Donald Trump owns the Republican Party. Not one elected Republican, now, would say that Donald Trump was wrong about anything at all, or had been wrong about anything in the past, or could ever be wrong in the future. This always was an absurd proposition, but each of them knew that one tweet from Trump and their base, which is his base, would turn on them and they’d be tossed out of office, or worse. But that was okay. Say he’s wonderful. One wing of the party would get its judges and abortion would be illegal again, and all forms of birth control too, and maybe the Nineteenth Amendment would fall and Jesus would be king, not the Constitution. They’d put up with a lot for even some of that, and the other wing of the party just wanted their tax cuts and the end to regulation of any kind of anything at all. They’d put up with a lot for that. Trump was safe.
And then he wasn’t. Republicans had their limits after all. They’d had enough. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reports on what pushed them over the edge:
Pushback is building in conservative circles against President Trump’s baseless conspiracy theory about Joe Scarborough and the decades-old death of a former congressional aide…
On Wednesday, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and the conservative-leaning editorial boards of the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Examiner all pleaded with Trump to knock it off.
The quartet of cautions comes the day after a letter surfaced from the widower of the deceased congressional aide, Lori Klausutis, urging Twitter to delete Trump’s tweets about the matter. Despite the letter from Timothy J. Klausutis, Trump and the White House continued to raise the conspiracy theory later Tuesday.
Romney said in a tweet: “I know Joe Scarborough. Joe is a friend of mine. I don’t know T.J. Klausutis. Joe can weather vile, baseless accusations but T. J.? His heart is breaking. Enough already.”
This was a matter of common decency, or it was a matter of paying attention to your damned job:
Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican, also said Trump should stop.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic. He’s the commander in chief of this nation. And it’s causing great pain to the family of the young woman who died,” she said.
In short, pay attention, asshole! Focus! Do your job!
The newspapers echoed that:
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board said in a piece titled “A Presidential Smear” that “Mr. Trump is debasing his office, and he’s hurting the country in doing so.”
The Examiner added in its editorial about Trump’s “slanderous attack” that “one could hardly be blamed for reading it and doubting his fitness to lead.”
“It is deeply unfortunate that certain loathsome individuals chose to amplify, repeat, or otherwise resurrect this tall tale, either as part of a bad-faith, cheap-shot ad hominem argument against Scarborough or else out of the same feverish kookery that motivates most conspiracy theorists,” the Examiner said.
And then Blake did his thing:
Apart from Romney, Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who also criticized the president this week, virtually no congressional Republicans are talking about this. Allusions to the conspiracy don’t appear in other tweets or public comments from members.
The Washington Post has reached out to GOP members of the Florida congressional delegation, in which Scarborough served as a Republican. It has not heard back, though, from Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.). Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), an avid Trump ally who represents Scarborough’s old district, declined Wednesday to echo Trump’s call for a new investigation, though he referred to unsubstantiated rumors about the case.
“In northwest Florida, at the time, there was a lot of focus on that medical examiner, and it’s not something that I’ve seen in a lot of the more recent discussion of those facts,” Gaetz said.
He sort of remembered that something or other had happened, long ago, but it was best not to say anything:
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) took a pass on either reprimanding Trump or vouching for Trump on Wednesday, saying: “I was not here with Joe Scarborough. I don’t quite know about the subject itself.” He was also asked about the Wall Street Journal editorial and said he hadn’t read it.
He wasn’t going to touch this, as others decided too:
The silence has been particularly pronounced on Fox News. Nexis transcripts show a scattered few straight-news mentions in recent days of the back-and-forth over what Twitter should do. Around the time this story was initially published, Fox’s Dana Perino pressed Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh on what Klausutis’ widower said, to which Murtaugh responded, “Certainly, we feel for the grieving family. And it’s a terrible loss. But I’m not going to get out ahead of the president. He’s got this on-running feud with Joe Scarborough, and I think it’s plain to see for everybody.”
But hosts such as Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity haven’t really touched the story in recent days.
Hannity did bring it up briefly on his radio show last week, at which point former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly urged him to leave it alone.
