As I predicted on Tuesday evening, the Republican line of defense regarding President Trump’s myriad foibles has boiled down to this: Trump’s a victim. He’s a victim of the press; he’s a victim of “spineless” Republicans who won’t back his play; he’s a victim of the deep state. In a world of snowflakes, Trump is a veritable one-man blizzard.
Here is the sad truth: President Trump is a victim.
All Republicans have to deal with the same enemies.
The Media: Mitt Romney was targeted as a bad man for supposedly strapping a dog to the top of his car and forcibly cutting a gay kid’s hair back in 1931. John McCain was allegedly a doddering old crazy person who wouldn’t survive a term in office. George W. Bush was a war criminal who sold blood for oil and murdered hundreds of thousands of people to get Halliburton some walking-around money.
Spineless Republicans: Remember Republicans who weren’t willing to defend George W. Bush during his administration? They were plentiful, and they included many of the same players as they do now. Bush was uncouth, according to many of these people; he had lied and people had died. In fact, one of the spineless Republicans who jumped on the bandwagon against Bush was a fellow who had expressed tepid support for the Iraq War, then turned on Bush with a vengeance when things started to go south: a fellow named Donald Trump. As for Congressional Republicans, they wouldn’t even ram through Social Security privatization after Bush’s re-election.
The Deep State: Doesn’t anyone remember the Bush administration actually launching an FBI probe to target leakers within the administration and in Congress? And remember Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald … appointed by one James B. Comey to investigate Bush administration leaks regarding Valerie Plame? In October 2003, Bush told his top officials to “stop the leaks” to the press — and that order leaked to the press.
Here’s the difference between Trump and the rest of the Republican targets: Trump.
They all had the same enemies. But those enemies did not include Mitt Romney or John McCain or George W. Bush.
Trump is better at directly confronting the media than any of these other Republicans — but his full-frontal assault has achieved nothing of note, since he’s unable to control himself. He substitutes his own fibs for theirs, undermining his credibility dramatically, and undercutting the credibility of his own surrogates. Yes, he has helped rip down the media. But he’s ripping down himself at the same time, and restoring American faith in the media in doing so. Here's the sad fact: over the last week, The New York Times and Washington Post have been much more credible than the Trump administration.
Trump has a base of Republicans who won’t support him — but it’s far, far smaller than that of Bush or McCain or Romney. In fact, unlike Bush’s base, Trump’s base isn’t dependent on anything Trump does: Bush’s approval ratings dropped into the basement when he pursued bad policy, whereas Trump’s remains high among Republicans even as he pursues the Cleavon Little-in-Blazing Saddles strategy of negotiation: he’s currently riding at 79% approval rating among Republicans, with just 16% disapproving. Spineless Republicans refusing to do his legislative bidding isn’t the problem — the problem is that he has no legislative agenda, and that he has no leverage with which to bargain with Republicans thanks to his own incompetence. Bush had his share of Republican naysayers for certain, but he didn’t spend his days offering them excuses to run for the hills.
Finally, there’s the deep state. Bush had leaks, but Bush locked down leaks, as Peggy Noonan wrote at the time: “The Bush White House doesn’t leak because George W. actively and affirmatively does not want it to.” Trump hasn’t even filled the vast majority of top roles, meaning that Obama holdovers likely still dominate his administration. Trump also has no habit of instilling loyalty in those around him by pursuing an agenda, listening to advice, or demonstrating that he’ll stand by his people. Instead, he’s showing that he’s willing to throw anybody under the bus at any time for personal gain.
It’s an easy, stupid game to pretend that Trump’s main opposition is the same opposition all Republicans face, even if that opposition is amped up this time around. Trump’s main opposition remains himself — and the sycophants who insist that his only problem is that he’s such a suffering martyr.