Trump and the Republicans Are on a Suicide Mission Together - One of the things supposedly driving President Donald Trump to distraction, in what should be a celebratory first week in office, is that he isn’t getting a honeymoon period from the media and the general public. “Trump has been resentful, even furious, at what he views as the media’s failure to reflect the magnitude of his achievements,” The Washington Post reported this week, “and he feels demoralized that the public’s perception of his presidency so far does not necessarily align with his own sense of accomplishment.”
Trump is still widely disliked, as he was even the day after he defeated Hillary Clinton; the fact that he’s so unpopular contributed to the weak turnout at his inauguration; on Friday, reporters noted (accurately) that far fewer people attended his swearing-in than attended Barack Obama’s first inauguration; on Saturday, they noted (again, accurately) that a massive anti-Trump protest on the first day of his presidency was also better attended than his inauguration.
Trump hasn’t been able to let it go. His preoccupation with popularity hasn’t motivated him to do popular things, but it has driven him to manic outbursts about imaginary voter fraud and media conspiracies. An apparently typical digression about fraud and the popular vote during a meeting with congressional leaders this week “was greeted with silence, and Mr. Trump was prodded to change the subject by Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, and Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas,” according to The New York Times.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are at pains to maintain a façade of unity. But behind these conspicuous morale-boosting exercises, Republicans are doing a poor job concealing their awareness of how terribly this fledgling government is going. What they haven’t done is anything meaningful to change the trajectory. They have signed up for a suicide mission with Trump, without a complete understanding of what the purpose of the mission is, whether it will succeed, or how severe the collateral damage will be.
At a glance, Trump is an odd star to hitch a wagon to. He’s extremely unpopular at a time when he should be about as popular as he’ll ever be. The latest national poll, from Quinnipiac University on Thursday, found that only 36 percent approve of the way Trump is handling his new job, while 44 percent disapprove (compared to 59 percent approval and 25 percent disapproval for Barack Obama).
Had Trump spent the first days of his presidency calming nerves and behaving graciously, he might be on the upswing, but instead, he did the opposite. Everywhere you look below the surface, Republicans show signs of discomfiture with Trump’s temperament and the rickety state of his government. Consider:
- Republicans are ducking and hiding from questions about Trump, and being evasive when they answer. “I’m just not concentrating on [Trump’s false voter fraud claims]. I’m looking at the policies he’s putting forward, and they look good to me,” said Senator Shelly Moore Capito.
- When confronted with the fact that Trump claimed to be working with him on a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, incoming House and Human Services Secretary Tom Price wisecracked, “It’s true that he said that, yes.”
- Of Texas’ 38 members of Congress (most of whom are Republican), none would full-throatedly endorse Trump’s plan to build a wall along the Mexican border.
- Senators like John McCain have criticized Trump’s promise to renegotiate NAFTA and to keep an open mind about torture.
- Palace-intrigue stories sourced in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Politico—all sourced to the White House—portraying Trump as a fragile, erratic, television-obsessed snowflake.
The pattern that emerges is clear: Members of the White House are concerned enough about Trump’s capacity to do the job that they’ll leak to prominent reporters, but they’re not concerned enough to muster the courage to tell Trump the truth, or to resign. Congressional Republicans are concerned enough about the things Trump is doing that they’ll signal independence from or displeasure with Trump, but not concerned enough to use real power to stop him, or to keep him honest.
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