A question running alongside Donald Trump’s political career is whether he will ever pay a price for his verbal insults.
It was widely thought Mr. Trump might have damaged himself fatally when in mid-2015 he said of John McCain’s time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
Even now, Mr. Trump’s verbal smackdowns come so fast and furious that it’s hard to keep up. As far back as I can remember—about a week or so—objects of Mr. Trump’s ire have included
- the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the
- special counsel who is investigating him, and
- the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.
- The attacks on “fake news” roll in and out like the weather.
Mr. Trump did the news conference primarily to offer his analysis of the midterm election results, which the president described as “very close to complete victory.”
.. It eventually became clear that what Mr. Trump meant by close to complete victory was the results in races with candidates for whom he personally campaigned—such as Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Indiana—rather than the election outcome for Republicans more generally.
.. “And Barbara Comstock was another one. I mean, I think she could have won that race, but she didn’t want to have any embrace. For that, I don’t blame her. But she lost. Substantially lost. Peter Roskam didn’t want the embrace. Erik Paulsen didn’t want the embrace.”
This is unprecedented. Politics ain’t beanbag, but no president has ever ridiculed the losing members of his own party. No one in politics mocks a defeated election opponent.
.. This moment could cost Mr. Trump in the next two years. The Republicans Mr. Trump hung out to dry in that news conference have friends in Congress and across Washington, and it’s not likely they are going to forget this.
.. Every U.S. presidency at some point comes under intense political pressure. Some break, like Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon. But until then, all could count for their survival on the political and personal loyalty of members of their party or the people who worked for them.
Who with political power that matters will Donald Trump call on when his darkest hour arrives? Many will lift a finger, but how high?
Mr. Trump has proven his resiliency. But that news conference was an odd moment, kicking fallen Republicans while associating himself with the tender mercies of Nancy Pelosi. Washington, he may find, can quickly become a lonely place.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) barked at female sex-crime victims, “Grow up!” He called Christine Blasey Ford a “pleasing” witness. He shooed women away with a flick of his wrist. Hatch also posted “an uncorroborated account from a Utah man questioning the legitimacy and sexual preferences” of Julie Swetnick, one of Brett M. Kavanaugh’s accusers. The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board raked him over the coals:
The despicable attack launched by Sen. Orrin Hatch and the Senate Judiciary Committee — more precisely, the Republicans on that committee — on one of the women who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault is a textbook example of why more victims do not come forward.
Worse, it betrays a positively medieval attitude toward all women as sex objects who cannot be believed or taken seriously.
Not a single Republican spoke up to criticize him. One would think someone would point out that he brought dishonor on himself, his party and the Senate. But clearly Republicans take no umbrage at such conduct.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) attempted to excuse the lack of a single Republican woman — ever — on the Judiciary Committee. “It’s a lot of work — maybe they don’t want to do it.”
Kavanaugh snapped and sneered at female senators on the Judiciary Committee. Republicans didn’t bat an eye or hold it against him. He was just mad, you see.
President Trump repeated the calumny that if the attack was “as bad” as Ford said she’d have gone to the police. He declared it was a “scary time” for young men. He openly mocked Ford at a rally to gin up his base’s anger. Republican apologists said he was just explaining the facts. He actually misrepresented her testimony, falsely claiming she couldn’t recall many facts — the neighborhood of the house where she was attacked.
William Saletan called out Trump and his defenders: “It’s true that Ford can’t recall important details about place and time. It’s true that she can’t recall how she got to the house or how she left. It’s true that every accused person is entitled to a presumption of innocence. But Trump’s portrayal of Ford’s testimony wasn’t true. It was a pack of lies. And people who defend it, like Lindsey Graham, are liars too.”
I keep seeing all of this stuff about how the midterms were everything from a blip to a huge victory for Trump and that he’s more likely than ever to get reelected. Ehhh . . . maybe. I can see the argument. I just don’t understand the confidence. Just consider the fact that were it not for the Benghazi hearings, Hillary Clinton would probably be president today — because it was those hearings that put her server in play.
