But his voters will love it!
This phrase has become a stock joke among liberals, lampooning President Trump’s confidence that his voters will thrill to whatever populist theatrics he feeds them — no matter how ugly, authoritarian or racist — even as he has completely sold out on the real populism they supposedly elected him to fulfill.
As Trump’s attacks on the deceased John McCain continue, Trump’s allies are now taking that stock joke to a new, self-parodic low — and in the process, unintentionally revealing what a monstrous scam this presidency really is.
Their new argument is that Trump’s rants against McCain will thrill his voters, but more to the point, that these attacks constitute, in an important way, the fulfillment of the promise of his campaign.
Yes, this is their actual argument.
The Post reports that Trump allies view McCain as a “useful foil” in the eyes of Trump voters. McCain has been dead for nearly seven months, so this itself seems to betray that Trumpworld has a rather dim view of those voters.
But it’s why this is the case that’s of interest here. Trump allies believe McCain symbolizes “everything his core voters have come to loathe” about “the GOP’s political elite,” including its support for the Russia probe and its “opposition to Trump’s nativist agenda.”
Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) defends Trump’s attacks by claiming his voters see McCain as the “embodiment” of the sort of “lifetime career politician” who left them feeling “powerless and voiceless for many years,” until Trump arrived.
GOP consultant Mike Shields claims Trump’s attacks on McCain tap his voters’ frustration with “politicians that lie to them” and “aren’t real,” whereas these attacks show Trump is “real.” Trump’s outsider authenticity turns out to be a willingness to slime a dead man who can’t defend himself.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) defends Trump’s rage at McCain as “reasonable,” because McCain wanted to “stick it to the president” when he voted against repealing Obamacare in 2017.
And in a new interview with Fox News, Trump himself makes similar claims. He rips into McCain as “horrible” for voting against Obamacare repeal, adding: “We would have had great health care.” And he slams McCain for turning over to the FBI the “Steele dossier,” which he claims was “paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.”
Thus, the narrative Trumpworld is spinning is that, in attacking McCain, Trump is standing up for his voters, by going after a symbol of the GOP elites he campaigned against and of the deep-state forces working against the will of those voters, and those who blocked him from delivering on his health-care promises.
My intention here is not to defend or exalt McCain, but rather to look at what all this says about what a con this whole presidency really is.
Nothing but scams
Trump did not merely promise to repeal Obamacare. He also vowed to replace it with “insurance for everybody.” He explicitly campaigned on the idea that his desire to give people health care made him different from GOP elites. But he sold out on this promise, by embracing the actual goal of GOP elites: rolling back Obamacare’s coverage and protections for millions without meaningfully replacing them.
Because this was so unpopular, Republicans employed extraordinary partisan tactics and secrecy to try to push it through. This procedural abuse is what McCain voted against. He blocked Trump’s efforts to conspire with GOP elites to sell out on his promise to his voters.
That’s of a piece with Trump’s broader selling-out of his economic populism. After getting elected by promising to drain the swamp of elite corruption and take on the plutocrats who rig our political economy to enrich themselves, he gave those elites a deregulation spree that further rigged the economy in their favor, and a corporate tax cut that lavished enormous benefits on top earners. (As it happens, this is an area where Trump and McCain broadly agree.)
All that’s left of Trump’s vow to take on elites and to give health care to everybody is his attacks on one member of the elite who is dead. This is what honoring his promise to voters has been reduced to?
Absurd lies designed to evade accountability
Trump’s attacks on McCain over the Steele dossier are similarly absurd — and revealing. The implication is that McCain conspired against Trump’s election and then joined the deep-state coup to reverse it. But the idea that Clinton is behind the dossier is complete nonsense, McCain didn’t get the dossier until after the election, and the dossier isn’t even what initiated the Russia investigation in the first place.
McCain represented a small but influential bloc in the GOP that has forcefully stood up for the rule of law by defending the investigation and law enforcement against Trump’s attacks on them. (This is true even if you disagree with the anti-Russia views that partly drove McCain’s stance.) In targeting McCain over this, Trump is just reprising the lies and degradation of our institutions that are designed to help him evade accountability for his own elite corruption, the true dimensions of which we are only beginning to learn about from the investigation and its spinoffs. This is honoring his promise to voters?
As for the idea that in attacking McCain, Trump is targeting GOP elites who oppose his nativism, it’s true that McCain has called out Trump’s xenophobic ethno-nationalism. Here his attacks on McCain do highlight an area where Trump really has tried to fulfill his promises. But his anti-immigrant hate agenda is pretty much all that’s left of Trump’s supposed economic nationalism. This is supposed to thrill his voters? What does that say about them?
In all these ways, the very idea that attacks on McCain fulfill his promise to his voters embodies the multifaceted scam festering at the core of Trump’s presidency — dragged to absolute rock bottom.
But his voters will love it!