“Attacking Mitch McConnell is the most gobsmackingly stupid thing the president has done yet. And that’s saying quite a bit.” That’s how Michael Steel, former spokesman for ex-House speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), described President Trump’s attack on the Senate majority leader. Trump on Wednesday had taunted McConnell on Twitter for not delivering the votes for Trumpcare. (“Why not done?”) McConnell, it seems, had set the president off with remark delivered Monday to a Rotary Club in Kentucky. “Our new president, of course, has not been in this line of work before and, I think, had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process,” McConnell observed.
Well, no one ever accused Trump of stopping while he was behind. His “gobsmackingly stupid” indictment of the majority leader continued Thursday morning. He tweeted, “Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn’t get it done. Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!” Let’s count the ways in which this is unhelpful to the president.
First, Congress is already ignoring him; Republicans have made clear they are moving on from health care and his peevish rant won’t change their minds. When they continue to ignore his heckling, it will be Trump who, once again, looks impotent.
Second, in a week in which much of the country is disturbed that the president lacks the gravitas, discipline and judgment to be commander in chief, Trump’s attack reinforces the idea that he is motivated by personal pique and is incapable of dispassionate strategizing.
Third, McConnell has resisted naming a select committee to investigate the Russia scandal. He and his Senate Republicans have been utterly uninterested in examining Trump’s conflicts of interest and potential violations of the emoluments clause. McConnell could decide at any moment to pursue those lines of inquiry.
Fourth, to the extent Trump makes Senate Republicans the enemy, he helps Democrats who, until now, were thought to have only a remote chance of winning the Senate majority. Losses by Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Dean Heller of Nevada in 2018 would leave the Senate split 50-50, with Vice President Pence essential to break ties. A single retirement or defection (anyone certain Lisa Murkowski of Alaska or Susan Collins of Maine would never, ever flip parties?) would give Democrats the majority. And with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) potentially absent due to his medical treatment, Democrats could have the upper hand even without a midterm retirement or defection. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee should send Trump flowers and chocolates to show their gratitude.
And finally, if the House ever impeaches Trump, the Senate tries the president. Does Trump really want to convince the “jury” that it would be better off without him?
In sum, in Trump’s mind, the categorization of someone as friend or foe depends almost entirely on whether they support and lavishly praise him. He cannot comprehend that legal or ethical rules (as Attorney General Jeff Sessions followed in recusing himself from the Russia affair), allegiance to democratic institutions, or personal principle (!) might have a greater hold on others. In Trump’s mind, there are no excuses for defying or criticizing him. Now, it would be one thing if Trump’s poll numbers were high and he was helping to enact a GOP agenda. He is doing neither. This latest tantrum should serve to remind Republicans: They’d be better off without him.