Baltimore Sun

Was last week the beginning of the end for Trump?

- Jonah Goldberg

“It’s not like in the movies,” is good advice for almost any field or endeavor, from war to Wall Street. But perhaps nowhere is it more true than in politics.

At the end of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Claude Raines admits he was the villain all along. Lonesome Rhodes, the populist demagogue played to perfection by Andy Griffith in “A Face in the Crowd,” has a hot-mic moment on TV and the audience gets cathartic release seeing his schemes fall apart.

Six years ago, I predicted that many conservati­ves would, like Alec Guinness’ Col. Nicholson in “The Bridge on the

River Kwai,” have an epiphany about their misguided role in abetting Trump. “I don’t know whether Trump will win the nomination or the presidency,” I wrote. “But I am fairly certain that if he does, a great many people will one day say, ‘My God, what have I done?’ ”

I wasn’t entirely wrong, but I was wrong in the ways that matter.

It was Gen. Douglas MacArthur who popularize­d the saying, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” What’s true of old soldiers is also true of most demagogues. Sen. Joseph McCarthy served more than two years after his censure, a broken morphine addict, but with ample supporters. Father Coughlin, the antisemiti­c

“radio priest,” remained a parish pastor for another quarter-century after he lost his microphone in 1940.

Political movements have a half-life; it’s impossible to predict how long they will last. Donald Trump’s has kicked in.

A month ago, the Washington Examiner editoriali­zed that Trump was unfit for office. The Examiner’s owners shuttered the Weekly Standard at least in part because of its opposition to Donald Trump. Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, both owned by Rupert Murdoch, declared Trump should fade away. The Post wrote in an editorial that “as a matter of principle, as a matter of character, Trump has proven himself unworthy to be this country’s chief executive again.” The Journal echoed the sentiment: “Character is revealed in a crisis, and Mr. Pence passed his Jan. 6 trial. Mr. Trump utterly failed his.”

Some would argue it shouldn’t have taken Jan. 6 to grasp Trump’s character, but that misses the point. Trump’s hold on the right is in the process of terminal decay. On Friday night, when Trump was haranguing rallygoers, Murdoch-controlled Fox News was running an interview with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Trump’s endorsemen­ts can still matter, particular­ly in crowded primaries. But they often fail to make the difference, as in Georgia, where some of Trump’s most hated Republican­s — Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensper­ger — won handily. In other cases, his endorsemen­ts are lagging indicators; he picks the inevitable winner because they are inevitable.

A recent New York Times-Siena College poll showed Joe Biden’s presidency to be on life-support. It was brutal in every regard save one: Despite being wildly unpopular with Democrats, Biden still beat Donald Trump in a head-to-head matchup.

There’s a lot of handwringi­ng over whether Trump will announce his candidacy for another presidenti­al run before the 2022 midterms. Trump could still win the 2024 GOP nomination. But it is worth recognizin­g that this gambit is a sign of growing weakness. Trump sees the tide going out as his former loyalists depart without him and is desperate to raise sail before it is too late. Polls of Republican­s can be misleading. He still has diehard supporters, but a lot of Republican­s — voters and politician­s — would rather just move on than admit they were wrong.

One explanatio­n for Murdoch and others turning on Trump is they recognize he could cost the GOP dearly in the midterms. Another explanatio­n is to signal to Trump he can’t expect a coronation and to donors and Republican politician­s that there is room to break from him. Many White House hopefuls got that message.

What’s missing is any meaningful admission for the role many played in creating Trump in the first place. Passionate opponents of Trump want that satisfacti­on, but they will never get it. Instead, the most likely scenario is that in a few years, many of Trump’s former accomplice­s, apologists and abettors will simply marvel at the strange chapter they helped author.

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