Trump’s party will not turn against him

The pres­i­dent is un­fit for of­fice, as Michael Wolff’s new book il­lus­trates. But Repub­li­cans must share the blame for his White House an­tics

The Guardian Weekly - - Comment & Debate - Jonathan Freed­land

What did you think would be the Repub­li­can re­ac­tion to the lat­est rev­e­la­tions about Don­ald Trump? Did you ex­pect the party’s luminaries to drop their col­lec­tive head into their hands, or to crum­ple into a heap in de­spair at the state of the man they anointed as pres­i­dent? They’d cer­tainly have had good rea­son. In the book Fire and Fury, which last Thurs­day re­ceived the great­est pos­si­ble en­dorse­ment – namely a “cease and de­sist” order from Trump’s per­sonal lawyers – the jour­nal­ist Michael Wolff paints a pic­ture of a man whose own clos­est aides, friends and even fam­ily be­lieve is con­gen­i­tally un­fit to be pres­i­dent.

The Trump de­picted in the book is ig­no­rant: the ad­viser who tried to teach him about the con­sti­tu­tion could get no fur­ther than the fourth amend­ment be­fore Trump’s eyes glazed over. He doesn’t read, or even skim, barely hav­ing the pa­tience to take in a head­line. Some al­lies try to per­suade Wolff that at­ten­tion deficit dis­or­der is part of Trump’s pop­ulist ge­nius: he is “postlit­er­ate – to­tal tele­vi­sion”.

He is also loath­some: we read that a favourite sport of Trump’s was trick­ing friends’ wives to sleep with him. He is weird, es­pe­cially in the bed­room: hav­ing clashed with his se­cret ser­vice bodyguard over his in­sis­tence that he be able to lock him­self into his quar­ters, he de­manded the in­stal­la­tion of two extra TV sets, so he could watch three ca­ble news chan­nels at once. He heads back un­der the cov­ers as early as 6.30pm, munch­ing a cheese­burger as he soaks up hours of Fox and CNN. If there are crumbs, the cham­ber­maid can’t change the sheets: he in­sists that he strip the bed him­self.

We learn that Trump be­lieves Satur­day Night Live is dam­ag­ing to the na­tion and that it is “fake comedy”; that daugh­ter Ivanka wants to be pres­i­dent her­self and that pri­vately she mocks her fa­ther’s na­ture-de­fy­ing com­bover. And, per­haps most amus­ingly, we get an an­swer to the ques­tion that has long en­raged Trump: the iden­tity of the mystery leaker be­hind the stream of sto­ries of White House chaos. It turns out that the pres­i­dent rants end­lessly on the phone to his bil­lion­aire friends, who feel no duty of con­fi­den­tial­ity. In other words, the leaker Trump seeks is … him­self.

Given all this ma­te­rial, you’d for­give con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans for be­ing glum. Al­ter­na­tively, you’d un­der­stand if they tried to de­nounce the book, per­haps join- ing those who ques­tion Wolff ’s meth­ods, be­liev­ing he too of­ten strays from cor­rob­o­rated facts and cuts jour­nal­is­tic corners. But that has not been the re­ac­tion.

In­stead the of­fi­cial cam­paign ac­count for Mitch McCon­nell, the Repub­li­can leader in the Se­nate, tweeted a gif of McCon­nell grin­ning might­ily. And that smirk cap­tured the mood of many of his col­leagues. What do they have to smile about? They’re pleased be­cause they be­lieve Fire and Fury marks the down­fall of Steve Ban­non, the for­mer chief strate­gist to Trump and source of some of the book’s most scathing lines. It was Ban­non who told Wolff that Trump had “lost it”, and Ban­non who de­scribed the meet­ing Don­ald Trump Jr had with a Russian lawyer – con­vened for the ex­press pur­pose of re­ceiv­ing dirt on Hil­lary Clin­ton – as “trea­sonous” (he has since re­tracted that claim).

Trump’s re­sponse came in the form of a fu­ri­ous state­ment that loosely trans­lates into New Yorkese as “You’re dead to me” – which de­lighted es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans who have long seen Ban­non as the en­emy within.

It would be nice if this loathing were rooted in prin­ci­ple, with Repub­li­cans de­spis­ing Ban­non as the apos­tle of an ul­tra-na­tion­al­ist iso­la­tion­ism and xeno­pho­bia that could tip the US and the world to­wards a 1930s-style catas­tro­phe. But the truth is that Ban­non posed a threat to McCon­nell and his ilk, vow­ing to run in­sur­gent, Trump-like can­di­dates against es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans in pri­mary con­tests. If Ban­non is bro­ken, they can sleep more eas­ily.

Some go fur­ther, be­liev­ing that, as Ban­non dies, so does Ban­non­ism. They spec­u­late that, with the ties to his one­time evil ge­nius sev­ered, Trump might now mod­er­ate, be­com­ing a more con­ven­tional, fo­cused oc­cu­pant of the Oval Of­fice. This is delu­sional, twice over.

First, it’s true that things look bad for Ban­non: he has ap­par­ently lost the fi­nan­cial back­ing of the bil­lion­aire Mercer fam­ily, and it’s pos­si­ble he stands to lose con­trol of his far-right Bre­it­bart me­dia em­pire. But he un­der­stands Trump and knows that, if you’re ready to grovel, a rap­proche­ment is al­ways pos­si­ble. Hence Ban­non’s dec­la­ra­tion last Thurs­day that Trump is a “great man”.

But the more en­dur­ing delu­sion is that Trump is poised to mod­er­ate. Repub­li­cans pre­dicted he would change once the pri­maries of 2016 were un­der way. Then they said he would change once he’d won the nom­i­na­tion. Or when the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign be­gan. Or when he’d won. Or once he’d taken the oath of of­fice. They were wrong. He won’t change. Trump is Trump.

The sheer per­sis­tence of this delu­sion points to an­other one: the hope that Repub­li­cans will fi­nally de­cide enough is enough and do the right thing by oust­ing this un­fit pres­i­dent. The Wolff book has prompted an­other flurry of that spec­u­la­tion, fo­cused this time on the 25th amend­ment of the con­sti­tu­tion, which al­lows for the re­moval of a pres­i­dent deemed “un­able to dis­charge the pow­ers and du­ties of his of­fice”.

In an ar­ti­cle last week, Wolff pro­vides ar­rest­ing ev­i­dence of men­tal de­te­ri­o­ra­tion. He writes that Trump would tell the same three sto­ries, word-for-word, in­side 30 min­utes, un­aware he was re­peat­ing him­self. “Now it was within 10 min­utes.” He adds: “At Mar-a-Lago, just be­fore the new year, a heav­ily made-up Trump failed to recog­nise a suc­ces­sion of old friends.” But the 25th amend­ment re­quires the agree­ment of the vi­cepres­i­dent, a ma­jor­ity of the cabi­net and both houses of Con­gress. We are, once again, up against the sober­ing truth of the US con­sti­tu­tion: it is only as strong as those will­ing to en­force it. That means the Repub­li­can party.

Th­ese lat­est rev­e­la­tions prove – yet again – what a vile, nar­cis­sis­tic and dan­ger­ous man we have in the Oval Of­fice. But the re­ac­tion to them proves some­thing else, too. That he re­mains in place only thanks to the will­ing con­nivance of his Repub­li­can en­ablers. As cul­pa­ble as he is, they share in his damna­tion.

Repub­li­cans pre­dicted Trump would change once he was elected. They were wrong. He won’t change. Trump is Trump

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.