O’Reilly is still The Man:
Hannity has apparently taken that advice. In the week since then, according to transcripts, he has not mentioned Scarborough or Trump’s conspiracy theory on his TV show – despite apparently believing there’s somehow some validity to something involving the coroner.
Nor has the story appeared much on FoxNews.com. The site mentioned Trump’s claims in a story last week about Scarborough’s co-host and wife, Mika Brzezinski, trying to get Trump banned from Twitter. It also wrote about Twitter’s response to Klausutis’ husband Tuesday.
But that was it, and Blake adds this:
The combination of the slow-building criticism and the unwillingness of Trump’s allies to amplify – much less vouch for – the claim should tell you how his party and base of support views this particular gambit. If they thought it was legitimate or defensible, they would probably say so, but they haven’t been.
Apparently they hoped it would go away. But, when not even a grieving widower can put a stop to it, that pretty strongly suggests it won’t. And that seems to be why we’re suddenly seeing pushback.
But that’s been odd, like this from the Trump-friendly New York Post:
We suppose there are some Trump followers who enjoy this. The libs say horrible things about you go ahead and say terrible things about them! There is a difference, though, between mocking someone’s ratings and hurting an innocent family with the memories of their tragic daughter because of a petty feud.
A much larger portion of Trump’s support, we’d wager, are people who like his policies and brush off his personality – or try to.
But is that really the president you want to be, sir? The president for whom people disregard half or even most of what you say as irrelevant?
The argument is that good people follow Trump, lots of them, so Trump should try to be nice, at least for them. Don’t make these good people who love you feel like fools, at least for no good reason.
Peter Wehner says that really is nonsense:
A lot of human casualties result from the cruelty of malignant narcissists like Donald Trump – casualties, it should be said, that his supporters in the Republican Party, on various pro-Trump websites and news outlets, and on talk radio are willing to tolerate or even defend. Their philosophy seems to be that you need to break a few eggs to make an omelet. If putting up with Trump’s indecency is the price of maintaining power, so be it.
Republicans are utilitarian. Cruelty is necessary at times, and they regret that, and Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog doubts that:
Do people really still believe this, nearly five years after Trump declared his candidacy? Do they believe that Trump’s backers merely put up with his rages? If so, those backers could have given us a signal.
He says Adam Serwer had this right in 2018:
At a rally in Mississippi, a crowd of Trump supporters cheered as the president mocked Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who has said that Brett Kavanaugh, whom Trump has nominated to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, attempted to rape her when she was a teenager. “Lock her up!” they shouted…
It is not just that the perpetrators of this cruelty enjoy it; it is that they enjoy it with one another. Their shared laughter at the suffering of others is an adhesive that binds them to one another, and to Trump…
Somewhere on the wide spectrum between adolescent teasing and the smiling white men in lynching photographs are the Trump supporters whose community is built by rejoicing in the anguish of those they see as unlike them, who have found in their shared cruelty an answer to the loneliness and atomization of modern life.
That’s the core of this:
It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good; it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything, no matter what it costs them.
Steve M adds this:
If Trump voters don’t like Trump’s worst traits, they could have signaled this to pollsters and to their members of Congress. They didn’t. They like this. No, let me put that more accurately: This is what they like. This is the point of Trumpism.
It was about the cruelty. It’s always about the cruelty. Jonathan Chait sees that:
The United States is in the midst of its worst economic catastrophe in 90 years, and its deepest public-health crisis in more than 100, and the president is laser-focused on the co-host of a morning cable-news talk show whose audience, about 1.1 million daily viewers, equals less than one third of one percent of the population.
Indeed, to put the matter more precisely, the president is focused on investigating a 20-year-old death that Trump wishes to falsely pin on Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough. Trump has tweeted about the case four times since the beginning of Memorial Day weekend. It is, to say the least, a strange issue to focus on given the circumstances. Even if his claims were true, there are far more important issues before him.
This is not a shrewd messaging gambit.
