Near the end of the latest Trump disaster zone tick-tock story from Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, the New York Times’s White House team reports that “there is a growing sense that Mr. Trump seems unwilling or unable to do the things necessary to keep himself out of trouble, and that the presidency has done little to tame a shoot-from-the-hip-into-his-own-foot style that characterized his campaign.”
It is, of course, true that Trump is unwilling or unable to do those things. What’s remarkable is how long influential Republicans deluded themselves into believing that things are going to change.
Normal people do learn and change over time, of course, but it’s extremely difficult to change your fundamental nature. But what’s more, people don’t generally learn and change at the age of 70. The fact that Trump managed to win an election that pretty much everybody — him included — thought he was going to lose only reinforces the problem.
Trump not changing isn’t the story here. The story is whether GOP leaders will finally accept that Trump won’t change and adjust accordingly.
Donald Trump doesn’t know his own limits
Most Republicans I spoke to over the course of the 2016 campaign did not, to be honest, appear to have given much thought to the question of what to do if Trump actually won the election. It simply seemed inconceivable. The real issue was what mixture of distancing from Trump plus propping him up was most likely to save the GOP’s Senate majority, allowing it ample ability to check Hillary Clinton and fight again in 2020 or 2024.
To the extent that a Trump administration was pondered, however, the hope was that since Trump isn’t really a policy guy, it meant congressional Republicans would call the shots. How bad could things get?
We are learning this week that things can get very bad indeed. Here’s how Thrush and Haberman describe what the White House is telling itself:
In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling — and honest — defense of the president: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of printed briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would do harm to United States allies.
The reason you can’t publicly articulate this defense is that it’s ridiculously damning. A president who can’t be bothered to familiarize himself with briefing materials can’t be conducting high-level diplomatic meetings with the foreign minister of Russia. Not only is Trump both ignorant and lazy, but he’s somehow too arrogant to even recognize it. This is the man who told Time recently that “in a short period of time I understood everything there was to know about health care.”
Republicans need to do something
No matter how much Republicans try to disengage Trump from the details of the legislative process, he remains president, with the authority to fire the FBI director on a whim and the ability to disclose classified information to the Russian government, or to order military strikes on Syrian targets.
Throughout Trump’s brief presidency, Republicans in Congress have acted like lawyers for him, noting that it’s perfectly legal for him to maintain huge financial conflicts of interest or can Comey or say whatever he wants to Sergei Lavrov. The legality of Trump’s actions is precisely the problem. If it were illegal for Trump to do these things, then he could be stopped by the courts and the country wouldn’t have to worry.
But the president has a lot of legal authority. Authority that can be abused or misused. Trump could, for example, have his enemies killed and then pardon the killers, and it would be perfectly legal.
That’s why it’s important to try to keep an unfit figure out of the White House and to check his abuses if he gets there. Instead, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have been dreaming that he’ll somehow change his ways. In addition to admitting that he won’t, they need to start asking what they are going to do about it.