Trump turns to base to pro­tect pres­i­dency

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Be­set by in­ves­ti­ga­tions, dire ap­proval rat­ings and grow­ing party dis­sent, Don­ald Trump is stir­ring up his base, hop­ing to mo­bi­lize an army of po­lit­i­cal shock troops to pro­tect his pres­i­dency. Rev­e­la­tions that a grand jury has been im­pan­eled to in­ves­ti­gate his fi­nances and his cam­paign’s ties to Rus­sia raises the specter of in­dict­ments and sub­poe­nas that would shake any ad­min­is­tra­tion. But for Trump, who is just six months into his pres­i­dency, it rep­re­sents more tur­moil after an ex­o­dus of top White House of­fi­cials and hu­mil­i­at­ing re­cent re­verses in Congress.

De­spite a healthy econ­omy, a new poll by the Con­necti­cut-based Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity shows his ap­proval rat­ing at 33 per­cent - the same level en­dured by Richard Nixon dur­ing the Water­gate scan­dal or Ge­orge W Bush after the grind of the Iraq war. Fac­ing the prospect of limp­ing through an­other three and a half years, Trump is set­tling on a strat­egy of shoring up the sup­port of vot­ers who pro­pelled him to the White House with a se­ries of right-wing pol­icy an­nounce­ments and red­blooded speeches.

In lit­tle more than a week, Trump has en­cour­aged po­lice to dole out rough jus­tice, sum­mar­ily threat­ened to kick trans­gen­der per­son­nel out of the mil­i­tary and played up the threat of His­panic gangs. After warn­ing that neigh­bor­hoods are “be­com­ing blood-stained killing fields” he ap­peared in the Roo­sevelt Room of the White House last week to cham­pion a mas­sive curb on legal im­mi­gra­tion. The next day, Trump ad­dressed thou­sands of sup­port­ers at a rally where many of the themes that served him so well in the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign were dusted off again - in­clud­ing blis­ter­ing at­tacks on his de­feated ri­val Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Hit­ting his notes on im­mi­gra­tion and law and or­der, Trump painted the grand jury in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his cam­paign’s ties with Rus­sia as a per­sonal threat to him and his sup­port­ers. “The Rus­sia story is to­tal fab­ri­ca­tion,” he said, a “fake story that is de­mean­ing to all of us and most of all de­mean­ing to our coun­try and de­mean­ing to our Con­sti­tu­tion.” Given that the thricewed New Yorker mar­ried an im­mi­grant and once lec­tured Repub­li­cans on the need to de­fend gay rights, many crit­ics have said his re­cent an­nounce­ments smack of hypocrisy.

En­er­giz­ing the core

There is still lit­tle clar­ity on how the ban on trans­gen­ders can be im­ple­mented while White House sources ad­mit that the im­mi­gra­tion pro­posal has scant hope of pass­ing through Congress. Emily Ekins, polling di­rec­tor at the CATO In­sti­tute, be­lieves it is too sim­plis­tic to think of Trump vot­ers as a ho­moge­nous group, but rather a loose coali­tion of con­ser­va­tives, free mar­keters, cul­tural preser­va­tion­ists, anti-elites and the po­lit­i­cally dis­en­gaged.

But, she says, op­po­si­tion to im­mi­gra­tion is a rare com­mon thread run­ning through most of the US pres­i­dent’s base. “The thing that re­ally made this elec­tion dis­tinc­tive were at­ti­tudes to­ward im­mi­gra­tion, his core sup­port­ers were the most en­er­gized on the is­sue of im­mi­gra­tion,” Ekins told AFP. “Peo­ple ask ‘is there any­thing he could have done to get his core sup­port­ers to aban­don him?’ There is one thing. If he were to back-track on im­mi­gra­tion I think that would have been the thing to in­val­i­date him in their eyes.”

After los­ing a key vote on health care and then hav­ing his hands tied on deal­ing with Rus­sia by a vote on sanc­tions that he has tried to dis­own, Trump has be­come openly crit­i­cal of Congress - even though his Repub­li­can party has a ma­jor­ity in both houses. While Trump reg­u­larly railed against the Wash­ing­ton “swamp” on the cam­paign trail, he ap­peared to rec­og­nize the need to work with the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment once in power by bring­ing some of its main movers and shak­ers into the White House.

But the re­cent ex­its of his chief of staff Reince Preibus and chief spokesman Sean Spicer - both of whom were se­nior fig­ures in the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee - has made Trump’s al­ready dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship with the GOP look ever-more ten­u­ous. If the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment is be­ing kept at arms’ length, it can ap­pear at times as if Trump is look­ing to a Prae­to­rian Guard of sup­port­ers as the main pro­tec­tors of his pres­i­dency. On Fri­day, Trump retweeted a friendly Fox News com­men­ta­tor who sug­gested there would be an up­ris­ing ahead if Trump or his fam­ily were tar­geted by the grand jury. “There will be an up­roar in this coun­try if they end up with an in­dict­ment against a Trump fam­ily mem­ber just to get at POTUS,” he retweeted.

Some worry Trump’s em­brace of that kind of mes­sage could por­tend a se­ri­ous con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis ahead. “We have never had a pres­i­dent call his sup­port­ers into the streets to re­sist a legal process. But it seems pos­si­ble here. What then?” asked com­men­ta­tor and long­time Trump critic David Rothkopf.

— AFP

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump lis­tens as West Vir­ginia Gov­er­nor Jim Jus­tice an­nounces that he is switch­ing par­ties to be­come a repub­li­can dur­ing the pres­i­dent’s cam­paign rally at the Big Sandy Su­per­store Arena on Aug 3, 2017 in Hunt­ing­ton, West Vir­ginia.

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