I’m a skeptic about the Russia-collusion stuff, but the notion that there’s nothing for a subpoena-powered Democratic House to find in Trump’s closet just strikes me as nuttier than Mr. Peanut’s pool party.
Also, Trump won with a minority of the popular vote. He’s less popular today than he was in 2016, and the Democrats are way more motivated. The GOP coalition has shrunk while the Democratic coalition has expanded.
.. For example, here’s my friend Hugh Hewitt in the Washington Post:
President Trump will win reelection. Anyone who watched Wednesday’s presser after Trump’s big night Tuesday knows in his or her bones that it will happen, because the president is getting better and better at the job.
I found the whole column so strange. As Hugh admitted to me in a Twitter exchange, the point wasn’t to be empirical. Fair enough. We can chalk up the sweeping claim that anyone who watched the press conference knows in his or her bones that Trump will get reelected to poetic license. I mean, I don’t know that, though in fairness I didn’t watch the whole thing. I merely listened to a bunch of it on the radio, so maybe there was something subliminal in the video — like in The Ringor in those Silver Shamrock commercials from Halloween III — that compels one to believe he will be reelected simply by virtue of the fact that he displayed his usual press-bashing vindictiveness towards Republicans who don’t suck-up to him, and his usual, often entertaining turd-polishing of bad news.
.. he displayed his usual press-bashing vindictiveness towards Republicans who don’t suck-up to him, and his usual, often entertaining turd-polishing of bad news.
.. But the fascinating thing about Hugh’s column is that he has redefined the job of the president into “combatant in chief.” What Hugh says about the political culture is largely true. Americans like combat — political, virtual, mortal (Finish him!), etc. — but I don’t understand why Hugh should celebrate the idea that the president of the United States should encourage and amplify that tendency.
.. I’m sure he’d be more critical of a Democratic president doing anything like what Trump does. Moreover, just because the president is “good” at combat doesn’t mean his combativeness attracts more voters to him. Rather, it activates combativeness in his opponents.
.. Beyond the wishcasting, these kinds of arguments — which are everywhere on the right these days — seem like Trump-norming to me. In gender-norming, women are rated on a curve. A female applicant can only carry a 110-pound dummy through an obstacle course? Let’s make that the standard for women on the firefighter’s test! Donald Trump can’t act presidential? Make “combativeness ”the new standard for presidents. We take the measure of the man — and make the man the new measure.
.. the combat closest to Trump’s heart is with the GOP itself:
It is important to understand that for all the talk about how Trumpism is a reaction to leftism and social-justice warriors and political correctness, the truth is that it is principally an intra-party fight. It’s the final crackup of Cold War Republicanism; a cultural revolution in which the lumpenproletariat seized control of the party from the pointy heads and exiled them to the labor camps. And like the Maoists, the Trumpers aren’t really interested in picking a fight with the other superpower. They’re much more concerned with controlling the near abroad — which is to say, the Republican party. That’s why they tend to focus their hatred on Republicans and conservatives who decline to get on board, rather than on Democrats and liberals. Jeff Flake is the enemy; Kamala Harris is just a random nonplayer character.
.. Always remember that Trumpers — the people who believe in him, not the remora fish looking for their bits of chum — care very little about the left. Their real opponents are other Republicans. Seen from that perspective, Tuesday’s vote was a huge success. Because for Trumpers, it’s never a binary choice. Wherever a Trump-skeptical Republican was running against a Democrat, Trumpism couldn’t lose.
.. I think Jonathan overstates a few things, but his central point strikes me as largely correct, particularly when it comes to Trump himself. He mocked candidates who lost because of him but insisted they really lost because they failed to embrace him. This is not a brilliant strategy for winning in 2020; it’s a blunt strategy for Trumpifying the party further. It’s also ridiculous on the merits. The idea that if only Barbara Comstock “embraced” Trump more, her D.C.-suburb constituents would have changed their mind is ludicrous. As Jonathan notes, Carlos Curbelo has a 72 percent Hispanic district, half of which is foreign born. No doubt they voted Curbelo out because they wanted more talk about diseased foreigners and sh**hole countries, not less.
