Dare I say it? I will. It feels like we may have turned a corner on the Trump presidency and that an end may be in sight.
This is not the wishful thinking of someone horrified by the degrading tone and chronic chaos of a presidency that has been worse, far worse, than we feared the day after the election.
Something has shifted. This past week has felt like a significant milestone in the decline of Donald Trump’s power.
Notwithstanding his continued popularity in his right-wing base outside of Washington D.C., Trump is losing the backing of members his own Republican Party and the executive branch of government. They are pushing back on his directives despite threats of retribution, and are telling the president publicly that they will reject his policies until required to implement them.
This means the president is weak. Weaker than we’ve ever seen him. Even Vladimir Putin did not wait for Trump to sign the bill imposing new sanctions on Russia to announce retaliatory expulsions of American diplomats on Sunday.
Consider the series of rejections Trump has experienced just in the past few days:
- Senate Republicans have made clear that they will not brook the dismissal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Trump has derided for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Charles Grassley have both said publicly there is no room in the Senate’s schedule to consider a recess appointment. This boxes Trump into a corner and narrows his options if he wants to lean on the Department of Justice to dismiss special prosecutor Robert Mueller.
- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that “any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency unless Mueller did something wrong.”
- Three Republican senators voted down the repeal and replace Trumpcare bill. Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski was impervious to threats by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that her state would be made to pay the price if she dared to vote against the bill. She did.
- John McCain rose from his sickbed in Arizona to give a dramatic, after-midnight thumbs down vote on Trumpcase. Karma’s a bitch.
- The Pentagon pushed back on Trump’s impetuous fiat banning transgender people from the military via Twitter. Senators urged the Department of Defense to hold off too.
Trump is now flailing. This weekend he threatened to take away health care from members of Congress because of their vote on Trumpcare. He threatened to stop federal funding to insurance companies. He blamed the Democrats. He harangued the Republicans, calling them “fools.”
I’m probably forgetting some things, my God who can keep up, but his cycle of bully-then-blame is exhausting everyone, even people who are nominally on his side.
This does not play as a sign of strength, it plays as weakness. You threaten when you have no other options.
The ongoing chaos in the West Wing of the White House contributes to the smell of blood in the water.
Last week Trump replaced the hapless Sean Spicer with “Wolf of Wall Street” slickster Anthony Scaramucci. That seemed like an improvement for literally one day, after which “the Mooch” vomited all over himself in a vulgar interview with The New Yorker. He’s been low profile since then. Update: He got fired on Monday. (See my point?)
And in the latest twist of last week, Reince Preibus — accused of being the “leaker” — is out as chief of staff, replaced by General John Kelly, with no sign of a replacement for Kelly in the Department of Homeland Security. Plenty of pundits are predicting that the buttoned-down Kelly will be a bad fit for the most undisciplined president in anyone’s modern memory.
Meanwhile, Robert Mueller steadily continues his investigation: drip, drip, drip. Trump is keenly aware of this ticking time bomb and it appears to be driving him to ever-worse decisions.
Bad judgement, bad behavior, mob-style threats and an inability to learn from his own mistakes. Watch where this goes.