Washington Goes to Trump University
(Bloomberg View) -- Republican consultant Ana Navarro wants to know what everyone wants to know: What exactly will it take for congressional Republicans to abandon President Donald Trump? In the wake of Trump's most recent outrages, Navarro used an appearance on CNN to face the camera and address her co-partisans directly:
I have to ask Republicans over and over again: What is it going to take for you to wake up and realize that your duty and your obligation is to country, not to this one man? How far does it have to go? What does he have to do for you to wake up and speak up and do what you need to do?
Judging from the general lack of interest in Trump scandals on the part of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, it's going to take a lot more than a good scolding from Navarro. Aside from their own reservations about upsetting a Republican White House, McConnell and Ryan know that their own voters would be outraged at their perceived betrayal of Trump.
The congressional leaders are squarely aligned. Usually, McConnell, the professional cynic, makes it clear that a lot of impassioned claptrap about democracy and decency doesn't mean much to him. Ryan, the rhinestone idealist, typically takes a different tack, making a public show of high-mindedness before doing pretty much what McConnell would do in a similar situation. But on Wednesday Ryan dispensed with a noisy parade of conscience, instead asserting full confidence in a president who not only jeopardizes Ryan's agenda, but one who has never enjoyed his confidence. The speaker went full McConnell.
Although it's graduation season on college campuses, the season of political education has only just begun. Trump is learning that the presidency isn't a casino he can pillage and bankrupt without resistance. Conscience Republicans, such as Navarro, are learning that many of their colleagues have strong feelings about democracy, decency and the rule of law only when it suits their political purposes. And much of Washington is getting at least generally acquainted with the lesson plan for removing a president from office.
The Trump voters haven't arrived in class yet.
McConnell and Ryan have a replacement waiting in the wings. But until Trump voters -- which is another way of describing the vast majority of the Republican Party -- come around to the notion that the source of Trump's troubles is Trump, Vice President Mike Pence will have to keep his ambitions in check.
Removing Trump would be awful for Republicans, generating a level of rancor and mistrust that the party would struggle to contain. As Amy Walter noted at Cook Political Report, recent polls from "NBC, Gallup and Survey Monkey all show Trump with approval ratings among Republicans between 82 and 88 percent." A straw poll last weekend -- after Trump fired James Comey as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- of about 300 attendees at the Wisconsin Republican state convention pegged Trump's job approval at 91 percent, with 56 percent strongly approving.
Turning those voters against Trump is going to be like turning the proverbial tanker in the ocean. In the conservative alterverse that has Fox News at its gaseous core, Trump is still the hero of his story, enduring the hatred of liberals and environmentalists and intellectual snobs not because he threatens democracy and national security but because he has the temerity to challenge their unwarranted cultural status.
Voters who were not put off by candidate Trump's populist rage, ignorance, sexism, racism or glaring insecurities are not going to be appalled by the deficiencies of his presidency -- at least not without abundant encouragement from conservative media and Republican politicians.
We are probably at the beginning, not the end, of damaging revelations about Trump. His basic incompetence will continue to offend government professionals and his own compromised staff, who seem to leak stories of his bad behavior in part to assuage their own complicity.
Memos and testimony from Comey are teed up in Congress. Reporters and Senate investigators are pursuing Trump's financial ties to Russian money along with the strange recurrence of Russia as a dominant theme among Trump associates. (The FBI, no doubt, has a head start in the investigation.) And every day offers Trump new ways and means to besmirch himself.
If something can't go on forever, it won't, said economist Herbert Stein. Despite the generally distant odds of impeachment or resignation, Trump's presidency is so untenable that it's probably in the Stein category. McConnell, Ryan and many other Republicans surely recognize that. The delicate task of explaining it to Trump's voters may take a while.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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