Littwin: If Trump can survive the chaos — and here’s betting he can — what of the rest of us?
December 23, 2018
I have no idea how it will end — only that it will end badly.
I don't mean the shutdown. History gives a pretty good guide on how the shutdown will go. It will last a few days or a few weeks, depending on how long it takes Mitch McConnell to convince Donald Trump that Democrats really aren't going to fold either on his useless wall or his "beautiful" steel slat barrier (with the medieval-looking pikes) and that Senate Republicans are growing so panicked they just might do something crazy — like actually stand up to him.
The shutdown will end in chaos, just as it began. It will end in humiliation — just ask Paul Ryan, who ends his role as speaker in utter failure. It will end with Trump claiming victory, just as he did after the midterm shellacking. And it will end with Trump shouting into the pre-morning Twitter sky that he wants to fire his new Fed chairman or Bob Mueller or his new interim chief of staff or somebody, suddenly realizing that he should have fired Jim Mattis before Mattis quit, leaving behind his dramatic three-page letter that screamed the truth about Trump's danger to the world.
Remember, it was only 10 days ago that Trump proudly told Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the world that he would own any shutdown, that he wouldn't blame the Democrats, that he would take the mantle because somebody had to. And then, of course, when the shutdown finally arrived, he did blame the Democrats, he took no mantle, he reconfirmed what we already knew — that the only things Trump truly owns are shiny objects under federal investigation.
(Guess who else faithfully blamed the Democrats for the shutdown? That's right. Our own Cory Gardner. Thanks for playing.)
So, when I say I don't know how it will end, I don't mean the shutdown. I mean this — all of it — the madness that repeats itself by the day, if not by the hour, which is the genius of Trumpworld. By the time the week ends, you have no memory of what lunacy took place on Monday or Tuesday and clearly up until at least Wednesday. Trump is the never-ending earthquake, with daily aftershocks, each one sending us running for cover.
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Let's review. In the midst of the looming shutdown, Trump announced he was pulling all American troops out of Syria, presumably to change the subject. It did. It truly changed the subject, and Mattis, maybe the last respected person in the Trump cabinet, quit, and the world shuddered in disbelief. Who was left to put a check on Trump? Is there anything scarier than truly letting Trump be Trump?
You knew how the neocons would react — shock, dismay, cats and dogs living together. You might expect liberals to cheer this development, to say, as Trump basically said, that endless wars can't be the solution to anything. Very few did, particularly after learning that Trump came to the Syria decision, over the objections of all his foreign policy advisers, after a phone call from Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president and strongman, who said that if ISIS was defeated, Trump should no longer be arming the Syrian Kurds. According to The Washington Post, Trump replied, "You know what? It's yours. I'm leaving."
So, Trump sent out his mission-accomplished tweet, contending that ISIS was defeated because, as we know, he knows more than the generals. If leaving Syria is defensible on some levels, if pulling troops out of Afghanistan makes sense, what's not defensible is leaving with no idea what comes next, just as Trump left the Senate with no Plan B after he changed his mind on the shutdown.
I'm not sure you'll remember, but as of Wednesday, Trump was signaling to McConnell and Ryan that he was ready to make a deal on a continuing resolution not to shut down the government over the wall. The Senate unanimously passed such a bill.
Why did Trump change his mind? This is where lunacy hits what Republican Sen. Bob Corker, a retiring sometimes Trump critic, calls tyranny. Trump changed his mind because he was called a sellout and worse by, uh, Ann Coulter. By Rush Limbaugh. By Fox & Friends. When Coulter wrote an op-ed for Breitbart titled "Gutless President in Wall-Less Country," Trump was so distressed that he unfollowed her on Twitter. And then he caved to the base.
"We have two talk-radio show hosts who basically influenced the president, and we're in a shutdown mode. It's just — that's tyranny, isn't it?" is how Corker put it.
"Do we succumb to tyranny of talk-radio show hosts? I mean, this is a juvenile place we find ourselves. The reason we're here is that we have a couple talk-radio hosts that get the president spun up."
Juvenile? That fits neatly with the recently surfaced radio interview from 2015 in which Mick Mulvaney, the new (for now) interim chief of staff, called Trump's belief in a wall "almost childish."
And so to review, we've got the shutdown; the sudden Syria withdrawal; the Mattis resignation; the reeling stock market, which had its worst week since the Great Recession in 2008; Trump's personal foundation shutting down over what prosecutors called a "shocking pattern of illegality;" the Mueller investigation ever closing in on the White House; the incoming House Dem majority promising to go after Trump's taxes; the Moscow tower and more. I'm sure I left some other stuff out, but it has been a long, long week.
All the talk is of cracks finally starting to show in Trump's support from congressional loyalists. I'm not sure I buy any of that, not so long as Trump's polls among Republican voters remain so strong. Certainly, political logic would suggest that something happened this week, something different, something worse, something irretrievable. It all makes sense unless you think harder about it and ask yourself what part logic has ever played in the endless Trump drama.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in the Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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