Although I have my doubts about Ben Domenech’s theory that Trump has embarked on an administration of triangulation, I noted there were things I liked about it. There’s another thing I like about it I forgot to mention that warrants a separate discussion.
What got lost in the discussion of this “pivot” theory is that when Ben originally proposed it back in May, he did so from the premise that Trump’s political future may depend on it, that he otherwise might face impeachment by a Democrat-controlled House after 2018 or a re-election campaign based on meager and unpopular accomplishments.
Although Trump-friendly pundits might recognize those dangers, they generally won’t write pieces like Ben’s, because to do so would mean squarely facing the lousy position in which Pres. Trump finds himself. He currently has a roughly 40% job approval rating and is underwater by 15-17 points. Trump’s supporters, including those in the media, generally don’t want to acknowledge how poorly a president is doing historically to have that sort of rating. And they don’t know — or perhaps think they don’t care — that it could mean the GOP loses the House if the trend doesn’t change.
Rather, they prefer to blame everyone else for Trump’s problems, to the extent those problems are acknowledged. In this narrative, the most powerful man in the world is a victim best by enemies on all sides. This narrative is occasionally drawn with the sort of histrionics seen from Trump’s worst critics.
That said, even paranoids can have enemies. Let’s take a brief tour of the rogues’ gallery.
The Left, the so-called “deep state,” and the media are broadly indicted for attempting to reverse the results of the 2016 election by ginning up a Russia scandal and ensuing investigations thereof through a campaign of illegal leaks of classified information.
Keep in mind that when federal officials were leaking classified info embarrassing the Clinton and Obama administrations to Bill Gertz, James Rosen and reporters at the Associated Press, the Right did not condemn the leaks, but did condemn the Obama administration’s Espionage Act investigations of the leaks. The “principle” at work here is not concern for national security.
Also keep in mind that from the very limited evidence on the public record, Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, and campaign manager Paul Manafort took a meeting the stated purpose of which was to transmit (unvetted) “top secret” dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government, which was said to be interested in Trump’s victory. This is not the “nothingburger” Trump’s defenders claim; it’s shady as Hell.
Rather than address this seriously, or even ignore it, Trump’s defenders have tried building a counter-narrative in which the Obama administration engaged in gross abuses of power to conduct surveillance of the Trump campaign and improperly “unmask” the identities of Trump associates. It has occurred to some but not all of these people that if there was something to this counter-narrative, Trump could expose it. And this has always been true.
Nevertheless, the pro-Trump commentariat that will advise everyone to discount anonymously-sourced stories about the Russia investigations will tout and share anonymously-sourced stories about this counter-narrative. Odd how that works.
Further keep in mind that (as I’ve noted on several prior occasions), virtually every presidency in recent decades has been faced with claims of scandals or pseudo-scandals. And in none of these cases, excepting Watergate, could it be said that these presidencies were paralyzed as a result. To the contrary, past administrations generally made the effort to demonstrate the opposite, rather than wallow in victimhood.
The media has overhyped the Russia story and published bogus Trump-adjacent stories (most often about the Russia probes). But this coverage is unpopular and undermines their credibility, which is why I have suggested that this obsession may help Trump and the GOP more than if the media had more soberly focused on Trump’s real failures.
Trump flacks don’t want to consider this possibility, despite the fact that the media is supposed to be the unifying enemy that replaces the Soviet Union in drawing the GOP together. People on the Right routinely joke that the media’s ongoing clown show will get Trump re-elected…except when it comes to assessing whether the media is to blame for Trump’s bad approval numbers. It’s a nice trick, but a trick nonetheless.
Instead of a government-wide conspiracy to undermine Trump’s “honeymoon” period, perhaps pro-Trump pundits should consider an alternate theory. Trump won an Electoral College victory while losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. That’s because Trump generally had negatives almost as bad as Clinton’s, with fewer people thinking he had the qualifications for the job.
During the transition, Trump’s favorables improved and his job approval started out evenly split. But Trump deluded himself into thinking he won the biggest election victory ever (rather than the most surprising upset). So instead of taking the George W. Bush approach of building some bipartisan capital (as Dubya did with an education bill), he took the Barack Obama approach of playing to his hardest-core supporters, starting with the ineptly implemented “travel ban.”
Maybe these are the factors contributing to Trump’s declining approval numbers. It’s a theory, anyway.
Of course, the pro-Trump finger-pointing is not limited to the Left. The establishment GOP, Congress and Trump-skeptical pundits are also part of the persecution of the President.
You frequently hear from the Entertainment Wing of the Right that the GOP Congress has attempted to thwart Trump at every turn. Stephen Bannon was peddling this drivel to 60 Minutes over the weekend, but you also hear it with some regularity from Fox News people.
It’s a charge rarely supported by a bill of particulars, because — with the notable exception of the Russia sanctions bill — it would not hold up under scrutiny. To the contrary, the Left constantly whines over how much the Congressional GOP has supported Trump’s agenda.
It’s true that Congress has failed to pass a healthcare bill yet. But the House passed one, a version of the bill House Speaker Paul Ryan wanted to pass long before anyone thought Trump would be President. Ryan bore some responsibility for the failure of the initial version… but so did Trump.
The Senate has failed to pass a healthcare bill so far. Sen. Maj. Ldr. Mitch McConnell made some of the same mistakes as Ryan in trying to override regular order, while Trump not only repeated many of his, but also committed new ones. Trump criticizing the House bill as “mean” after celebrating it had to be unnerving. And the administration’s attempts to bully people like Sen. Lisa Murkowski backfired. Yet no one claims Trump is part of a conspiracy to thwart Trump.
Maybe — and I’m just spitballing here — it’s very difficult to pass a wildly unpopular proposal with a narrow and ideologicaly-diverse majority on a brutally quick schedule. Or maybe it’s a vast right-wing conspiracy against Trump. But not really.
It’s also true that GOP lawmakers and Trump-skeptical pundits criticize Trump, on and off the record.
OTOH, the Entertainment Wing of the Right makes its money fueling discontent at the Congressional GOP. When confronted with the record of what the Congressional GOP did accomplish during the Obama era, Trump supporters will either ignore the point entirely or complain that “more” wasn’t done (a standard to which they won’t hold Trump…yet).
Trump’s campaign was based in no small part on the premise that the establishment GOP is a bunch of idiots incapable of getting the job done. This intraparty attack on the GOP’s Congressional leadership has been going on for years, perhaps over a decade. In this ongoing dispute, the notion that Bill Kristol, David French, or Rick Wilson have the megaphones and influence of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin is laughably delusional, but it seems to be an article of faith among some pro-Trump pundits, if their obsession with former NeverTrumpers is any indicator.
Had Ryan or McConnell sat around whining over these complaints, they would have rightly been lambasted as crybabies. But that is how Trump shills behave now and yet expect to be taken seriously.
All of which leads me to my suggestion for Trump and his supporters: Put on your big boy pants. Triangulate if you want (but don’t pretend Trump isn’t going further Left than Ryan ever did). Or try to manage the GOP coalition better than Ryan, McConnell, or their predecessors did.
But recognize that that things have to change, and that the main reason they have to change stares back at Donald J. Trump from a mirror every morning.
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