It is an understatement to say that the Republican establishment never warmed up to candidate Donald Trump, but it, in true Washington tradition, came to kiss his ring after he won a stunning upset victory in the election (but not even a plurality of America’s votes).
And it is no mystery why the establishment’s criticism of Trump’s outrageous acts — denial of Russian election meddling, possible treasonous collusion of his campaign with that interference; the firing of FBI Director James Comey to admittedly take the pressure off the organization’s investigation of both; divulging sensitive intelligence to … well … officials of the same Russian government; and him praising his son-in-law to defend the latter’s proposal to set up a back channel to the Kremlin using Russian communication facilities — so far has been muted.
The Republican establishment believes that any person with an “R” behind their name is better than any person with a “D” behind their name, fears Trump’s loyal political base, and is trying to ride his victory to get some policy “wins.” But Trump has always been a bad bet for the Republicans.
I have long said that Trump is the best thing that ever happened to the Democratic Party. With Asian and Hispanic minorities the most rapidly growing in the nation, an anti-immigration candidate, and now president, is the last thing wanted by the Republican establishment, which had been trying to bury the issue before Trump came along with his blaring megaphone.
Also, Trump — with his protectionist economic views, massive infrastructure spending plan, intention to safeguard Medicare and Social Security, and thus disregard for even more debt accumulation — was hardly a reliable conservative or libertarian. His intimidation of U.S. companies to keep jobs in America was hardly advocacy for the free market.
However, the most dangerous aspect of Trump’s ascent to the presidency always has been his authoritarian streak, developed as supreme czar of a privately held business concern, and thus disrespect for the checks and balances of the American political system. Many people voted for Trump because they thought he could run the government more like a business. Yet the most recent prominent business people who have become president — Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush — weren’t perceived as having been effective.
And they all had at least some experience in the political system; Trump had none before becoming president and it shows — terribly. As a result, so far, the incompetence of the Trump White House is jaw dropping.
Trump promised to drain the swamp, but it was easily predictable that he would eventually be lunch for the gators of the establishment. I, more than anyone, wanted to drain the swamp, but I was not willing to cast my lot with a man who promised to convert it into a desert of authoritarian governance.
The one alluring aspect of candidate Trump was his promise of a less interventionist U.S. foreign policy and a concomitant pledge to make allies take over more of the defense burden. In his recent overseas trip, Trump continued to call out wealthy allies for not doing more, but his vice president and the generals he now has running external relations have reasserted the establishment view that the United States needs to remain policeman of the world, even when we can’t afford it anymore because of the humongous $20 trillion public debt.
Even more disillusioning is the contradiction of such campaign promises of a more restrained U.S. foreign policy and greater allied burden sharing with Trump’s proposed $54 billion increase in the defense budget. Even before this hike, the United States spent on defense what the next seven highest spending countries did combined — and that for a country with an intrinsically secure geographic position. Fulfilling those promises should allow the United States to spend less on defense, not more.
Even if collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election is never proved, obstruction of justice could be to the political standard of impeachment, even if a stricter legal standard could not be. Also, Trump is responsible — if not complicit in — his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s likely violation of the Logan Act in proposing to circumvent the foreign policy of a sitting American government by meeting with a confidant of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, who also just happens to head a bank under U.S. economic sanctions for Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Yet Republicans appear to believe in the American Revolutionary slogan, “We must all hang together or we will hang separately.” Instead, they might want to adopt a “rats deserting a sinking ship” metaphor. If they don’t forget party labels, take a stand, and distance themselves from the most dangerous demagogue in American history (because he is president, he makes Huey Long, Joe McCarthy and George Wallace pale in comparison), their party likely will go down in flames in election of 2020 and beyond.
Short-term electoral costs in the 2018 election may arise from taking such a principled stance — as there would have been for the Nixon administration being smarter, cutting its losses, and exiting the Vietnam War much sooner than it did — but the party will be better off in the long run, because voters will eventually reward the party for doing the right thing.
Even if Trump eventually becomes more competent in the job (a big if), continuing congressional and FBI investigations into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russian election meddling, and his public admission on two occasions of attempting to impair the FBI investigation by firing the agency’s director, will likely cripple his presidency.
The Republicans took a gamble that they could ride a political Titanic to conservative policy victories, but they need to man the life rafts and abandon ship, because the vessel is already taking on a ton of water.