After 15 months, reality has caught up to Trump. The cold, hard facts do not disappear simply because Trump is willing to say black is white and white is black. Consider:
Trump declares he wants out of Syria. It would be lovely if we could simply pack up and go, but the enemies of the United States and the war criminals get a vote, too. Bashar al-Assad steps up to use chemical weapons. Russia continues to support him. Israel and Hezbollah (as well as Hezbollah’s patrons in Tehran) will clash militarily. Trump hasn’t “gotten away” with attacking President Barack Obama’s policies while duplicating them. To the contrary, Trump’s now in a mess of his own making. His foreign policy team lacks knowledge and adroitness; he will either contradict himself (to reengage in Syria) or be revealed as a weakling. There is a big price to be paid for an ignorant, incoherent and amoral foreign policy: Conflicts heighten, the United States loses influence, and Trump looks foolish.
Likewise, Trump can refuse to learn that the trade deficit is not a bill to be paid (We’re “down $500 billion,” he proclaims). He can hire economic illiterates who declare a trade war is no big deal He can send free-marketer Larry Kudlow out to renounce a lifetime of free-market advocacy by cheerleading for tariffs (and worse, insisting Trump’s attack on Amazon is not an attack on a specific company but a benign effort to level the playing field — or something). Here, too, others get a vote. The markets crash. Farmers are in an uproar over China’s retaliatory tariffs on agriculture. Trump loses support of GOP donors like the Koch brothers. If the two sides do not step back from the edge, a trade war will in fact bring nine years of economic recovery to an end. Trump, once again, can say whatever he wants; reality will tell us something altogether different.
Then there is the matter of the Russia investigation. Trump can scream “hoax” until he is blue in the face. His attorneys can pretend that talking to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is optional. In the real world, Mueller is racking up indictments, flipping witnesses and preparing, if need be, to subpoena Trump to testify. There is a price to be paid for trying to hamper the investigation and for his campaign’s 72 contacts (involving 22 officials) with Russia-linked operatives.
Politically, has Trump “gotten away” with playing to our darkest impulses, taking direction from crackpot Fox News hosts, refusing to listen to experts and sullying the office he holds? Well, Republicans now anticipate the House majority will be lost and are scrambling to save the Senate. The Post reports:
Republicans are increasingly worried they will lose control of the House in the midterm elections, furiously directing money and resources to hold and potentially boost their narrow majority in the Senate.To many, the Senate is emerging as a critical barrier against Democrats demolishing President Trump’s agenda beginning in 2019. Worse yet, some in the GOP fear, Democrats could use complete control of Congress to co-opt the ideologically malleable president and advance their own priorities.Democratic enthusiasm is surging in suburban districts that House Republicans are struggling to fortify, causing GOP officials, donors and strategists to fret. They have greater confidence in the more rural red states Trump won convincingly that make up the bulk of the Senate battlefield.
That doesn’t sound as if Trump has “gotten away” with anything.
Moreover, the GOP may have permanently turned off critical supporters, thanks to Trump. Reuters reports, “Older, white, educated voters helped Donald Trump win the White House in 2016. Now, they are trending toward Democrats in such numbers that their ballots could tip the scales in tight congressional races from New Jersey to California, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll and a data analysis of competitive districts shows.” Yes, assuming voters will believe anything, imitating George Wallace and creating havoc will cost Trump the votes of traditional, sober Republicans who hoped President Trump might not turn out to be as crazy as Candidate Trump. “Nationwide, whites over the age of 60 with college degrees now favor Democrats over Republicans for Congress by a 2-point margin, according to Reuters/Ipsos opinion polling during the first three months of the year,” Reuters reports. “During the same period in 2016, that same group favored Republicans for Congress by 10 percentage points.”
No, Trump hasn’t gotten away with much of anything. It’s not realistic to expect Trump will be shamed into truth-telling or his cultlike base will figure out, hey, this guy really is a scam artist. However, there is a price for hiring incompetent and ethically challenged advisers, firing them and hiring Fox News figures to replace them. There is a price to be paid for bear-hugging Vladimir Putin and refusing to comprehend the realities on the ground in the Middle East. There is a price to be paid for speaking loudly and carrying a little stick. Trump may be learning for the first time, after a lifetime of self-promotion, snake-oil salesmanship and puffery, that you really cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Unfortunately for Republicans, you cannot fool even an electoral majority all of the time.