How are things going in Washington? The Nationals, the baseball team that used to be the Montreal Expos, is doing quite well in their new home. That’s nice, but as the New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer reports, things are a bit dismal in the halls of Congress:
His unrelenting stream of incendiary remarks have left horrified congressional Republicans divided into five loose categories about the problem that is Donald J. Trump.
There are the fast walkers – like Senator Patrick J. Toomey, the endangered Republican from Pennsylvania – who try to run briskly away from questions about the party’s presumed nominee for president. Mr. Toomey – never the most loquacious lawmaker – has mastered the art of twisting his face into a grimace and racing away from reporters before they can ask him about Mr. Trump’s latest statements about expanding a ban on Muslim immigration.
Another senator in a tight re-election bid, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, also tries to avoid talking about Mr. Trump, whom she supports, as she makes her way through the halls of Congress. (To be in this category, it is very useful to have Ms. Ayotte’s long legs.)
Then there are lawmakers best described as grumps, like Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who appears decidedly downbeat about his party, and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who offered early support to Mr. Trump’s campaign but said this week, “I don’t know that I really have a lot to say,” adding that he had tried to advise Mr. Trump and was “discouraged by the results.” Add to that list Senator Dan Coats, Republican of Indiana, who has struggled to find a single policy position he shares with Mr. Trump.
This is rather dismal, when you consider the others:
Another group is doing “the McConnell,” taking a cue from their majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – as well a number of House members – rotely repeat that they are supporting Mr. Trump, and refuse to engage on his specific statements most days. Mr. McConnell preemptively cuts off discussion by saying things like, “I’m not going to be commenting on the presidential candidates today.”
A smaller group is the free speakers, including Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona, who feel unbridled to openly heap scorn on Mr. Trump. Mr. Flake called Mr. Trump’s remarks suggesting that President Obama somehow had inside information about the Orlando massacre “particularly disgusting,” and, like Mr. Graham, said he would not be voting for him.
Another category is the vaguely-upset-but-what-can-you-do lawmakers. “Am I offended sometimes at the comments? Yes I am,” said Representative Mark Walker, Republican of North Carolina. “However, what offends me more are Hillary Clinton’s actions.”
And that leaves the mystery man:
Then there is Speaker Paul D. Ryan. He is perhaps the most prominent critic of Mr. Trump on his proposed Muslim ban, but has nonetheless fully endorsed him. That is a category of one.
No one even bothers to ask Ryan about his logic anymore. He won’t answer. But they all know this is a bad situation, and as Greg Sargent explains, it just got far worse:
Americans hate their two leading choices for president, which means we’re headed for a general election bloodbath of negativity that will lead Americans to hate politics even more! Why are the two parties foisting such awful, despised figures upon the poor voters, who just want leaders they can feel good about?
At least, this is the lament we regularly hear. But it isn’t that simple. In reality, for now, at least, there’s no real equivalence between the negative views of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. While Clinton certainly has problems in this regard, Trump fares far, far worse.
The new Washington Post/ABC News poll illustrates this neatly. It finds that Donald Trump’s unfavorable numbers have climbed to a new high: 70 percent of Americans have an unfavorable impression of Trump, versus only 29 percent (less than one-third!) who have a favorable impression.
This is a disaster, particularly in the details:
Clinton’s negatives, too, have hit a new high of 55 percent. But look at Trump’s numbers among various voter groups. Trump is viewed unfavorably by 73 percent of moderates; 77 percent of women; 89 percent of Hispanics; 88 percent of nonwhites; 75 percent of voters under 40; 59 percent of whites; 71 percent of white college graduates, 67 percent of white women, and even 52 percent of white men and 53 percent of non-college whites.
Now what? This is worse than any Republican imagined:
Needless to say, those numbers would appear to complicate Trump’s hopes of riding a wave of white backlash into the White House. In fact, according to the crosstabs, among the only groups who view Trump favorably are non-college white men, by 52-46. As noted above, he’s underwater with white women and white men writ large, and even with non-college whites when both genders are taken into account. That’s because he’s also viewed unfavorably by 60 percent of white women without a college degree.
Clinton certainly has problems. Notably, she’s viewed unfavorably by 58 percent of voters under 40, though this could partly reflect a hangover among Bernie Sanders supporters that could improve. She is viewed unfavorably by 68 percent of whites, which is bad. But she does better among some of her core groups than Trump does among his.
