While much of the discussion in Washington D.C. is about how Donald Trump has taken over the Republican Party, what’s more striking is how effectively the leadership of the Republican Party has used Donald Trump to enact its own long-held agenda.
With a tax cut for the wealthy that exceeds the dreams of avarice, the expansion of the military budget, two Supreme Court picks, multiple judicial appointments to other appellate courts, and the wholesale demolition of key regulatory protections, the Republican Party is exulting in results. It can afford to lose the mid-term elections, and even the 2020 presidential election, without excessive regret. Even with those setbacks, the steps already taken will require decades to undo. Is it any wonder why support in the Republican Party for Donald Trump remains so strong?
The structural gains made in implementing the Republican agenda over the past twenty months, with the help of Donald Trump, will endure for decades. The Supreme Court appointments are for life. The public sector deficit caused by the massive tax cut, combined with the military expenditure increases, will enable the Republican Party to suddenly rediscover their commitment to fiscal discipline and push for “necessary cutbacks in social programs.” Moreover, if Republicans manage to maintain control of at least the Senate in the mid-term elections, the Republican Party will be able to elude any significant undoing of what they have accomplished.
To be sure, the extraordinary accomplishments to date necessitated extraordinary patience and focus on the part of the Republican Party leadership. They have had to deal with a President, whom even his own appointees call “an idiot,” “a moron” and “someone with the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader.” They have had to tolerate presidential behavior that is “unhinged” and “narcissistic,” with lengthy rages, tirades and vicious insults. They have had to close their eyes to daily disregard of facts and accuracy, multiple racist statements, repeated attacks on free trade, democracy and the rule of law, ongoing interference in judicial processes, the demonization of the free press, and blatant disregard of the very premises of the U.S. Constitution. They have had to set aside the growing evidence of electoral and financial malpractice in the President’s background. They have had to tolerate the President’s friendships with dictators, his abasement before foreign adversaries, his insulting of allies and the attempted trashing of international agreements and institutions.
While history will not look kindly on these craven accommodations, the concessions have seemingly been made acceptable to the Republican leadership by the knowledge that there is within the White House and throughout the administration, a “Resistance” of officials who are committed to averting the worst tendencies of the President, and to doing whatever is necessary to prevent utter disaster. Such officials are willing to take such extreme actions as stealing documents from the President’s desk (Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn) in the realistic expectation that the President would forget he ever intended to execute them or telling the president that the President’s wishes would be implemented while ordering subordinates to do the opposite (Defense Secretary James Mattis).
According to Senators Flake and Corker, the fact that this hidden government within the government has been in place since the beginning of the Trump administration is common knowledge among Senate Republicans.
What may change the situation is the publication this week of an OpEd article in the New York Times by an anonymous “senior official in the Trump administration” confirming the existence of the “Resistance.”
Until this week, Trump could luxuriate in the illusion that he was running the country and implementing his own agenda, when in fact it is the traditional Republican Party agenda that is being implemented. The president could tell his adoring fans that he will “build the wall” along the Southern border at the very time the Republican Party leadership is explaining to him yet again why now is not the right moment to fund his top priority. The President can regale his rallies with the news that he is redoing our alliances to make America great again at the very moment that his own staff are secretly conniving with allies to preserve ongoing relationships.
In the eyes of Republican Party leadership, the crime of Anonymous in writing the OpEd is not so much that the writer is disloyal to the President. It is common knowledge that many senior officials are disloyal to the President. For the Republican Party leadership, the crime is that Anonymous has revealed the con that is going on.
The emperor has been publicly declared to be wearing no clothes. As in Hans Christian Andersen’s telling of the famous fairy story, the emperor’s supporters in the court continue to act as though the emperor is fully clothed: some 27 senior officials, including the Vice President, cabinet secretaries and even the President’s wife, have issued statements of loyalty and denials that they wrote the OpEd.
Yet the President cannot help being upset. As expected, his first response is extreme anger at the disloyalty, combined with calling for outing the author and shouting treason. He has launched an investigation and may use lie detector tests or sworn affidavits. Meanwhile he reassures himself at rallies by reliving yet again his 2016 victory, pointing to non-existent favorable poll numbers and even citing support from a friendly despot (Kim Jong Un, President of North Korea).
A second response is his recognition that there is no one around him he can trust. There is now a risk that the President may rouse from his delusion of power and renege on the deal that he gets to act as a kind of ill-bred ceremonial President. He may come to be dissatisfied with regaling his rallies with fatuities, while the real power is being wielded by the leaders of the Republican Party. He may be moved to assert his independence, break free from his restraints and implement ideas that even his own chief of staff, General John Kelly, calls “Crazytown.”
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