Repub­li­can pres­sure on Trump was long over­due

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - COMMENTARY - By Jonah Gold­berg

Upon hear­ing the news that Pres­i­dent Trump bowed to pres­sure from con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans and re­versed his de­ci­sion to hold next year’s G-7 sum­mit at the Trump Na­tional Do­ral Mi­ami, my im­me­di­ate response was, “Ah, what might have been.”

No, I’m not wist­ful about the missed op­por­tu­nity for tax­pay­ers to throw a life­line to Mr. Trump’s strug­gling re­sort. Rather, I’m a bit misty-eyed about what the last three years might have looked like if Repub­li­cans had shown this kind of spine all along.

There is an in­ter­est­ing con­sen­sus among the fiercely pro-Trump and anti-Trump forces on the right. For sim­plic­ity let’s call them Never Trumpers and Al­ways Trumpers.

Among the Never Trumper Repub­li­cans, it’s a given that Mr. Trump is not only un­fit for the job but un­teach­able. No amount of on-the-job train­ing will help.

For the Al­ways Trumpers, the Mr. Trump they got was the Mr. Trump they wanted all along. They’re like the per­son who de­lib­er­ately set the bull loose in the china shop. They look upon the shat­tered vases and lis­ten to the cat­er­waul­ing of the shop own­ers and grin at a mis­sion ac­com­plished.

In other words, both camps agree that Mr. Trump can’t change. They only quar­rel over whether that is a good thing or bad.

Ob­vi­ously, I am much closer to the Never Trumper po­si­tion on this. As I’ve writ­ten many times, I be­lieve “char­ac­ter is des­tiny,” and wait­ing for Mr. Trump to act “pres­i­den­tial” is like wait­ing for bears to stop us­ing our wood­lands as toi­lets. Still, I don’t think that means Repub­li­cans should take a hands-off ap­proach.

Most of the Al­ways Trumpers who dom­i­nate Fox prime time and con­ser­va­tive talk ra­dio voted for Mr. Trump not be­cause they liked him but be­cause they dis­liked Hil­lary Clin­ton more (though don’t ex­pect them to ad­mit that). And even though most con­ser­va­tives won’t say this to poll­sters, in pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions they will gen­er­ally ac­knowl­edge that Mr. Trump is of­ten his own worst en­emy.

Most con­ser­va­tives try to fo­cus on Mr. Trump’s re­sults rather than on the pres­i­dent him­self. Repub­li­cans like his ju­di­cial ap­point­ments, tax cuts, dereg­u­la­tion. And his sup­port for cul­ture-war pri­or­i­ties like the Sec­ond Amend­ment and abor­tion have also kept con­ser­va­tives on board. They sim­ply tune out the price the party and the coun­try has paid for these “wins.”

But there’s a part of the equa­tion that has been for­got­ten. Thanks in part to the po­lar­ized cli­mate, the near-ban­ish­ment of crit­i­cal voices from pro-Trump me­dia out­lets and the psy­cho­log­i­cal need to de­fend the leader of their “side,” con­ser­va­tives for­get that many of these wins are the re­sult of Mr. Trump’s hand hav­ing been forced in a po­lit­i­cal trans­ac­tion. Un­til Trump launched his hos­tile takeover of the GOP, he was pro-choice, pro-gun con­trol and ut­terly un­con­cerned about fi­delity to the Con­sti­tu­tion. He be­came pro-life and pro-Sec­ond Amend­ment be­cause that was the price of wide­spread con­ser­va­tive sup­port. He agreed to out­source his ju­di­cial ap­point­ments to the Fed­er­al­ist So­ci­ety and

Her­itage Foun­da­tion pre­cisely be­cause no one trusted his judg­ment.

Once elected, how­ever, Mr. Trump used his abil­ity to in­flu­ence his core sup­port­ers — who have out­size power in pri­maries to pun­ish GOP crit­ics. By tak­ing the scalps of politi­cians such as for­mer GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Ari­zona, Mr. Trump also took the spines of count­less oth­ers. As a re­sult, the GOP lost con­trol of the House in 2018 and may be on the cusp of los­ing the Se­nate and the pres­i­dency in 2020.

In a self-pity­ing tweet over the week­end, the pres­i­dent said he re­versed his de­ci­sion on Do­ral be­cause “the Hos­tile Me­dia & their Demo­crat Part­ners went CRAZY!”

This is a dan­ger­ous ad­mis­sion. Mr. Trump’s pop­u­lar­ity with Repub­li­cans is sus­tained by the fact he drives the Democrats and me­dia “CRAZY!” His sup­port­ers don’t want to hear about him cav­ing to the de­mands of lib­er­als. But ad­mit­ting the truth would have been worse; too many Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors couldn’t or wouldn’t de­fend his in­de­fen­si­ble de­ci­sion, and they let the pres­i­dent know he’d gone too far. Nor­mal pres­i­dents feel con­strained by the po­lit­i­cal needs of their party, and it turns out even Mr. Trump isn’t im­mune to pres­sure from his team.

Of course, he feels more con­strained by GOP con­gres­sional sup­port now that he’s star­ing down the bar­rel of im­peach­ment. But if Mr. Trump had cared more about re­cip­ro­cat­ing the loy­alty he so of­ten de­mands from the party, he might not be look­ing at im­peach­ment in the first place. And if the GOP had worked harder at con­strain­ing Mr. Trump from the be­gin­ning, they might not be look­ing at the im­plo­sion of their party.

Jonah Gold­berg is edi­tor-in-chief of The Dis­patch and the host of The Rem­nant pod­cast. His Twit­ter handle is @Jon­ahDis­patch.

OLIVER CON­TR­ERAS/SIPA USA

The pres­sure con­tin­ues to mount on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

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