This is a frequent pattern for Trump: A scandal-plagued Cabinet member or White House staffer comes under fire (e.g. Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, Rob Porter). Trump insists the real victim is the accused, who is a “great guy” and doing “a great job.” Republicans mumble, fidget and insist there is nothing to see here, while Democrats lace into the malefactor and Trump. Democrats stress the spinelessness of Republicans who enable a president whose natural affinity is with those accused of corruption, self-dealing and abusive conduct. Trump blames the press, insisting the coverage is “fake news.” Then Trump dumps the guy, leaving the Republicans who insisted there was never any problem looking like spineless sycophants. Rinse, repeat.
In this case, the retreat comes the day after an even more humiliating walk-back on the attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, which crushed the dreams of right-wing activists who actually believed Trump could jigger the census in Republicans’ favor.
“Top figures in the conservative legal community are stunned and depressed by President Trump’s cave in his fight for a citizenship question on the 2020 Census,” Axios reported. “Sources say Leonard Leo and other Federalist Society stalwarts were shocked and floored by how weak the decision was. ‘What was the dance … all about if this was going to be the end result?’ a conservative leader asked.” Imagine being so gullible as to think the president believes in any principle and so intellectually blinded as to think Trump’s outrageous positions are going to past muster. If conservatives are still shocked when Trump betrays them and kicks their heroes to the curb, they must not have been paying attention — or, more likely, must be so intellectually and morally corrupted that they can no longer tell what is going to pass muster outside the Trump cult.
Meanwhile, the right-wing state media over at Fox News, which initially ran to the defense of whomever Trump was defending, is left with two options: ignore the results or whine about the big, bad media that apparently has more power over Trump than his defenders do.
Both Acosta and the census issue suggest the merits are rarely at issue with Trump. He’s generally motivated by two things: inherent sympathy for men accused of mistreating women or other vulnerable people (make your own psychological evaluation) and the desire to inflame his base. The latter is achieved by appealing to their sense that women are aggressors, out to destroy the lives of men (especially white men), and that they are all victims of media elites who insist that men be held accountable for their conduct.
Trump is the most powerful man on the planet, a billionaire (we are told) or at least millionaire and head of a major national party. He’s tough, a winner, a dealmaker — and weirdly is always a victim like his poor bedraggled advisers. Trump is both the perpetual victor and victim, which for any rational person would be ludicrous. Alas, we left rationality behind a long time ago.
All of the wailing and rending of garments on the right, however, should not obscure the truth in these incidents: When Trump and his accomplices’ base mendacity is laid bare, the American people (even some of his supporters) cannot stomach it. The lesson therefore is simple: Expose, accuse, hammer and demand accountability. It doesn’t always work, but it does now and then. When it does, truth, decency and our democratic system are vindicated.