President Trump has never been a model of consistency or coherence. However, as pressure builds both from looming investigations and the impending transfer of power in the House from the Republican majority to the Democrats, his ability to maintain even the pretense of normalcy and rationality begins to crumble. That’s true on both foreign and domestic policy, giving the impression of a president teetering on the brink of a complete meltdown.
On foreign policy, Republicans and Democrats alike have hammered the president on his specious defense of the Saudis’ brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), bluntly stated on CNN’s “State of the Union,” “I have been briefed by the CIA. And while I cannot discuss the contents of the briefing in any way, I can say that I think the president is being dishonest with the American people.”
In this case, a solid bipartisan consensus stands against Trump. The Post reports:
“I disagree with the president’s assessment,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It’s inconsistent with the intelligence I’ve seen. . . . The intelligence I’ve seen suggests that this was ordered by the crown prince.” . . .
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” acknowledged that Saudi Arabia was a “great strategic partner” but added that the United States’ commitment to human rights and the rule of law requires Congress “absolutely to consider further action. At such a time when it becomes necessary, the president also needs to speak directly to the Saudis and say enough’s enough.”
The result is likely to be a bipartisan effort to cancel Saudi arms sales and to sanction all those involved. Moreover, with a Democratic House majority, the Democrat-led intelligence and foreign affairs committees can investigate not only the murder and coverup but also Trump’s own potential financial conflicts with the Saudis, whom he bragged in the past have purchased tens of millions in real estate properties from him. In the meantime, Trump appears to all but his most deluded cultists to be in the Saudis’ pockets, remarkably gullible and/or a liar. On this he remains politically isolated against a united front of our international allies, Democrats, Republicans and our intelligence agencies. (As an aside, one wonders how CIA Director Gina Haspel can remain in an administration in which the president lies about her agency’s findings and sides with a foreign power.)
The same lack of coherence and political support appears on the domestic policy front. The Post reports:
President Trump is demanding top advisers craft a plan to reduce the country’s ballooning budget deficits, but the president has flummoxed his own aides by repeatedly seeking new spending while ruling out measures needed to address the country’s unbalanced budget.
Trump’s deficit-reduction directive came last month, after the White House reported a large increase in the deficit for the previous 12 months. The announcement unnerved Republicans and investors, helping fuel a big sell-off in the stock market. Two days after the deficit report, Trump floated a surprise demand to his Cabinet secretaries, asking them to identify steep cuts in their agencies.
As striking as Trump’s utter inability to grapple with basic problems, his staff’s unwillingness to maintain any semblance of unity and loyalty suggests they no long think it’s in their personal interest to be associated with a president who makes mincemeat of one policy issue after another. His childish inability to make hard decisions and engender possible complaints from his base makes him a hapless, inept figure. He’s not so much leading as he is meandering — with aides racing after him to prevent bigger disasters and embarrassments.
Republicans would be wise to forge their own course on a whole array of matters and to stop defending an indefensible president (as they are doing on Saudi Arabia). If not, the 2020 election will make 2018 look like a smashing success for the GOP.