But it works:
Obviously a wise and strategic president would not be doing this. The sane strategy for maximizing Trump’s reelection odds would be to manage the public-health response to the pandemic while taking advantage of a Democratic Congress willing to spend almost unlimited sums to pump stimulus into the economy.
But “sane” left the building a long time ago, and Trump is left in a world of second- and third-best strategies. In place of effective governance, he is counting on partisanship to polarize the race, keeping it close enough that he can eke out another win by demonizing his opponent. A crucial element of Trump’s polarization method is to suppress all internal dissent.
This is why Trump relentlessly claims (without any basis, of course) that his approval ratings among Republicans have risen to 95 percent or 96 percent. It is why he devotes so much energy to defining “Never Trumpers” as a hostile clique to be distrusted, and why he lobbed gratuitous insults at Mitt Romney rather than try to patch up his relationship with a man who solicited his endorsement in 2012. Scarborough is dangerous to Trump because he is a Republican, and his criticism undermines Trump’s message that all real Republicans support Trump. And while Trump could choose to ignore Scarborough, he believes in intimidating his critics into silence.
But that gets harder all the time:
A growing chorus of Republicans is pushing back against President Trump’s suggestion that wearing cloth masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus is a sign of personal weakness or political correctness.
They include governors seeking to prevent a rebound in coronavirus cases and federal lawmakers who face tough reelection fights this fall, as national polling shows lopsided support for wearing masks in public.
They just won’t go where Trump has gone:
“Wearing a face covering is not about politics – it’s about helping other people,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said Tuesday in a plea over Twitter, echoing comments by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) last week. “This is one time when we truly are all in this together.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) posted a photograph on Instagram of himself in a mask Tuesday night. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who faces a tough reelection fight, has added “#wearyourmask” to his Twitter handle, after photographing himself earlier the month wearing a mask in an airport as part of an appeal for the public to “remain vigilant.” Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), a member of the Republican leadership who is running for reelection this year, shared a photo of himself in a mask Monday, asking others to adopt the practice.
Something changed. They’d had enough:
The comments come as Trump continues to treat face masks as something to mock, refusing to wear one in public and joining his staff and family in ridiculing his Democratic rival Joe Biden for doing otherwise. White House staff members are required to wear masks in the building, though Trump is exempted from that rule.
The president retweeted a picture of a masked Biden taken Monday during a war memorial visit. The caption: “This might help explain why Trump doesn’t like to wear a mask in public.”
Biden looks like a jerk, like a dork, like a sissy. Real men don’t wear masks. Even his party thinks that’s stupid. That sort of thing could get us all killed:
Three recent public polls have found that between 64 and 72 percent of the public says Trump should wear a mask. Between 38 and 48 percent of Republicans say Trump should do so.
“That is an issue that divides Republicans and not anybody else,” said Nick Gourevitch, a Democratic pollster who recently helped write a public memo to lawmakers and liberal interest groups recommending that they embrace the mask issue.
And then there’s Biden:
The attacks from Trump and his allies over masks have cheered Biden’s advisers, who view the debate as a way for showing the contrast Democrats see as the heart of their message for the fall. For Biden, the debate with the president over masks is a stand-in for their deeper disagreements over Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
When asked Tuesday by CNN if wearing a mask projected strength or weakness, Biden offered a third option, saying it projected leadership.
He called Trump “an absolute fool” for his mockery of protective measures.
And then Trump went out and proved that:
At the White House on Tuesday, Trump said that his tweet about Biden’s mask was a response to the circumstance. He said he found it “very unusual” that Biden had worn a mask outside, even though the logistics of Biden’s appearance placed him near others at times and thus fell under the administration’s recommendations for wearing a mask.
Then the president accused the inquiring reporter of being “politically correct” for not removing his mask to ask the question.
“I wasn’t criticizing him at all,” Trump said of Biden. “Why would I do anything like that?”
What? By that time there was no more to say. There was no way to respond to that. He had nothing to say, and as Ashley Parker reports, it was that kind of day:
President Trump has spent his life in thrall to numbers – his wealth, his ratings, his polls. Even during the deadly coronavirus pandemic, he has remained fixated on certain metrics – peppering aides about infection statistics, favoring rosy projections and obsessing over the gyrating stock market.
