President Trump wants to talk about the NFL because other than that, there’s virtually no topic he can address without reminding his followers of the most dreadful week of his presidency. On Tuesday, Trump-backed Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) lost the GOP Senate primary to a full-blown birther crackpot, former judge Roy Moore, who has been removed from the bench twice for disregarding the law. Moore was backed by fired Trump aide Stephen K. Bannon. The race was a runaway, suggesting that neither Trump’s (or Vice President Mike Pence’s) presence nor gobs of money can prop up normal Republicans in the maelstrom unleashed by the Trumpkins. The GOP is being entirely subsumed to the nationalist/nativist/protectionist shock troops whom Trump and Bannon have unleashed.
The party that once defended the rule of law now defends those who defy court rulings (Moore and Joe Arpaio, for example). You’ll likely see a slew of Bannon-backed GOP primary challengers who will dislodge or bruise Senate and House GOP incumbents. One can now envision circumstances in which the Democrats win majorities in both houses. Even if the Senate remains nominally in GOP hands, it seems that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s days as leader are numbered.
That was only the tip of an iceberg threatening to sink Trump’s presidency. Consider what popped up this week for Trump:
- The Obamacare repeal-and-replace effort failed again.
- Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has rung up a tab of hundreds of thousands of dollars on charter planes.
- Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency chief is constructing a soundproof booth for himself for $25,000. Oh, and he has a massive security detail one would expect to go with a defense secretary instead.
- Then we learn: “The acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration is planning to leave his post later this month after losing confidence in President Donald Trump’s respect for the law, a source familiar with the decision said Tuesday.”
- Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) announced his retirement, creating an opportunity for another Bannon-backed Republican or a Democratic takeaway. If Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) replaces Corker as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Trump will face a thorn in his side on Russia, human rights and more.
- Trump ally Roger Stone was invited to testify before the House Intelligence Committee to deny colluding with Russia. Some were not impressed with his convoluted explanation for his tweet anticipating the WikiLeaks disclosures.
- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is reportedly agreeable to legislation to protect the special counsel.
- Speaking of which, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III reportedly will interview White House aides soon. Mueller also has enlisted the cooperation of the IRS with regard to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn.
- The situation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is desperate. Trump seems disengaged and overly sanguine about the situation. Katrina comparisons abound.
There are three major political dynamics at work here — the failure of the Trump and GOP agenda; the descent into paralyzing scandal for the administration; and the replacement of a normal GOP by a fully activated Trump-Breitbart machine that resembles the thuggish right-wing parties in Europe. Throughout it all, Trump divides and deceives, creating false controversy and phony culture wars. Attack the NFL, attack the press, feed the racism.
For all the difficulties Democrats may have, they do not have all that to worry about. If they compete far and wide with quality candidates and articulate a sane agenda that is neither identity-driven nor economically implausible, they may stage a remarkable comeback by 2020.
And what of the remnants of the GOP — its moderates and conservatives, its principles and its sensibilities? Perhaps a new center-right party can emerge. Maybe such a group can find common cause with center-left Democrats if their party goes over the edge as well. Increasingly, however, it seems hard to imagine that the GOP will rid itself anytime soon of Trump and the stench of Trumpism. More likely, Trump will rid himself of the GOP as we have known it, leaving the party of Lincoln in ruins.