On Tuesday, President Trump blithely tweeted out his support for voter ID legislation and “Paper Ballots as backup (old fashioned but true!)” just a week after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) killed legislation that included — wait for it — funding for paper ballots.
In one throwaway line, Trump simultaneously reminded us why the election security issue had Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank calling McConnell a “Russian asset” and exposed himself as a simpleton: “old fashioned but true” is a pretty good indicator that in his mind, everything boils down to “newfangled, bad; oldfangled, good.”
It’s just the latest example in a career of not-even-half-baked utterances that show just how poorly briefed and shallow he is. He was cunning enough to effect a hostile takeover of the Republican Party, but when it comes to articulating anything close to traditional GOP beliefs, he’s as likely to sound like the lifelong Democrat he was until Republicans tell him what to think.
If you need more evidence, go back to last year, when Trump sat down with a group of congressional leaders and said he’d get behind Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) suggestion to pass a “clean DACA bill” until House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) cut him off mid-sentence and reeled him back to the Republican position. A few weeks later, in the course of a single meeting, Trump told members of Congress not to fear the NRA, floated an idea to “take the guns first, go through due process second” as a response to gun violence, and momentarily signed on to an assault-weapons ban, with Feinstein nearly jumping out of her chair in delight while Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) had to laugh just to keep from crying.
Still not convinced? There’s Trump’s protectionist trade policy: tariffs with a heaping helping of soybean farmer welfare. His take on the Constitution: “I have the right to do whatever I want.” (Translation: “When you’re a star, they let you do it.”) His approach to the Bible: Many people are saying it’s a good book. And there’s his foreign policy: NATO, bad; Russia, good; North Korea, let’s be BFFs.
Go far enough back in Trump’s archive, and you get gems like this take on health-care coverage, from a book he wrote 20 years ago called “The America We Deserve” — a title any nanny-stater could love:
“I’m a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one. … We must have universal healthcare.”
Even when he lands on something Republican-adjacent, like his 2017 tax cut, he forgets the hard part: the budget cuts that are supposed to go with it. He’s so intellectually gelatinous that he’s drained what remained of traditional Republican beliefs out of the party. He’s made a mockery out of every Republican talking point and a hypocrite out of almost every Republican carrying his water, which is almost every elected Republican. He tells them what to think, and they tell him how to say what he thinks so they can still play conservatives on TV.
As recently as the Paul Ryan era (Remember that guy? He was House speaker one election ago and on the Republican ticket two presidential elections ago.), the GOP was calling itself the party of ideas. Now all that’s left is the party of Cleanup on Aisle Trump.
The Republican Party was once bound — at least loosely — to a set of principles, including limiting the reach of government, dedication to the rule of law, the control of taxation and spending, and a certain degree of moral probity. Trump’s GOP is … not that.
As the saying goes, you had one job, Republicans. Now? Your job really isn’t representing your districts. It’s backfilling and wallpapering over your president’s latest excesses, outrages, racial arson and verbal Twitter dysentery. Every day is a new crisis, and every day demands their complete attention. When he eventually tweets that he was the first person to arrive at Ground Zero or that he invented the question mark that one summer in Yangon, count on his congressional footmen and the Fox News Ministry of Truth to find a new way to spin it.
For Republicans, it’s an endless summer of crying themselves to sleep at Newspeak immersion camp. Yesterday, paper ballots were out. Today, some poor intern is probably mocking one up in crayon.
Trump’s been consistent on one thing, at least: Even as I write this, he’s standing by his claim that he’s “the least racist person in the world.” It’s a position he’s so passionate about, that if you doubt him for even a minute, he’ll invite you to go back to Africa.
Caudillos like Trump have always demanded that cronies tolerate their caprice. It’s degrading and exhausting but undeniably requisite for everyone who has to follow the bouncing ball of pronouncements anchored not to philosophy but to ego and impulse, lest they find themselves excommunicated from the cabal.
Ernst Lubitsch’s classic sendup of Stalinist Russia, “Ninotchka,” got it just right: “The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians.”
Trump’s word is now GOP law, even if it contradicts what he said the day before, even if it’s patently false, even if it sounds suspiciously like something Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) or Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) might say. Privately, plenty of Republicans may not like it, but they’ve made their choice, and Trump is happy to have fewer Republicans, though not necessarily better ones. But you already knew that, tovarich.