Trump is underwater among many constituencies that should be a natural part of his coalition (whites overall, white women of both the college and non-college variety, blue collar whites). But Clinton actually does comparatively well among some of her key constituencies. She’s viewed favorably among women by 51-47, among Hispanics by 64-34, and among nonwhites by 66-32. While she is viewed unfavorably by 59 percent of white college grads, which is bad, Trump fares worse, at 71 percent. And while Trump is in a deep hole among moderates, Clinton is tied among them at 49-49.
Those are interesting numbers. Read ’em and weep:
These numbers suggest once again that Trump, after becoming the presumptive GOP nominee, has not yet had any success at broadening his appeal to the national electorate. In fact, he appears to be sliding backwards. And yet, if anything has become clear in recent days – given that he has doubled down on his Muslim ban and broadened the case that Obama is tacitly rooting for the terrorists – Trump appears fully convinced that the approach that served him well among GOP primary voters will also win over the general election audience, with no need to adjust it even one iota.
That explains the fast-walking in the halls of Congress, and Slate’s Jamelle Bouie explores the implications:
For roughly seven days in May, Donald Trump was on the upswing. Ted Cruz had left the race for president and Republican leaders were coming around to Trump’s candidacy, dutifully endorsing the party’s presumptive nominee. Prominent Trump skeptics were holding their tongues, and the most visible Republican lawmaker in the country – House Speaker Paul Ryan – was in talks with Trump about the party’s agenda for the fall. The real estate mogul still had ground to cover in the polls, but in that moment, if you squinted, he looked like a candidate who could win.
That all changed with Gonzalo Curiel:
A federal judge, Curiel had certified a class-action lawsuit against Trump’s now-defunct for-profit school, Trump University. In May, he granted a request – from the Washington Post – to release Trump University documents to the public. The subsequent coverage was deadly. In response, Trump went on the offense, with a racist attack on Curiel’s impartiality. The same Republican leaders who endorsed him weeks earlier now balked at his rhetoric. Some withdrew their endorsements. Any momentum Trump had was gone, wasted in a matter of days.
And now the Washington Post and ABC News released their latest national poll, conducted from the peak of the Curiel affair to the immediate aftermath of the massacre in Orlando, and the implications are obvious:
A presidential nominee with this standing doesn’t just lose in the general election; he brings his party down with him, wiping out an entire generation of leaders in one fell swoop. If Trump remains this unpopular through the fall – and if third-party candidates like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein don’t make substantial traction – he could cost Republicans control of the Senate and perhaps even the House.
That is an existential threat, politically, and it’s simply not going away:
Trump is a direct threat to the GOP’s ability to hold onto national power. Worse, there’s no indication he has the capacity to change. If there’s anything consistent in Trump’s politics, it’s nativism and racial prejudice, from his tirades against Japan in the 1980s and public attacks on the “Central Park Five,” to his “birtherism” during President Obama’s first term and his present-day condemnation of immigrants, Muslims, and Hispanics.
Judging from his past behavior, Trump will only get worse. Already, he’s running with the conspiracy theory that President Obama is in league with ISIS and other terrorist groups.
Trump’s popularity is low. It can get lower. By the time we reach the Republican National Convention, Trump might be a zombie candidate: lifeless but still shambling forward, consumed by his most animal impulses.
Something needs to be done about this, now, but Bouie cannot imagine what that would be:
So what do Republicans do? What could they do? At this late stage, the only alternative left is the party’s nuclear option – ignoring its primary voters and dumping Trump from the ticket in a hail-Mary attempt to save its congressional majority. For some conservatives, this is the obvious choice. “There is not a single ‘bound’ delegate to the Republican National Convention,” notes David French, a staff writer for the National Review who briefly flirted with a third-party candidacy against Trump. “Not one delegate is required to vote for Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or any other individual who ‘won’ votes in the primary process. Each delegate will have to make his or her own choice.”
That’s true, and also absurd:
There’s a reason we say “presumptive nominee” in reference to the winner in a presidential nomination fight: The status isn’t official until delegates ratify it at the convention. Our political norms and intuitions (the person with the most votes wins) are such that in the era of modern presidential elections, the presumptive nominee has always been the official one, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
The rules of the Republican convention don’t exist in advance. They are crafted by the rules committee before the convention meets. If it wanted to, a majority of that committee could change the rules of the nomination process, unbinding delegates from their respective candidates and allowing the party to choose a different nominee. As procedure, it’s straightforward. As politics, it’s dangerous.
