In the four months since his inauguration, Washington Republicans have clung tightly to the glimmers of promise from President Trump. The early policy fumble of the immigration ban, the air ball on Obamacare, and his countless ill-advised tweet-storms could still be weighed against Trump’s inspired choice of Neil Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court, his rousing address to a joint session of Congress in February, and hints of pragmatism on NATO, trade, and immigration. Republicans could rationalize Trump’s stumbles as the consequence of an unconventional but ultimately well-intentioned President inexperienced in the mechanics of governing who, once he got his feet under him, held the potential to upend the sclerosis in Washington and meaningfully change the course of the nation for the better. But, the events of the last two weeks make that harder.
President Trump’s ambitious foray abroad is tempered by dread of the other shoes to drop upon his return. As Josh Jordan (@numbersmuncher) quipped on Twitter, “We have yet to see concrete evidence that Trump colluded with Russia on anything, but Trump is doing his best to make everyone believes it.”
Things are going sideways, and even the President’s closest aides know it. As Air Force One climbed away from Joint Base Andrews Friday evening for President Donald J. Trump’s first foreign trip, a sense of sober resignation prevailed among all but the most ardent Trump loyalists.
A dispatch from Axios’ Jonathan Swan drew a gripping portrait of the state of mind among Trump’s inner circle. “WH officials I’ve spoken to privately this week are closer to being numb than panicked. Those who went through the campaign with Trump are numb to the crises and thought so many times before that *this* would be the one to break Trump. They’ve been wrong so many times before… They view their boss as completely undisciplined and self-destructive. They’re exasperated by him … They’re sick and tired of the media feeding frenzy. But even in their most frustrated moments, they’ll admit that Trump has got some special resilience that they can’t begin to understand. A coat of protection that almost seems supernatural to them.”
Yet, there remains a hardy band of loyalists around Trump who are “unfazed” by it all, Swan writes. “They’re just swinging for Trump and have no qualms working to defend him,” he added. Still, the flood of leaks coming from within Trump-land suggest a nervous White House White House staff hedging their bets in case their boss’ luck runs out.
‘The Drips are Filling the Bucket’
The Russia investigation is grinding Trump’s agenda to a halt. Although few Republicans are saying so publicly, official Washington is racked with doubt. Trump’s political capital is now all but exhausted — frittered away on a series of unforced errors and miscalculations. After the firing of an FBI director investigating his own White House, suggestions that the President attempted to pressure him to pull his punches before doing so, and the apparent careless disclosure of classified material to Russian officials, it’s growing increasingly difficult to rationalize the White House’s problems as just the manufactured controversies of an admittedly hostile press corps. As one outside advisor to the White House told Axios’ Mike Allen in an email, “[t]he drips are filling the bucket.” Trump’s Republican allies, who just a few weeks ago were still dreaming of triumphs, would now settle for mere survival.
With a special counsel now in place, the die is cast. Trump may yet be exonerated on the core accusation that he personally colluded with Russia in Moscow’s efforts to influence the 2016 elections. But, the suggestion that he may have pressured the investigation may hold new troubles. Further, it seems increasingly likely that the special counsel investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller might uncover evidence of wrongdoing, if not by Trump himself, then by at least some people within Trump’s orbit.
Still, all the breathless talk of impeachment is premature. President Trump remains popular among grassroots Republicans. His support has slipped a bit in the past week, but most of his voters are still sticking with him. While Trump’s troubles are making Congressional Republicans nervous, few will be willing to turn against him — but they aren’t go out of their way to defend him either.
As sacked former FBI Director James Comey, prepares to testify on Capitol Hill and the special counsel investigation gains steam, that “supernatural” veil of protection White House advisors talk about will surely be put to the test.