As the implosion of President Donald Trump continues amid the increasingly bitter intraparty war engulfing the GOP, let’s not lose sight of the very real impact this spectacular meltdown could have: It could end up harming millions and millions of people.
Tuesday, Trump unleashed two tweets that telegraph the massive damage that may yet ensue. The first bashed Democrats for allegedly not wanting to secure our border and claimed this imperils a deal to protect the “dreamers.” The second signaled that Trump is set to broaden his efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act.
These two stories are intimately related to Trump’s travails amid the GOP infighting we’re now seeing. When Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., fed these divisions by blasting Trump’s temperamental unfitness for the presidency, he suggested that it threatens the prospect of armed conflict and global destruction. But you can also draw a direct line from Trump’s unfitness to serve — and the battling among Republicans — right through to his gamesmanship with the dreamers and sabotage of the ACA, both of which also threaten real harm to enormous numbers of people.
The Post has a remarkable report on Trump’s frustration and fury over the insufficient plaudits he has received for his handling of hurricanes and over his conviction that congressional Republicans are letting him down. All this has made Trump more eager “to solidify his standing with his populist base and return to the comforts of his campaign”:
“The president has groused to numerous White House aides about his concerns over his popularity with ‘my people’ — his base. He blames the Republican establishment and others for failing to enact his agenda and making him look feckless . . . according to people briefed on White House deliberations.”
As GOP pollster Whit Ayres put it: “Trump got elected with minority support from the American electorate,” and now he’s mainly focused on “energizing and solidifying the 40 percent of Americans who were with him.” Trump tweeted Tuesday about “Liddle Bob Corker,” another sign he’s withdrawing to his campaign safe space, where he belittled Republicans with schoolyard taunts (“Little Marco”) to great effect.
But the problem isn’t just that the minority president is retreating to his minority. It’s that this could get worse. Republicans believe Trump’s escalating attacks on Corker, and the senator’s scalding responses, threaten to further imperil other Trump goals, such as tax reform. And above all, Trump appears preoccupied with ensuring that “his people” don’t think he’s “feckless” — that is, a big loser.
Which brings us to the dreamers and the ACA. The White House just released a list of hard-right immigration goals Trump will demand in return for agreeing to a solution for hundreds of thousands of people brought here illegally as children. The wish list includes money for the wall and cuts to legal immigration.
Democrats had agreed in principle to a deal that would have boosted border security in exchange for protections for the dreamers. But there is no way they can agree to anything even close to this absurd new wish list. It’s obvious this move is rooted in a desire to placate Trump’s base, and further legislative failure will induce Trump to want more “wins” on the hard-line stuff, making it more likely that he’ll scuttle a deal with Democrats and that hundreds of thousands will soon face a precarious, frightening situation.
On the ACA, Trump announced Tuesday that he’ll be using executive action to give people “great health care.” But as Jonathan Cohn notes in his explanation of this executive action, it is actually a bid to weaken the ACA’s regulations in ways that will ultimately destabilize the individual markets. Meanwhile, the sabotage continues on other fronts. The New York Times has an important report detailing that much of the administration’s rationale for cutting funding for enrollment efforts by the so-called navigators — that they are falling short of their goals — appears to be fiction, meaning there is no serious policy rationale for it.
This, along with other sabotage tactics, such as threatening to halt cost-sharing reductions and weakening enforcement of the individual mandate, promises great harm. “It’s death by a thousand cuts,” Nicholas Bagley, a health policy expert at the University of Michigan, emailed me Tuesday. “No one of those moves may be a big deal on its own. Taken together, however, they amount to a deliberate campaign to destabilize the insurance markets, with the potential to harm millions of people.”
The most likely explanation for all this is that it’s pure rage and spite. In a remarkable moment, Sen. Joni Ernst, R, gently suggested that Trump may be undermining an effort in her home state of Iowa to shore up the individual markets because he is upset over the failure of repeal. On the dreamers, Trump himself has spoken compassionately of them and has seemed open to reasonable dealing on their fates — yet now his desire to boast of wins before roaring rally crowds puts them in peril.
It is not easy to grapple with the staggering levels of bad faith and sheer unbridled malevolence that characterize Trump and his administration. It sometimes seems as if we haven’t hit on the language we need to do justice to it all. But there is a thread running directly from Corker’s suggestion that Trump is unfit for the presidency to these latest moves on immigration and health care, and to the harm they may end up doing to millions.
• AFTER CORKER’S COMMENTS, REPUBLICANS CHOOSE AVOIDANCE: After Corker claimed Trump must be constrained by his inner circle from doing great damage to the country and the world, The Post reports that many Republicans are opting for avoidance:
“A day after Corker and Trump traded some of the sharpest intraparty blows of the year, Republican senators were mostly quiet. Those who did speak did so obliquely - by praising Corker generally but steering clear of inserting themselves directly into the brutal clash. . . . That approach grows riskier with each passing crisis - exposing congressional Republicans to culpability for the actions, some with potentially grave global consequences, of an unpredictable and contentious president.”
Corker has now made it impossible for Republicans to deny that Trump is unfit for the presidency. So they’ll remain silent — no matter what the consequences.
• HOW TRUMP STAFFERS MANAGE HIS EMOTIONS AND IMPULSES: Numerous people who have worked for Trump tell Politico that they manage Trump’s impulses by putting him off his momentary obsession in hopes that he’ll move on from it:
“Interviews with ten current and former administration officials, advisers, longtime business associates and others close to Trump describe a process where they try to install guardrails for a president who goes on gut feeling — and many days are spent managing the president . . . Trump, several advisers and aides said, sometimes comes into the Oval Office worked into a lather from talking to friends or watching TV coverage in the morning. . . . Then, staffers would step in to avert a rash decision by calming him down.”
In other words, Corker was absolutely right.
• IS THE GOP MAJORITY IN DANGER? Republicans have a vastly favorable Senate map in 2018. But Charlie Cook argues that the intra-GOP feud and specter of primary challenges means their majority is in peril in both chambers, and spells out the GOP’s challenges:
“Given their current disarray, Republicans will need to fight hard to gain any new [Senate] seats, and losing one or two of their own seats would put their majority in jeopardy. The stakes are even higher in the House where their majority status is in real danger. The party needs to sublimate its divisions, get mainstream Republicans to the polls, and persuade the Trump base to cast ballot for non-Trump Republicans. That’s a tall order.”
Cook estimates that the odds of the GOP retaining its majority have dropped to “even money.”
• BEHOLD TRUMP’S LATEST PUSHBACK ON MORON-GATE: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has not denied privately calling Trump a “moron.” Trump’s latest response, in an interview with Forbes:
“I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”
Trump is in such a rage over the “moron” comment that not even chanting the words “Fake News” to himself is calming him down.