But as the nation reached a bleak milestone this week – 100,000 Americans dead from the novel coronavirus – Trump has been uncharacteristically silent. His public schedule this week contains no special commemoration, no moment of silence, no collective sharing of grief.
Instead, Trump’s most direct comments so far on the number came in a pair of tweets Tuesday, amounting to a preemptive rebuttal.
Those were the usual tweets – his response to this has been perfect – his decisive actions saved many lives – if it were not for him fifteen to twenty times more Americans would be dead – because he is wonderful – and no one gives him credit for any of this – and that’s just not fair – but that’s the horrible Fake News crowd always lying about everything.
But something was wrong:
“You would think a normal human being endowed with normal amounts of decency and empathy would take a moment when 100,000 people who are the citizens of the country of which he is president have died,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama. “But that is not something that has crossed Trump’s mind, as far as I can tell.”
Michael Wear, who did faith outreach for the Obama administration, said that in some ways, the numbers are beside the point; what the nation craves is simply a president to acknowledge the depth of the crisis.
“I’m not sure we need a Rose Garden ceremony around 100,000” Wear said. “What we need is presidential leadership that recognizes that, increasingly, everyone is one or two degrees removed from someone who has been directly affected by this pandemic through the loss of a loved one.”
Wear added that having a president offer public sympathy is especially important during this pandemic, when many of the smaller, community-based rituals of mourning are banned because of health restrictions.
“We’re in a time now when people don’t have the outlets for their grief that they normally have, and this is a time when you really need a president to step up because people can’t have memorial services, people can’t be with their loved ones as they’re dying,” Wear said.
Sure, but is that Donald Trump’s problem? Why are your feelings his problem? Why are any of your problems his problem? But they’ll do something or other if everyone insists:
Internally, there are no substantive plans for any additional event to mark the 100,000 milestone, said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share candid details of private conversations. White House officials are hesitant to plan anything that could be perceived as Trump declaring “mission accomplished,” this official said.
But, this person added, there are preliminary discussions about a larger commemoration, perhaps with both somber and celebratory undertones, once the nation is through the worst of the crisis. One option under consideration: a big event at a major hospital, which could include applause for first responders and health professionals.
They’ll come up with something, later of course, but they may not:
Randall Balmer, a Dartmouth religion professor who had taught and written for decades about American religion and the presidency, said Trump stands out compared with other presidents who faced dramatic loss of American life – Franklin D. Roosevelt on D-Day in 1944, Bill Clinton after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Bush after 9/11 and Obama after the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012.
“Where is the expression of sorrow that we all feel?” Balmer said. “No one is articulating that for the nation. Other presidents have simply understood that as part of their job.”
Balmer cited Roosevelt’s famous radio address to America on D-Day as soldiers invaded Normandy, France, which took the form of a prayer.
“For it to work, you’d have to draw on some internal reservoir of, if not piety, at least empathy,” he said.
“I’m not trying to be political,” Balmer said, “but I just don’t see it in the current president.”
Of course not, because he was working on something else:
President Trump is preparing to sign an executive order Thursday that could open the door for federal officials to try to penalize Facebook, Google and Twitter for the way they moderate content on their sites, according to two people familiar with the matter, opening a major rift between Washington and Silicon Valley with potentially dramatic free-speech implications.
The wide-ranging order comes two days after Twitter took the rare step of labeling one of the president’s tweets and linking viewers to news articles that fact-checked his claims. The move infuriated Trump and his supporters, who quickly blasted Twitter and its peers in Silicon Valley for engaging in censorship and exhibiting political bias, charges the companies have long denied.
Twitter tagged a few Trump tweets – “some of this might not be true” – and they’ll pay for that even if they didn’t take down the tweets. Trump has no power to do much of anything to a private company, but he’ll do what he can.
And one hundred thousand are now dead. Did he even notice? Others did.