Over the past few months, there have been times when sane people could take heart about the future of the country. It looked like a long struggle, with no guarantee of success, but it was becoming clear that the sheer incompetence of the Trump team was saving the country from bigger problems.
Even better, the reaction to the Muslim ban (and people’s—including judges’—willingness to see past Trump’s claim that it really wasn’t a Muslim ban), as well as public condemnation of Republicans’ attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, suggested there could be a real opposition among the three-fourths of the American population who did not vote for Trump.
We always knew this would be a roller-coaster ride, with good weeks and bad weeks. But the last week’s developments strongly suggest Trump will not face any serious roadblocks to rigging his reelection in 2020, much less surviving any calls for impeachment in the meantime.
The latest evidence, moreover, does not merely relate to how Republicans are treating Trump, but also to what Trump calls the “enemy of the American people”—the free press—and how the press are going to treat him going forward.
Although I am worried about what we have seen very recently, it is important to begin by acknowledging something that has been true ever since Trump became the nominee, if not even earlier: The simple fact is that Trump’s voters will never abandon him.
Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 2. Neil Buchanan writes that the response of the press to Trump’s State of the Union–equivalent speech to Congress was almost gooey. Even reporters who were deeply skeptical about his speech nevertheless marveled: “Striking that presidential tone, as Mr. Trump did on Tuesday, was an important political move.”
There are many reasons why Trump is being compared to Richard Nixon, from his Saturday Night Massacre–like sacking of an acting attorney general to his subordinates lying to Congress. One of the things that people forget, however, is that Nixon maintained the support of one-fourth of the American people even on his worst day.
I was very young when Watergate unfolded, but I was old enough to follow the story in the newspapers. I distinctly remember Nixon’s approval rating stayed stubbornly at 23 percent even as he was forced to resign in disgrace.
His supporters included my maternal grandparents, who assured me that Nixon had done nothing wrong but had been framed by a bunch of liberal lawyers. (In what those lawyers would call “pleading in the alternative,” my grandparents also told me that everything Nixon had done wrong was not unique to him—even though he had done nothing wrong.)
Fast-forward to 2017, and Nixon’s core 23 percent rock-bottom approval rating appears to be north of 40 percent for Trump. Granted, Trump has not (yet?) gone through a wringer as Nixon did, but the people who support him really support him.
Blame it on anything you like, from stubbornness to the Fox News bubble in which Trump’s supporters live amid a core of angry, hateful people. No matter the reason, it is now difficult to imagine anything turning off Trump’s supporters. When clear ties to Russia— Russia!—do not bother Trump’s people, what other conclusion could we draw?
Beyond that high floor of support on which Trump relies, recent events suggest that he will not receive any serious resistance on political matters. I continue to think that the courts and the civil service will continue to serve important roles in preventing Trump from getting too far out of hand, but neither of those sources of resistance write the laws or shape the political conversation. The Republicans do the former, and the pliant press does the latter.
How far gone are the Republicans? Within hours of revelations that the Russia-Trump connection is deeply troubling and should at the very least result in the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, we saw headlines like this: “Sticking With Trump, Republicans Resist Call for Broader Russian Inquiry.”
Even better/worse, that news article quoted Utah’s senior Republican senator, Orrin Hatch, issuing the following complaint: “My concern is, why are our Democratic senators so doggone rude?”
Yes, the senator from the Republican state that was…