The only way this happens is if Republican leaders sign onto the effort. And if they do, they will have voted to throw the convention – and the GOP itself – into complete chaos, opening the door to a massive backlash from Republican primary voters, who cast ballots with the expectation that the party would respect their choice. It’s a huge gamble that could (and likely would) destroy the career of anyone who touched it – which means it probably won’t happen.
If it’s not going to dump Trump, then the most the party can do is distance itself as much as possible.
That explains the fast-walking in the halls of Congress, which in itself is absurd:
Between now and November, there’s a good chance we’ll see something almost unprecedented in modern American politics: a world where the elected officials and elites of a political party are either indifferent to the fate of their party’s nominee or outright antagonistic to him. Where Republican lawmakers disavow their endorsements, where Republican office seekers obscure their ties, where the whole firmament of Republican electoral politics – operatives, activists, fundraisers – take leave for the season to let Trump flail on his own.
Yeah, well, Donald Trump is just fine with that:
Donald Trump slammed GOP leaders on Wednesday for not lining up behind him, implying that he’s willing to go forward without their help.
“We have to have our Republicans either stick together or let me just do it by myself. I’ll do very well. I’m going to do very well. Okay? I’m going to do very well. A lot of people thought I should do that anyway, but I’ll just do it very nicely by myself,” Trump said…
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee also accused his party’s leaders of being weak and told them to “please be quiet.”
“You know the Republicans, honestly folks, our leaders, our leaders have to get tougher,” Trump said during a rally in Atlanta. “Our leaders have to get a lot tougher. And be quiet. Just please be quiet. Don’t talk. Please be quiet. Just be quiet – to the leaders, because they have to get tougher, they have to get sharper, they have to get smarter.”
They’re all fools too, to which they had no response:
Ryan spokeswoman Ashlee Strong declined to respond to Trump, instead pointing to Ryan’s remarks during a Tuesday news conference, during which Ryan reasserted that he does not “think a Muslim ban is in our country’s interest” nor “reflective of our principles.”
Ryan previously called Trump’s remarks about Judge Gonzalo Curiel “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Josh Marshall suggests that they won’t be able to keep that up:
There’s no magic to Trump’s political showmanship. The magic we saw through the spring was a unique bond, a sort of mindmeld of white backlash and derp Trump built on an inspired intuition into the mind of the base of the Republican Party. Provocation and offense didn’t hurt Trump because, as I argued at the time, he was preaching to an audience that yearned for both as positive goods. Campaigning in front of a general election audience today it’s all working quite differently. Over the last two days I heard report after report from our team on Capitol Hill about Senators who were refusing to answer questions about Trump, simply walking away when asked about him, or in a growing number of cases, after his harrowing and unhinged speech on Monday, openly attacking him.
Everyone has seen that:
Over the last couple weeks we’ve had the Trump University expose, the racist tirades against “Mexican” Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the resurrection of the ban on Muslim immigration which only a month ago Trump dismissed as “just a suggestion”, insinuations that President Obama may be collaborating with terrorists and a spew of self-congratulation, incitement and unseemly antics in the wake of a national tragedy that even a number of Republicans who’ve endorsed Trump have termed ‘disgraceful.’
It’s been a rough run of weeks.
Indeed, after fulminating for two days against The Washington Post (and pulling their press credentials) for reporting that he suggested President Obama is in league with terrorists, he’s back today tweeting out a conspiracy theory that Yes! Obama is in fact in league with terrorists. He is unable or unwilling to be clear from one hour to the next about who he’s angry at.
But one wonders why:
What’s most telling about this is that so little has been due to bad luck or news events out of Trump’s control. With the partial exception of the release of the Trump University documents, it’s been almost entirely from Trump himself. A month ago Republican elected officials were unenthusiastically but resolutely rallying around Trump. Since then they’ve slowly been reduced to a public and political version of a family dealing with a hopeless addict or a degenerate gambler. They keep saying, insisting he’ll change, only to have him provide more evidence he can’t, he won’t, and he has no intention to. Their very indulgence seems to prompt more unbridled behavior.