.. Indeed, more and more, liking Donald Trump is coming to define whether you’re on the team, and if you don’t like him — by which I mean, if you don’t celebrate his whole catalog the way the Bobs celebrated Michael Bolton’s — you’re part of the problem. Heck you’re not even a conservative.
.. That’s why Katie Arrington, who defeated Mark Sanford in a primary by promising to be a loyal foot-soldier for Trump, blamed Sanford for her loss of a reliably Republican seat:
“We lost because Mark Sanford could not understand that this race was about the conservative movement — and not about him.”
.. I heard my friend Mollie Hemingway on Fox refer to the traditional suburban Republican voters the GOP lost as basically “Never Trump elitists.” I know Mollie has very strong views about how Trump-skeptical pundits shouldn’t be given much airtime anymore, but why write off the voters the GOP needs to be a majority party?
.. he wants to launch a long-term transformation of the GOP (and by extension, the conservative movement) based upon Donald Trump’s personality. His term for the working-class voters he wants behind the driver’s seat is literally “Trump Is Great Republicans” or TIGRs.
.. Many — most? — of the people who think Trump Is Great are not primarily driven by public policy. The folks who watched that press conference and said, “This is awesome!” or shouted, “What a statesman!” do not think Trump is great because of policy X or Y. They think policy X or Y is great because Donald Trump says so.
.. The opposite is true as well. The voters who are horrified by Trump’s style, rhetoric, or personality are not going to be won over with policy. The college-educated suburban women who fled the GOP aren’t going to be won back with child-tax credits.
Henry is absolutely right that there is an opportunity here for the Republicans — in the abstract. But in reality, Trump isn’t the guy to sell it. Trump’s chief priority isn’t anything like creating a lasting William McKinley–style coalition; it’s to be the center of attention.
.. Just a few years ago, all of the arguments on the right were about how to better bend the GOP to conservatism. Jim DeMint said that he’d rather have 30 pure conservative senators than 60 squishy ones. Now, almost in the blink of an eye, the argument is how to bend conservatism to the GOP.
.. If a woman can’t meet the physical standards, change the standards. If the GOP can’t meet the standards of traditional conservatism, change conservatism.
.. Majority parties always have diverse coalitions, because it is only by collecting a diverse coalition that you can assemble a majority. FDR’s coalition had everyone from socialist Jews and blacks to Klansmen in it. Goldwater’s coalition was much narrower, and he was trounced.
.. But the idea that all conservatism should be is a branding operation for the GOP to win elections is an awful idea too. Because that means its ultimate concern is winning, not being right.
Once the Senate Republicans decided to countenance demagoguery, one step led to another.
.. Leland Keyser, a friend of Ford’s who does not remember being at such a party but has expressed her faith in Ford’s account, was also interviewed. A number of Yale classmates who offered portrayals of Kavanaugh as a belligerent drinker, and without whom, Democrats argued, the investigation was incomplete, were not. Neither were Blasey and Kavanaugh.
.. Republican senators, in the interest of getting a conservative nominee confirmed, discounted the apparent lies that he told about his role in Bush-era torture and detention policies and in judicial nominations. And it extends to their decision to tolerate the excesses of Donald Trump, in return for his promise to nominate a conservative. When you decide to countenance demagoguery, one step leads to another.
.. Last week, the Republicans had to put up with the President goading a crowd at a rally in Mississippi to laugh at Ford. Some of Kavanaugh’s supporters worried that this would make it harder for late-deciding Republicans to vote yes. In fact, Trump made the process more humiliating, not only for them but for the entire Republican Party.
.. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, was the only Republican to say that she would not support Kavanaugh.
.. In contrast, the majority of the senators who had made their choice clear weeks ago were allowed to move, unperturbed, toward what was one of the most momentous votes of their careers. They made speeches if it was opportune, but not much else was expected of them, other than party loyalty.
.. Scott Pelley, of “60 Minutes,” asked him if he would have been willing to call for the postponement of the vote if he were running for reëlection. “No, not a chance,” he said. “There’s no value to reaching across the aisle. There’s no currency for that anymore.”