Even if Trump Wanted to Change, the GOP Wouldn’t Let Him
Pretend that Trump decided he should head into 2020 as a calmer, more statesmanlike president. I know, but pretend. He’d have a GOP mutiny on his hands in five minutes.
So Donnie Two Scoops is melting. Before the voting, I figured he’d come out of an Election Day thumping like a World War II Japanese soldier out of a cave on Okinawa in 1953, unwilling to admit the war was over and lost, lobbing grenades at everything that moved. I thought he’d be tweet-storming about every state where the losing margin was under about 3 percent, alleging endlessly and nastily and racistly that it was all stolen by dead Black Panthers and Jim Acosta.
We’ve seen some of that, especially with respect to Florida, as in this unhinged outburst Wednesday afternoon. “When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles,” he told the Daily Caller. “Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It’s really a disgrace what’s going on.”
But for the most part, he’s come out like, well, exactly like the emotional 5-year-old he is. The other kids are being mean to me. I hate losing. And it’s everybody else’s fault. Mommy, it was that Johnnie Kelly boy’s fault! And that stupid caravan for moving so slow! And that nasty old Nancy—a girl! I’m staying in my room!
I start to type a sentence that goes like this one five times a week, but I always delete it, because it’s just become so banal in the age of Trump to say things like “new low,” but I’m going to finish it this time because this week really was particularly disgusting. Not to go honor the war dead on Veterans Day is unforgivable for a sitting president. You’re the commander-in-chief. It’s a seven-minute drive, when the roads are cleared for you.
All these people across the country who think he loves the military should be appalled. He loves big phallic military things. He doesn’t give any more of a crap about military people than he does any other people. Mr. Bone Spur undoubtedly thinks they’re all chumps for having not been able to wriggle out of it.
Eventually, little Donnie will come out of his room and start playing again. He’ll start thinking about 2020. By now, you’ve read 20 columns that offer speculation around the question: Can he change? These columns typically do a little one hand-other hand chin-scratching for three or four paragraphs before concluding no, he can’t.
They’re right, obviously. But here’s the thing, and it’s an absolutely crucial thing, Tomasky’s broken-record thing, that all those columns don’t discuss.
When these pundits write that Trump won’t change, they are referring only to his personality. I don’t disagree with that, but I am telling you there’s more. It’s not just Trump’s personality. It’s also the Republican Party and the base. They won’t let him change. Even if he wanted to, they wouldn’t allow it. They’d mutiny.
Let’s pretend for the sake of argument that Trump could change. Let’s say that right before Christmas, at the top of Mount Crumpit, his small heart grows three sizes. He did agree Wednesday to sign that bipartisan criminal justice reform thing, which is fine, but it’s not risky politically as a critical mass of Republicans has backed that for a long time. So let’s pretend he builds on that and bounds into the new year determined to change, stun the pundits, and cruise to reelection over dumbstruck Democrats in 2020.
First he resolves to put away the iPhone. Congressional Republicans would probably be OK with that. But what about the base? They’d be crushed. Millions of people would take to Twitter imploring him to return. The Fox & Friends troika would start in, “Mr. President, please, please, please get the smartphone back! We miss your tweets. America needs them for moral guidance.” He’d be back to tweeting before you could say Megyn Kelly.
Second, he calls Schumer and Pelosi over to the White House. OK, guys, he says. I want to make a deal. I mean really this time. Let’s meet halfway, just like Reagan and Tip. Well, OK, he wouldn’t say that, cuz he doesn’t know what they did, but like the old days, he might say.
They say fine, and Pelosi, who’d be more important here since she’ll be running a majority and Schumer won’t be, comes back to him with a bill that has a 10 cent gas tax hike. Trump says no, that’s too high, but he’ll live with five cents, and don’t worry, he’ll sell it to the Republicans. They’ll do anything I want, Nancy. Believe me.
The devil they will. He’ll learn quickly that on matters like that, he doesn’t run the Republican Party. Grover Norquist does. Mitch McConnell will kill that deal in a heartbeat. And no, don’t say I’m being cynical. You’re being naive.
Third, Trump decides that what’ll really shock people more than anything is if he starts acting like a statesman. The Middle East. The big one. It’s eluded everyone. Trump decides: I alone can do this!
And you know exactly what will happen. The minute he starts putting the least bit of pressure on Bibi, congressional Republicans, and his own national security adviser, will start reading him the riot act. There will be talk of a primary challenge. Sheldon Adelson will hint that yes, the president’s new posture is disappointing, and maybe it’s time for new blood.
Now. Trump is not going to change, so my little hypotheticals aren’t going to happen anyway. But I wrote this column to make the point that I want to make and make and make about the Trump era, because I still don’t see enough people making it.
The conventional wisdom in Washington is still that Republicans go along with him because they fear him and his base. No. They go along with him because they like what he does. First, because he has no policy mind of his own, so he’ll just do what they say. And second, because they love the way he seeks to delegitimize liberals, blacks, Democrats. They don’t have the stones to do it as openly as he does, but they love that he does it.
But once either or both of those quit being true, the love affair is over. So while he’s not going to change, if he were somehow to change, the GOP would not change with him. Then, the congressional party would fight him, and enough of his base would lose the spirit.
Which means that the soul-crushing situation we’re in is not just about Trump. It’s about the party that birthed him and made him president and called his leadership “exquisite.” You understand nothing about this era if you don’t understand this.