The disgraceful way Trump handled the hours after the Orlando atrocity seems to have confirmed for many Republicans that Trump will never change or pivot or whatever other phrase we’re now using. It’s not an act. It’s him. How this couldn’t have been clear months ago is a topic for the psychology of denial and wishful thinking. But now it seems clear.
It is clear, and hopeless:
The GOP might pay a catastrophic price for months with the party headed by a man who is erratic, morally rudderless, mercurial and emotionally unstable – and that on his better days.
Back in December, Trump’s initial call for a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States did him no harm, though a few Republicans noted they did not agree with him. Today it’s being routinely denounced by Republicans even in the aftermath of an attack that one might suppose would leave people open to such extreme measures. In front of a different audience, a different electorate, Trump looks like a racist candidate, who is temperamentally erratic and routinely proposing unhinged policies – and with pretty much the results you’d expect.
The question is how long this can last. Pretty much daily, major Republican leaders don’t just disagree with Trump but denounce him in pretty round terms, even as they remain at least nominal endorsers of his candidacy and accept him as the leader of their party. That is entirely unprecedented in modern American political history.
It doesn’t seem sustainable.
Something has to happen:
I’m not saying and I don’t think Republicans will deny Trump the nomination in Cleveland. I don’t think that’s possible. They’re stuck with him. But the current situation is too unstable to hold. You can’t have the Speaker of the House endorsing the party’s presidential candidate and also calling him a racist for very long. Something has to give. This is especially true because I see little to suggest the run of punches will end any time soon. Again, Trump University, Curiel, mass casualty high fives, accusing the President of collaborating with terrorists – the hits just keep coming. They keep coming because Trump is Trump. And in front of an audience not focused on provocation, resentment and white backlash it does not always play well.
I don’t know where this goes. But the current set up is too unstable to hold.
That’s because it only gets worse:
Just two days after Donald Trump implied that President Obama sympathized with terrorists, provoking a backlash that included members of his own party, the presumed Republican presidential nominee declared himself “right,” based on a published report claiming administration “support” for the Islamic State.
In a post to his Twitter account early Wednesday, Trump said “Media fell all over themselves criticizing what Donald Trump ‘may have insinuated'” about Obama. “But he’s right,” it said, linking to a story published by the conservative website Breitbart News.
That was this:
The story was based on a declassified 2012 cable written by a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) official, addressed to about two dozen military and national security agencies and officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Labeled as “information report, not finally evaluated intelligence,” it refers to “the general situation” in Iraq and Syria in the early days of the armed insurgency against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
It describes al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the Islamic State precursor, as part of the anti-Assad opposition, and notes that opposition forces fighting in eastern Syria are backed by “Western countries, the [Persian] Gulf states and Turkey.”
That’s the proof that Obama and Clinton are traitors, a preliminary field report from four years ago that the opposition forces fighting Assad in eastern Syria, that we were backing, curiously seemed to include al-Qaeda in Iraq, which much later became ISIS – but this may not prove Obama and Clinton have always fully support ISIS:
The document appears to be an initial intake of spot intelligence from the early days of the Syrian civil war. That intelligence had not yet been vetted or verified. Trump’s embrace of Breitbart’s interpretation of the cable fits a pattern of careless handling and circulation of facts, particularly in the realm of foreign policy. Such missteps have piqued concerns among foreign policy experts and Republican strategists about Trump’s understanding of complicated policy issues and his fitness for office.
“The main worry by those folks that I talk to in the national security and foreign policy universe is that he’s just winging it. And winging it at this period in time is clearly dangerous,” said Kevin Madden, a veteran GOP strategist and former adviser to 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
“Some days I expect him to come out and say, ‘I’m not an expert on national security, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night. Let me tell you what I think.'”
There has been hesitation among foreign policy experts to join the Trump campaign or his transition team, at least partially born out of fear that aligning themselves with Trump could damage their professional reputations.
Paul Ryan doesn’t have that luxury. He has already aligned himself with Trump, and someone will soon ask him whether he too believes this obscure memo, an initial field report from long ago, that mentions that ISIS, years before it became ISIS, was fighting Assad too, proves that Obama and Clinton planned the Orlando massacre – that they’re traitors, that they’re ISIS operatives. Ryan may say he won’t answer that question, but that in itself is an answer.
This really doesn’t seem sustainable. Things now have become too unstable to hold. But no one knows what comes next. That’s the problem here.