Without an en­emy, Trump re­mains adrift

The Morning Call - - TOWN SQUARE - Jonah Gold­berg

Last week there was a sharp uptick in spec­u­la­tion that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is a few fries shy of a Happy Meal.

Ob­vi­ously, this is not the first time the idea has popped up that the com­man­der in chief’s cheese might have slid off his cracker. Early in his pres­i­dency, and again in 2018, there was a lot of chat­ter that Trump should be re­moved via the 25th Amend­ment. Through it all, the pres­i­dent re­sponded by in­sist­ing he was a “very sta­ble genius.”

But af­ter what has seemed like a per­sonal best in whack­adoo­dle state­ments over the last few weeks, cable news net­works and prom­i­nent Twit­terati are ratch­et­ing up the talk that the pres­i­dent’s wheel might still be turn­ing but the ham­ster’s dead.

Whether it was his tweet declar­ing that Amer­i­can com­pa­nies “are hereby or­dered to im­me­di­ately start look­ing for an al­ter­na­tive” to do­ing busi­ness in China, or his de­ci­sion to can­cel a trip to Den­mark be­cause the Dan­ish prime min­is­ter didn’t have a “nice” re­ac­tion to his de­sire to buy Green­land, or his sug­ges­tion that Fed­eral Re­serve Chair­man Jerome Pow­ell might be a greater en­emy than China’s pre­mier-for-life, it did seem as if the West Wing’s nurse might have ac­ci­den­tally switched Trump’s meds for M&M’s.

“This is not nor­mal. And I don’t mean that as in, ‘Trump is vi­o­lat­ing the shib­bo­leths of the Wash­ing­ton es­tab­lish­ment,’ ” wrote The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Megan McAr­dle. “I mean that as in, ‘This is not nor­mal for a func­tion­ing adult.’ ”

I’ve long thought that Trump was a per­fect il­lus­tra­tion of the old ob­ser­va­tion that rich peo­ple are never crazy; they’re just “ec­cen­tric.”

But I am skep­ti­cal that the pres­i­dent’s men­tal state has got­ten worse. In­stead, his sit­u­a­tion is get­ting more pre­car­i­ous. Specif­i­cally, I think the fiz­zle of the Mueller probe was a griev­ous blow to the pres­i­dent, for the sim­ple rea­son that it re­moved an ex­tremely use­ful po­lit­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal boogey­man.

Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion al­lowed Trump to give voice to his per­se­cu­tion com­plex. In his mind, at least, the “witch hunt” was an ex­cuse to whine about “fake news” and dis­tract from other con­tro­ver­sies. But it also served the same func­tion for much of the right-wing me­dia, giv­ing them a rat­ings-and-clicks-rich topic to fo­cus on.

In a sense, Mueller was a sub­sti­tute for Hil­lary Clin­ton. Trump’s 2016 op­po­nent was such a re­viled fig­ure on the right, she gave many Trump-skep­ti­cal vot­ers the ex­cuse they needed to over­look his short­com­ings. Af­ter the elec­tion, Mueller and his “an­gry Dems” of the Deep State served as a ser­vice­able al­ter­na­tive to im­pos­ing co­he­sion and mes­sage dis­ci­pline on the right.

With Mueller gone, Trump is left scram­bling to find a re­place­ment. The “squad” — the four left-wing Demo­cratic first-term con­gress­women — are, col­lec­tively and in­di­vid­u­ally, can­di­dates. And they cer­tainly have their po­lit­i­cal uses, given their rad­i­cal­ism, hos­til­ity to Is­rael, etc. His base is happy to go all-in against them. But at­tack­ing four women of color has its lim­its as a po­lit­i­cal strat­egy, es­pe­cially given that Trump’s elec­toral Achilles’ heel is sub­ur­ban mod­er­ate women.

Also, they pose no se­ri­ous threat to Trump’s pres­i­dency the way Mueller seemed to, so they do not fo­cus Trump’s mind the way the spe­cial prose­cu­tor did.

Right now, the lead­ing can­di­date for Trump’s Mueller re­place­ment is Pow­ell. And that dog won’t hunt. Trump is clearly con­vinced that the Fed chair is try­ing to de­stroy his re­elec­tion chances by not low­er­ing in­ter­est rates to goose the econ­omy past the 2020 fin­ish line. Some will think this is bat-guano bonkers, oth­ers won’t, but the po­lit­i­cal real­ity is that this sto­ry­line is just too com­pli­cated to re­place the Mueller nar­ra­tive.

Whether or not he’s a sta­ble genius, the Trump on dis­play now is the same one we’ve al­ways seen. He needs some new en­emy to brace against, and he’s flail­ing around in search of one. That makes him ap­pear wob­blier than be­fore, but he’s as un­bal­anced as he’s al­ways been.

Tri­bune Con­tent Agency

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