We vividly remember when Republican sycophants assured us that all would be fine because Trump assembled a dazzling Cabinet and the greatest national security team ever. As for the national security team, Rex W. Tillerson is gone and H.R. McMaster is next. With the list of fired or resigned advisers growing longer than the list of those who have remained, it is evident that these advisers — whom rightwing pundits and congressional lackeys cooed about — were not the greatest. On the contrary, Trump surrounded himself with people like him (rich, ethically-clueless, allergic to facts, etc.), and he has eschewed people who either tell him no or tell him he is wrong. The promise of superior staff ignored that the president had no ability to select superior candidates and that he could not, in any case, direct them adequately enough to produce a functional executive branch.
The promise that he would be saved by advisers with more intellect, temperament and experience also ignored Trump’s unwillingness to hire critics who voiced their qualms during the campaign. Those who had served at senior levels in prior administrations didn’t come in. That left him with a mediocre talent pool. And now — ah, his defenders would have shuddered to know this a year or so ago — he’s resorted to hiring TV personalities.
Moreover, Trump’s insistence on bringing with him the security blanket of family members — who were neither competent nor ethically pristine — meant that whomever he officially selected for top posts would have to deal with a competing power center (Javanka). And hiring his daughter and son-in-law meant their conflicts of interest were ladled into the toxic brew of his own conflicts, nontransparent finances and foreign emoluments.
But, but . . . Congress will constrain him! That’s what Trump apologists (including congressional Republicans) assured us. Really. As a matter of policy, they have either been inert or have encouraged his worst tendencies (e.g., demagoguery on the “dreamers”). On appointments, they have rubber-stamped a cast of characters that is distinguished mostly by ethical slip-ups and antagonism toward the missions of the departments and agencies they lead. As for checking Trump’s personal failures, they have turned a blind eye toward his conflicts, his foreign earnings and his refusal to release his tax returns. They have no stomach for confronting Trump. (Even on tariffs, they’ve talked a good game, but no legislation has been forthcoming.)
As for the Russia scandal, Republicans closed ranks and refused to set up an independent commission. In the House Intelligence Committee, the “investigation” turned into a three-ring circus. Ranking Democrat Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) was candid during a Politico interview about the Republicans’ conduct, as well as about the report concluding that Russia didn’t intervene in the 2016 election to help Trump, a conclusion they could not defend. Schiff told Politico:
“It demonstrates, I think, the problem that we’ve had behind closed doors, which is they’ve been fundamentally unserious about this investigation, and tragically, that started from a very early point. We started out committed to a bipartisan, nonpartisan investigation, and a unified report at the end of it. But within days of the open hearing we had with James Comey, when he revealed the Trump campaign had been under a counterintelligence investigation, we had that midnight run by our chairman, in which he went to some undisclosed location and then went to the White House the following day and announced that he had received from a secret source documents he had to show the White House, which he wouldn’t show even his own committee. . . . It was a charade.From that point on, the mission of the chairman was protecting the White House, protecting the president. And so, here we are, the Republicans say they’re shutting down; they’re not going to do any more.”
In sum, Trump could neither hire nor heed the advice of “very best people” on his staff or Cabinet. The pusillanimous Congress was never going to challenge him. But here’s the thing: By removing the GOP majority in Congress, the country can mitigate — not eliminate — Trump’s increasingly unhinged conduct. To get the institutional check that Republicans such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) promised, it seems, they need to be stripped of that majority.