to keep tabs on the orders rapidly emerging from the White House.”

And the insurrection appears to be creeping outward. When Trump tweeted that he would ban transgender Americans from military service, the Defense Department announced there had been “no modifications to the current policy” and that, “in the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect.” When Trump gave a speech to police urging them to rough upimages suspects, several police chiefs and even the head of his own Drug Enforcement Agency registered their public objections. The accretion of these acts of defiance is significant. The federal government has flipped on its chief executive.

We are stuck with a delegitimized president serving out the remaining seven-eighths of his term. Politically gridlocked presidencies have become normal, but for the office to be occupied by a man whose own party elites doubt his functional competence and even loyalty is, to borrow a term, unpresidented.

Trump’s obsession with humiliation and dominance has left him ill-prepared to cope with high-profile failure. Trump could regain public standing through the rally-round-the-flag effect that usually occurs following a domestic attack or at the outset of a war. Trump’s authoritarian tendencies make the prospect of his rebuilding his legitimacy on the basis of security especially dangerous. The number of Republicans who see Trump as a strong leader has dropped by 22 percentage points since January. Trump’s opportunity lies in exploiting fear to demonstrate strength.

There is an answer to this danger. It is to not simply assume Trump can—or should be allowed to—use war or terrorism to his advantage. The ability of a president to gain popularity by launching (or suffering) an attack is not a law of nature. It reflects, in part, choices—by the opposition to withhold criticism and by the news media to accept the administration’s framing of the facts at face value. A chaotic, still-understaffed administration led by a novice commander-in-chief who has alienated American allies deserves no benefit of the doubt. Everything from Trump’s incompetent management of the Department of Energy, which safeguards nuclear materials, to af55ef0110a03492e5fcc4c84d09602e--top-trumps-political-cartoonsthe now-skeletal State Department, to his blustering international profile has exposed the country to an elevated risk of a mass tragedy.

Jonathan Chait

Republicans do not have to wake up each morning afraid of what the president has tweeted. They do not have to fret that the special counsel will find damning evidence of collusion with Russia, obstruction of justice or other criminal or impeachable behavior. They do not have to worry that they’ll accomplish absolutely nothing before facing the voters in 2018. They do not have to dread that a presidential temper tantrum will get us into a war, or force a humiliating retreat. They need not fear that the president of their own party will attack them, or even back a primary challenge against them. They could have a normal president. They could have their party back.

In short, a significant portion of elected Republicans have clearly figured out that a President Pence would be highly preferable to President Trump. Whatever virtues they thought Trump had, those never materialized, and seven months of nerve-racking White House histrionics and dysfunction have left them mentally and emotionally exhausted.

Behind closed doors and in whispered cloakroom conversations, most elected Republicans acknowledge that Trump is a menace, a danger to the party and to the country.

So, yes, most Republicans in Congress would prefer a stable, very conservative president who once served in the House and governed a red state. All they have to do is get Trump out of there and the Pence presidency can begin.

Jennifer Rubin

Trump’s attraction to an alternate reality where he is the target of the political elite, the banking elite, Marxists, the Islamic State, the deep state and professors from coast to coast fits in nicely with one of his rules: Nothing is ever his fault. He blamed a botched raid in Yemen on “the generals.” He blamed the failure of his Trump Shuttle airline on the economy. He blamed his failures in Atlantic City on two executives who died working for him. Facing declining poll numbers and an utter failure to “drain the swamp” or repeal major Obama-era legislation, the nixon-resignation-featurepresident once again has resorted to playing the victim. He remains, as one White House ally put it to The Post in May, “in the grip of some kind of paranoid delusion.”

There’s no sign that Trump’s attitude will change. The “wiser heads” that some hoped would foster a kind of sanity in the president have so far proved ineffective. How long they last in their jobs is anyone’s guess, but it’s unlikely they’ll make it four years. Their replacements are more likely to amplify the conspiracies than argue against them. Trump will continue to see himself as under siege from all sides.

Trump’s paranoia echoes that of another president: Richard Nixon. Nixon rejected the Birchers publicly, but he shared the idea of a campaign against the president. “Never forget, the press is the enemy, the establishment is the enemy, the professors are the enemy,” he said in December 1972. More frighteningly, as Nixon’s presidency ended in disaster, Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, worried about Nixon’s growing instability and increased drinking, told commanders that any order of a nuclear launch should be routed through him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Less than 50 years later, the Oval Office is at the center of a terrifying combination of delusions, a foreign policy crisis and nuclear launch codes. As with Nixon’s presidency, the end of this one cannot come soon enough.

James Downie


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