THE MORNING PLUM:
President Trump’s feud with GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee escalated over the weekend, and in an interview with the New York Times, Corker flatly warned that Trump’s antics may set us “on the path to World War III.”
But, while that is obviously alarming, what Corker said elsewhere in the interview may end up having more of an impact, because it opens the door to a whole new round of press scrutiny of the GOP’s ongoing enabling of Trump. Corker confirmed that most Senate Republicans view Trump as, well, dangerous and crazy:
Mr. Trump poses such an acute risk, the senator said, that a coterie of senior administration officials must protect him from his own instincts. “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him,” Mr. Corker said in a telephone interview. …
Without offering specifics, he said Mr. Trump had repeatedly undermined diplomacy with his Twitter fingers. “I know he has hurt, in several instances, he’s hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway by tweeting things out,” Mr. Corker said.
All but inviting his colleagues to join him in speaking out about the president, Mr. Corker said his concerns about Mr. Trump were shared by nearly every Senate Republican.
“Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” he said, adding that “of course they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Corker declined to answer when asked if he believes Trump is unfit for the presidency. But the only reasonable way to read all these comments is as a declaration that Trump is indeed unfit — and that most Republicans know it. After all, Corker had previously said that Trump’s inner circle is helping to “separate our country from chaos.” Now he has added that Trump needs to be restrained by his inner circle from devolving into conduct that could end up unleashing untold global destruction — and that most Republicans know it.
Corker is getting a lot of press plaudits for his unvarnished appraisal. But as James Fallows writes, there is a good deal that Corker can actually do right now if he wants to mitigate the threat that he himself says Trump poses. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has a range of powers that could help constrain Trump, including the power to hold public hearings to draw public attention to the ways in which Trump’s temperament threatens untold damage. At a minimum, Corker can be asked whether he intends to do these things, and if not, why not.
But whatever Corker says and does now, his new comments should precipitate a fundamental change in the way the press treats the ongoing GOP enabling of Trump. Corker has forced out into the open the fact that Republicans recognize the sheer abnormality and danger to the country of the situation we’re in, which opens the door for much tougher media questioning of them about their awareness of — and acquiescence to — this state of affairs.
This can start with a simple query: Do Republicans agree with Corker that Trump regularly needs to be constrained by his top advisers from engaging in conduct that threatens severe damage to the country and the world? If so, what are Republicans prepared to do about it?
In August, Jane Chong and Benjamin Wittes offered a useful set of guidelines for thinking about Trump’s misconduct. They divided it into three categories. First, there are his “abuses of power,” such as the nonstop self-dealing, the pardoning of former sheriff Joe Arpaio, and the firing of his FBI director. Second, there are his “failures of moral leadership,” which constitute a general degradation of his office via, among other things, his unprecedented, serial lying and efforts to destroy the institutional legitimacy of the free press. To this second category we can add Trump’s refusal to unequivocally condemn the Charlottesville white supremacists and the White House’s use of taxpayer funds to stage a weekend stunt in which Vice President Pence walked out of a football game, which are both part of a broader effort to continue stoking divisions.
Third, there is the “abandonment of the basic duties of his office,” which includes the failure to make appointments and (I would add) the deep rot of bad faith that has infested the White House’s approach to policy: He indicated he’d sign anything at all that would let him boast of destroying Barack Obama’s signature accomplishment. I would suggest a fourth category of misconduct: Trump’s sheer megalomaniacal indifference to the fundamental notion that his office confers on him any obligation to the public of any kind. This overlaps with the conduct discussed above and also includes the refusal to release his tax returns and his ongoing sabotage of the Affordable Care Act, which could harm millions.
As Chong and Wittes note, what’s challenging is to determine what sort of level of degradation of our institutions, political system and norms of political conduct all of this misconduct adds up to when taken together. We do know that congressional Republicans continue to enable many of these strands in isolation, and they continue to airbrush away the significance of misconduct that is glaring enough to require their condemnation, usually by making some variation of the claim that Trump is learning on the job. But Corker has now asserted that Republicans know Trump’s presidency constitutes an ongoing, abnormal, multifaceted danger to the country. This should intensify media scrutiny of this series of dodges, evasions and enabling exercises, and make it harder for Republicans to get away with them.
