Republican leaders need to mount an intervention.
Up to now I have not favored removing President Trump from office. I felt strongly that it would be best for the country that he leave the way he came in, through the ballot box. But last week was a watershed moment for me, and I think for many Americans, including some Republicans.
It was the moment when you had to ask whether we really can survive two more years of Trump as president, whether this man and his demented behavior — which will get only worse as the Mueller investigation concludes — are going to destabilize our country, our markets, our key institutions and, by extension, the world. And therefore his removal from office now has to be on the table.
I believe that the only responsible choice for the Republican Party today is an intervention with the president that makes clear that if there is not a radical change in how he conducts himself — and I think that is unlikely — the party’s leadership will have no choice but to press for his resignation or join calls for his impeachment.
It has to start with Republicans, given both the numbers needed in the Senate and political reality. Removing this president has to be an act of national unity as much as possible — otherwise it will tear the country apart even more. I know that such an action is very difficult for today’s G.O.P., but the time is long past for it to rise to confront this crisis of American leadership.
Trump’s behavior has become so erratic, his lying so persistent, his willingness to fulfill the basic functions of the presidency — like
- reading briefing books,
- consulting government experts before making major changes and
- appointing a competent staff — so absent,
his readiness to accommodate Russia and spurn allies so disturbing and his obsession with himself and his ego over all other considerations so consistent, two more years of him in office could pose a real threat to our nation. Vice President Mike Pence could not possibly be worse.
The damage an out-of-control Trump can do goes well beyond our borders. America is the keystone of global stability. Our world is the way it is today — a place that, despite all its problems, still enjoys more peace and prosperity than at any time in history — because America is the way it is (or at least was). And that is a nation that at its best has always stood up for the universal values of freedom and human rights, has always paid extra to stabilize the global system from which we were the biggest beneficiary and has always nurtured and protected alliances with like-minded nations.
Donald Trump has proved time and again that he knows nothing of the history or importance of this America. That was made starkly clear in Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s resignation letter.
Trump is in the grip of a mad notion that the entire web of global institutions and alliances built after World War II — which, with all their imperfections, have provided the connective tissues that have created this unprecedented era of peace and prosperity — threatens American sovereignty and prosperity and that we are better off without them.
So Trump gloats at the troubles facing the European Union, urges Britain to exit and leaks that he’d consider quitting NATO. These are institutions that all need to be improved, but not scrapped. If America becomes a predator on all the treaties, multilateral institutions and alliances holding the world together; if America goes from being the world’s anchor of stability to an engine of instability; if America goes from a democracy built on the twin pillars of truth and trust to a country where it is acceptable for the president to attack truth and trust on a daily basis, watch out: Your kids won’t just grow up in a different America. They will grow up in a different world.
The last time America disengaged from the world remotely in this manner was in the 1930s, and you remember what followed: World War II.
You have no idea how quickly institutions like NATO and the E.U. and the World Trade Organization and just basic global norms — like thou shalt not kill and dismember a journalist in your own consulate — can unravel when America goes AWOL or haywire under a shameless isolated president.
But this is not just about the world, it’s about the minimum decorum and stability we expect from our president. If the C.E.O. of any public company in America behaved like Trump has over the past two years —
- constantly lying,
- tossing out aides like they were Kleenex,
- tweeting endlessly like a teenager,
- ignoring the advice of experts —
he or she would have been fired by the board of directors long ago. Should we expect less for our president?
That’s what the financial markets are now asking. For the first two years of the Trump presidency the markets treated his dishonesty and craziness as background noise to all the soaring corporate profits and stocks. But that is no longer the case. Trump has markets worried.
.. The instability Trump is generating — including his attacks on the chairman of the Federal Reserve — is causing investors to wonder where the economic and geopolitical management will come from as the economy slows down.
- What if we’re plunged into an economic crisis and we have a president whose first instinct is always to blame others and
- who’s already purged from his side the most sober adults willing to tell him that his vaunted “gut instincts” have no grounding in economics or in law or in common sense. Mattis was the last one.
We are now left with the B team — all the people who were ready to take the jobs that Trump’s first team either resigned from — because they could not countenance his lying, chaos and ignorance — or were fired from for the same reasons.
I seriously doubt that any of these B-players would have been hired by any other administration. Not only do they not inspire confidence in a crisis, but they are all walking around knowing that Trump would stab every one of them in the back with his Twitter knife, at any moment, if it served him. This makes them even less effective.
Indeed, Trump’s biggest disruption has been to undermine the norms and values we associate with a U.S. president and U.S. leadership. And now that Trump has freed himself of all restraints from within his White House staff, his cabinet and his party — so that “Trump can be Trump,” we are told — he is freer than ever to remake America in his image.
And what is that image? According to The Washington Post’s latest tally, Trump has made 7,546 false or misleading claims, an average of five a day, through Dec. 20, the 700th day of his term in office. And all that was supposedly before “we let Trump be Trump.”
If America starts to behave as a selfish, shameless, lying grifter like Trump, you simply cannot imagine how unstable — how disruptive —world markets and geopolitics may become.
We cannot afford to find out.
