The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump is cracking

President Trump looks on during the American Commemoration Ceremony at the Suresnes American Cemetery in Paris on Sunday. (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg)
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President Trump is back in the United States — and back to attacking democracy. He tweets:

We should note that this is the talk of authoritarians; it shows contempt for the office of the president, whom the Constitution designates to “to take care” that the nation’s laws are faithfully executed. It’s also a frightful peek at what he might do in 2020 should the vote not go his way.

Trump’s appointment of an unqualified, radical political hack, Matthew G. Whitaker, as acting attorney general likewise shows his disdain for the rule of law and proclivity to impede or even crush the Russia probe. We should be worried that he is spoiling for a constitutional crisis that can rally his base.

Trump’s decision to revoke the press pass for Jim Acosta is a blatant violation of the First Amendment. (First Amendment guru Floyd Abrams confirms that CNN and Acosta would have a strong lawsuit, an option reportedly under consideration.) Once more, Trump violates his oath to preserve and protect the Constitution.

Combined with evidence of obstruction of justice and evidence he directed Michael Cohen to violate campaign finance rules, these new actions would be ample grounds for impeachment. However, observe the deafening silence of Republicans — indeed, their noxious attempts to join in calls to foreclose a legally mandated recount. While impeachment in a Democratic House would be both justified and doable, removal by the GOP-controlled Senate would not be remotely possible.

President Trump has irreversibly changed the Republican Party. The upheaval might seem unusual, but political transformations crop up throughout U.S. history. (Video: Adriana Usero, Danielle Kunitz, Robert Gebelhoff/The Washington Post)

This does not mean the actions should be ignored. To the contrary, congressional oversight should expose the president’s wrongdoing, and the House should certainly sanction him for it. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report should provide avenues for prosecution after Trump leaves office.

However, from a political perspective, Democrats should keep in mind their audience — voters in all those House districts they took back, in the Rust Belt and Upper Midwest where they prevailed in governor and Senate races, in states whose GOP senators are on the ballot in 2020, and every region and demographic group with persuadable Americans. They must hammer away at the simple proposition that Trump is unfit to govern and Republicans who are too afraid to stand up to him cannot be trusted with power.

Meanwhile, the press and the country at large should keep in mind that Trump acts out when he is weak, humiliated and cornered. He’s all those things right now:

  • His performance in Europe was panned.
  • The election results get worse for Republicans with each passing day.
  • His great North Korea diplomacy, contrary to the gullible pundits and political spinners, was a bust. (He was snookered.)
  • We now have two major Middle East problems — Iran and out-of-control Sunni despots who think (not unreasonably) they can lead him around by the nose.
  • He is not winning the trade war, and it may be one of many factors leading to an economic pullback before the 2020 election.
  • Mueller plows ahead, with possibly more indictments (e.g., Roger Stone, Donald Trump Jr.). The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (aided by Michael Cohen’s cooperation) has its own case(s) to pursue against Trump and/or his helpmates.
  • Obamacare is here to stay. It’s more popular than ever, and red America has fallen in love with Medicaid expansion.
  • Trump’s finances are no longer protected from scrutiny, nor are his daughter and son-in-law’s.

In sum, we should continue to tally Trump’s constitutional offenses just as we keep a running count of his lies. However, these offenses are part of a bigger picture of a failing president and a party incapable of breaking with him. Trump is cracking up, as is the GOP.

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