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Donald Trump Is Already a Lame Duck
The White House is in a tailspin, and even the president's fans are starting to realize it.
Trump can’t get the repeal of Obamacare, or any other legislative priority, through a Republican-controlled Congress. He has had no real achievements other than the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch. It turns out that a president with under-40 percent approval ratings can’t strong-arm legislators into doing his will, and Trump’s clumsy attempts to do so have predictably backfired.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke threatened to block federal projects in Alaska if Senator Lisa Murkowski didn’t back the Republican health-care “plan.” As chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski let her displeasure be known by stalling a nomination that Zinke wants, and then by voting against the health bill anyway. She can now make life miserable for Zinke for as long as she wants, because her committee oversees his department. As the Washington Post noted, this is “political malpractice” of a high order, but it is typical of Trump’s amateurish operation.
The health-care bill was only the second of two major legislative defeats Trump suffered last week. The other was the approval by veto-proof margins in both houses of sanctions against Russia, thus killing Trump’s chances of delivering the rapprochement that Mike Flynn evidently promised the Russian ambassador before the inauguration.
Yet another repudiation of the president came from his own Department of Defense. Trump tweeted an order banning transgendered individuals from military service, apparently without consulting the Pentagon’s leaders in advance. The generals, in turn, let it be known that they were not going to act on Trump’s tweets until the White House delivers a formal order and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis — who was on vacation and thunderously silent — issues implementation instructions. So Trump can’t even get “my generals,” as he refers to the leaders of America’s armed forces, to carry out his rash edicts.
Meanwhile, the world becomes an ever-more dangerous place, with both Iran and North Korea testing long-range missiles. Kim Jong-un either already has, or will soon have, the ability to incinerate Washington. But Trump can barely notice world crises, because he is too preoccupied tending to his own, self-created crises.
The president spent much of last week focused on his feud with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and — by proxy — with then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus. The proxy in the latter case was, of course, Trump’s foul-mouthed Mini-Me, Anthony Scaramucci, who appears to have wandered into Washington straight off the set of The Wolf of Wall Street.
“The Mooch,” as he likes to be called, has taken a unique approach to his job as White House communications director. Shortly after taking the post, he accused Priebus of a “felony” for having supposedly leaked his financial disclosure form. In truth, the Export-Import Bank, where Scaramucci had previously been slated to go, had released the document in the normal course of business. This was merely a warm-up to the main act — the Mooch’s gobsmacking interview with the New Yorker. He bad-mouthed Priebus (“a fucking paranoid-schizophrenic) and Steve Bannon (“I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock”), threatened to fire the entire White House communications staff and vowed to “fucking kill all the leakers.”
No previous White House aide in history has ever said anything remotely like this on the record. (Imagine what Mooch says off-the-record — and yes he did go off-the-record with the New Yorker at one point.) In any other White House it would have been grounds for instant dismissal. Not this one. Trump evidently “loved” the Mooch’s tirade so much that he fired not Scaramucci but Priebus. What kind of message does that send to other administration employees — and to every other American — about what kind of behavior this president expects?
The new chief of staff is the retired Marine general John Kelly, until now Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security. No doubt Trump hopes that the general can straighten out what ails the White House. It is, of course, a vain hope, because, to quote the Mooch, “the fish stinks from the head.”
The dead-fish stench emanating from the White House has wafted all the way to the Justice Department. The president has been engaged in a passive-aggressive campaign against the man he calls “our beleaguered A.G.” — beleaguered, of course, by Trump himself. Trump spent a week publicly needling Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties. There is plenty one can criticize Sessions for, including his apparent lies about his contacts with the Russians last year, but not for this. Having been involved in the Trump campaign, Sessions had no choice but to recuse himself.
Naturally, Trump is fine with Session’s convenient lapses of memory. He only objected when Sessions did the ethical and honest thing. For good measure, the president has been berating Sessions for taking “a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!”
Trying to use the criminal justice system to strike back at an enemy of the president is an impeachable offense. So is obstructing an investigation of the president and his aides. But the president appears so terrified of what Special Counsel Robert Mueller may uncover that he is willing to risk a constitutional crisis to stop the Kremlingate investigation. Yet Trump, a consummate bully, is too cowardly to either confront Sessions directly or to fire him; he prefers to make Sessions’ life such a living hell that he will resign, thereby allowing the appointment of a stooge who will fire Mueller.
Trump’s mistreatment of Sessions — one of his earliest and most loyal followers — has elicited a backlash from Sessions’ friends in the Senate and in the nationalist-populist movement. Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, David Horowitz, and all of Trump’s other toadies professed shock at one of their heroes mistreating another.
It’s interesting to see what constitutes a breaking point for the Trump crowd. They were fine with Trump’s ignorance, inconsistency, and mendacity; his crazy conspiracy theories and unhinged tweets; his vile attacks on women, war heroes, and the press; his demonization of Mexicans and Muslims; his pussy-grabbing and general, all-around loutishness; his kowtowing to Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, and other loathsome dictators; his son’s eagerness to collude with the Russian government and his own attempts to obstruct justice by firing the FBI director. The Trumpites excused all of this inexcusable conduct on the grounds that “at least he fights.”
True, he fights. But what does he fight for? Not for conservative principles. He has no principles. Trump is not pursuing an “America First” policy. He is pursuing a “me first” policy. He will not fight for legislative priorities such as health-care reform — a subject he does not understand or care about — but he will fight to obstruct an investigation into his own misconduct.
None of this should be remotely surprising to anyone who has been awake for the past two years. Jeb Bush accurately called Trump the “chaos candidate” and predicted that he would be the “chaos president.” This did not faze his fans for a second. They wanted someone to come in and shake up Washington. Well, they got what they wanted. Now we must all live with the calamitous consequences. Trump may be the first president ever to have become a lame duck with 3 and a half years remaining in his term of office.
Photo credit: JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty Images