There have been a number of highly publicized walk-backs by the White House of late, the most notable being “wouldn’t” replacing “would.” The week before, however, there was one during the NATO Conference in Brussels that went somewhat under the radar. While President Trump was berating Germany, Gen. John F. Kelly, his chief of staff, was clearly seen grimacing at the table. Within hours, Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement saying the reason Kelly grimaced was not because of anything Trump said; rather, Kelly was displeased “because he was expecting a full breakfast and there were only pastries and cheese.”
Sanders was roundly mocked for that explanation, but being a big breakfast fan, I withheld any criticism until I could gather more information about the incident. And gather I did. I have since concluded that Sanders was, in fact, correct. And although the last thing I’d ever want to do is defend the White House, the facts are irrefutable. I present them herein.
.. “Damn. This could turn into some kind of international incident. Maybe cost me my job. What shall we do?”
Hutchison pondered that for a second. “Let’s just tell them the truth.”
America’s child president had a play date with a KGB alumnus, who surely enjoyed providing day care. It was a useful, because illuminating, event: Now we shall see how many Republicans retain a capacity for embarrassment.
.. Jeane Kirkpatrick .. she explained her disaffection from her party: “They always blame America first.” In Helsinki, the president who bandies the phrase “America First” put himself first, as always, and America last, behind President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Because the Democrats had just held their convention in San Francisco, Kirkpatrick branded the “blame America first” cohort as “San Francisco Democrats.” Thirty-four years on, how numerous are the “Helsinki Republicans”?
.. He speaks English as though it is a second language that he learned from someone who learned English last week. So, it is usually difficult to sift meanings from Trump’s word salads. But in Helsinki he was, for him, crystal clear about feeling no allegiance to the intelligence institutions that work at his direction and under leaders he chose.
.. consider Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), who for years enjoyed derivative gravitas from his association with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Graham tweeted about Helsinki: “Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.” A “missed opportunity”
.. Contrast Graham’s mush with this on Monday from McCain, still vinegary: “Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Or this from Arizona’s other senator,
Jeff Flake (R): “I never thought I would see the day when our American president would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression.” Blame America only.
.. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and others might believe that they must stay in their positions lest there be no adult supervision of the Oval playpen. This is a serious worry, but so is this: Can those people do their jobs for someone who has neither respect nor loyalty for them?
.. The most innocent inference is that for decades he has depended on an American weakness, susceptibility to the tacky charisma of wealth, which would evaporate when his tax returns revealed that he has always lied about his wealth, too.
.. A more ominous explanation might be that his redundantly demonstrated incompetence as a businessman tumbled him into unsavory financial dependencies on Russians.
A still more sinister explanation might be that the Russians have something else, something worse, to keep him compliant.
.. Trump has a weak man’s banal fascination with strong men whose disdain for him is evidently unimaginable to him. And, yes, he only perfunctorily pretends to have priorities beyond personal aggrandizement. But just as astronomers inferred, from anomalies in the orbits of the planet Uranus, the existence of Neptune before actually seeing it, Mueller might infer, and then find, still-hidden sources of the behavior of this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.
Trump’s top economic adviser departs, and the administration’s grown-ups worry.
Mr. Trump’s washing-machine and solar-panel salvo was to be followed by a focus on China’s unfair trade practices, namely intellectual-property theft. The president would announce narrowly targeted trade actions against that country, while holding aluminum and steel tariffs in reserve. All this would be choreographed around renegotiation of the North American and Korea-U.S. free trade agreements.
.. Mr. Ross took advantage of the situation last week to get the president’s ear, and back we were to the days of Mr. Trump spinning out on the advice of the last person in the room.
.. few know that he spent this past weekend talking the president down from an even more Planet Mars idea from Team Ross —to set tariffs closer to 50%.
.. Mr. Ross (a former steel executive) and the nativist Peter Navarro have driven out their biggest free-market opponent, increasing their ability to wreak harm on the economy.
The voices of those who actually understand economic policy are greatly diminished, as evidenced this week by the administration’s endless loop of fact-free and near fantastical claims about the effects of the tariffs.
His shabby treatment has more than a few of the grown-ups now actively considering their own exit plans. It’s one thing to do battle daily; it’s another to watch months of work get flushed on a whim, and get publicly branded a “globalist” to boot. Mr. Cohn’s top deputy, Jeremy Katz, departed just as soon as the tax deal passed, and watch for other Cohn staffers—many of them important free-market voices—to follow.
.. Imagine a Trump presidency without Mr. Kelly, H.R. McMaster, Jim Mattis, Don McGahn, Mick Mulvaney, Kevin Hassett. Consider, too, that no one as good is likely to replace them—now having seen how the White House works.
And don’t forget congressional Republicans, whom Mr. Trump has potentially set up for a midterm rout.
Many are furious that he has forced them to call him out, splitting the party. But they are also legitimately fearful the tariffs will spark trade war and destroy tens or hundreds of thousands of jobs, neutralizing the benefits of the hard-won tax reform.
The economy is the best thing Republicans have going for them in November, and the Trump-Ross-Navarro trio just embraced the only policy that could kill it.
Just how bad it is will depend hugely on Mr. Cohn’s successor.
.. Besides, who in his right mind would even want the job?