* GOOGLE FINDS EVIDENCE OF RUSSIAN SABOTAGE: The Post scoops that Google has now uncovered evidence that Russian agents spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads across its platforms designed to spread disinformation in 2016:
The discovery by Google is also significant because the ads do not appear to be from the same Kremlin-affiliated troll farm that bought ads on Facebook — a sign that the Russian effort to spread disinformation online may be a much broader problem than Silicon Valley companies have unearthed so far.
Your regular reminder: The president of the United States continues to dismiss any talk of Russian sabotage of our election as a hoax, making it harder to prepare for more of it in the future.
* INSIDE BANNON’S PLANS TO BLOW UP THE GOP: Bloomberg Politics reports that people familiar with Stephen K. Bannon’s plans to promote GOP primary challengers say the overarching goal is to depose Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.):
Bannon plans to support as many as 15 Republican Senate candidates in 2018, including several challengers to incumbents, the people said. He’ll support only candidates who agree to two conditions: They will vote against McConnell as majority leader, and they will vote to end senators’ ability to block legislation by filibustering.
It’s worth reiterating that the entire premise of Bannon’s scheme is based on an explanation for Trump’s failures that is nothing but a big lie.
* TRUMP’S HARD-RIGHT IMMIGRATION WISH LIST: The White House has laid out its demands in exchange for agreeing to a reasonable solution to the problem of the “dreamers”:
The administration’s wish list includes the funding of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a crackdown on the influx of Central American minors and curbs on federal grants to “sanctuary cities,” according to a document distributed to Congress … Cuts to legal immigration also are included.
This should put a lot of added pressure on congressional Republicans to deliver these things, because Trump’s base will supposedly be very, very angry if Trump does not “win” on them.
* THE COST OF PENCE’S STUNT: Vice President Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game yesterday after players took a knee, and Trump tweeted that he’d asked Pence to do this beforehand. CNN tallies up the cost:
According to the Air Force, flying a C-32, the model of plane used for Air Force 2, for one hour costs about $30,000. Pence’s flight from Las Vegas to Indianapolis Saturday took about three hours and 20 minutes, so it cost about $100,000. Pence then flew from Indianapolis to Los Angeles on Sunday, which took about four hours and 45 minutes, costing about $142,500.The grand total: about $242,500.
Some will be reimbursed by the Republican National Committee, but this doesn’t even include advance costs. Small price to pay to make Trump feel like he is thrilling his base.
* COWBOYS OWNER MARCHES BEHIND TRUMP: ESPN reports that Jerry Jones, the owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, is now declaring that any player who takes a knee will be benched:
“If there’s anything that is disrespectful to the flag, then we will not play,” Jones said after the Cowboys’ 35-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers. “Understand? We will not … if we are disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period.”
Never mind the small detail that taking a knee isn’t disrespecting the flag, naturally. One imagines there will be more to follow.
* DEMOCRAT LEADS IN VIRGINIA: A new Wason Center poll finds that Democrat Ralph Northam has expanded his lead over Republican Ed Gillespie in the gubernatorial contest to 49-42. Note this:
The two candidates’ voters diverge sharply on whether illegal immigration is a problem, with a third (33%) of Gillespie voters agreeing or strongly agreeing that illegal immigration is a problem where they live and only 6% of Northam voters saying the same.
Gillespie, with an assist from Trump, has been employing ugly, sleazy Trumpist tropes in attacking Northam, which appear to be about juicing up that small slice of voters.
* UNDER TRUMP, GOP EXTREMISM IS GOING MAINSTREAM: E.J. Dionne Jr.’s column looks at how Republicans (including Gillespie) are increasingly trafficking in the ugliest forms of Trumpism, and mainstreaming extremism in the process:
A central reason [for Trump] has been the mainstreaming of a style of extremist conservative politics that for decades was regarded as unacceptable by most in the GOP. … If the Birchers saw “The Illuminati,” a shadowy 18th-century clique, as lying behind progressive treason, the new far right uses “globalists” as an epithet that is less obscure and more user-friendly.
The old extreme right linked all manner of actions by its opponents to communism. The new ultra-right regularly ties its foes (as the Trump-Gillespie calumny does) to crimes ascribed to immigrants, or to radical Islam.
Yup. And this is why the stakes in Virginia are so high: If Gillespie wins, more Republicans will run on the same amalgam of ugliness, race-baiting and lies.