- Attack the most respected voice on coronavirus in the country, the world-renowned expert in infectious diseases Anthony S. Fauci, even though his predictions have been largely borne out while the president’s contradictions were dangerously wrong.
- Tell parents they must put their students back in school regardless of the circumstances
- Refuse to wear a mask for months, then receive condescending pats on the head for finally wearing one
- Insist everything is getting better
- Move your presidential nominating convention from a responsible state making headway on the pandemic to a state with a runaway outbreak, largely resulting from a Trump-sycophantic governor’s refusal to follow medical experts’ advice on safe reopening practices
Upon getting such advice, any presidential candidate in his or her right mind would reject the recommendations and fire the advisers. But President Trump has either initiated or wholeheartedly endorsed all of these.
Because the strategy is so patently self-destructive, it has launched a cottage industry of Trump whisperers trying to determine: Does he really think this will work or can he just not help himself? Whichever is the case — and it hardly matters which — it is a recipe for electoral disaster for him and his party. That in turn raises the question: Doesn’t the rest of the party know this is crazy, and if so, why do candidates on the ballot go along?
The explanation for why lemmings go over the cliff is complicated. Peer pressure and a conservative reward system that swiftly punishes dissenters and rewards bootlicking (see Sen. Lindsey Graham) provide part of the reason for Republicans’ refusal to break free. In addition, many are under the impression that if they just hide, occupying a space with a fleet of fellow Republican cowards, they will go undetected. They bet that voters expect little of them, and on this they may be right. Finally, some Republicans — not only ones in gerrymandered districts or red states but also those in competitive districts — figure that if they break ranks they’ll wind up in political no-man’s land. Progressives will not embrace them, and the Trump cult will abandon (or savage) them.
Let’s also not underestimate the role of careerism and greed. Some Republicans figure Trump will lose and they might, too. However, Fox News (disclaimer: I am an MSNBC contributor), talk radio, right-wing think tanks, right-wing publishing labels, conservative issue-advocacy groups and pro-Trump websites will endure. The right-wing racket will be there after the 2020 election, and may be, for those who lose their races, the only hope for gainful employment and continued relevance.
There is a group, however, that may actually change behavior after viewing the remarkably dumb Trump tactics: donors. True, many of them are extreme ideological cheerleaders for the president who will keep shoveling money his way (proving once more that wealth and intelligence are often unrelated). Many, though, are transactional donors. The wealthy businessman or the philanthropic doyen who gave to Trump in the past could well decide that they should stop funding this political suicide campaign and those senators in swing states too timid to back away from the dumpster fire. These donors can spend their money on state races or nonpolitical causes or themselves. As irrational as Trump, his campaign yes-men and his timorous congressional allies may be, I suspect a significant number of donors will have no trouble telling Trump and his enablers to buzz off next time they come asking for money.