Republicans’ political games are a bust
July 29, 2020 at 10:45 a.m. CDT
The lies, outrageous positions and fear-mongering spewed by President Trump and his enablers might be infuriating, but just keep in mind they are politically counterproductive. Forget about the reckless governance, which is a lost cause. Be outraged, but also comforted that Republicans’ political pratfalls are making it more likely that voters will boot them out.
Trump’s facade of normalcy crumbled entirely on Tuesday when he whined that his administration’s public health officials, Anthony S. Fauci and Deborah Birx, had better approval ratings than he. “It can only be my personality, that’s all," he said without irony. Well, that and nearly 150,000 dead Americans. There’s also his hawking of dangerous remedies. On Tuesday, he continued beating the drum for hydroxychloroquine and to tout a discredited doctor who peddles the antimalarial drug, says masks are not needed and believes that alien DNA is used in modern medicine. Trump also falsely insisted large parts of the country are free of coronavirus.
Here was Trump at his worst — self-pitying, ignorant, irrational and utterly unaware how he comes across to those outside his cult. What’s more, he unwittingly confirmed how easily right-wing media characters lead him around by the nose — no matter how absurd and unfounded their claims. Meanwhile, he seethes with resentment toward actual experts who continue to present accurate — but politically unhelpful — evidence of his failure to combat the pandemic.
In the Trump enablers category, no one compares to Attorney General William P. Barr in his willingness to throw caution, facts and manners to the wind to defend his boss. His bristling testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday was quintessential Barr. He hesitated to definitively say that soliciting help from a foreign government is inappropriate (he had to be asked twice) and claimed his intervention for a lighter sentence for Trump confidant Roger Stone was appropriate. He declared that law enforcement should be able to arrest and use tear gas against peaceful protesters to restore “order.” He suggested it is legal to throw someone in an unmarked car without probable cause. (It isn’t.)
Barr might deny the existence of systemic racism, but he cannot account for why federal agents were deployed to Portland to squelch Black Lives Matter protesters and not to Michigan, where MAGA forces charged a statehouse, got in officers’ faces and threatened the governor. Asked about disagreeable facts or evidence of unfair treatment, he claimed not to be aware of such information — ironically demonstrating how partisan law enforcement harbors implicit bias and fails to equally apply the law through willful ignorance.
Within hours of his testimony painting a picture of utter chaos in Portland, the city’s mayor announced federal agents had left. Maybe Barr was once again simply spewing campaign-type rhetoric in service of his boss? If his effort was to convey Trump as a “law and order” candidate, the hysterical testimony was a flop. Even if Barr would not retreat, the federal forces did.
Even more noteworthy, poll after poll shows that Trump and Barr are entirely out of tune with public opinion, which sides strongly with protesters seeking racial justice. A Gallup poll released Tuesday reports:
About two in three Americans (65%) support the nationwide protests about racial injustice that followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in late May. Half say they feel “very” (23%) or “somewhat connected” (27%) to the protests’ cause. ...
Americans are more likely to say the protests “will help” (53%) rather than “hurt” (34%) public support for racial justice and equality, while 13% say they will “make no difference.”
Republicans are the exception to these trends, but even 22 percent of them side with the racial justice activists. In other words, Barr is dishonestly hawking Trump’s phony “law and order” message to no avail.
Barr’s testimony was punctuated by the usual histrionics from Republican congressmen. Ranking minority-party member and conspiracy monger Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) felt compelled to share a mash-up video of violent scenes of protests. Meant to convey that we need Trump to keep the peace, it did the opposite: This is what America looks like under Trump. Democrats might want to feature Jordan in their ads: Is this the party you want in charge?
That brings us to Republican senators, who seemed determined to put out the most unattractive and politically disastrous stimulus possible. The bill includes $1.75 billion for a new FBI building across from Trump’s hotel, but no eviction moratorium. It knocks down federal support for unemployment insurance, but throws in a new deduction for business meals and entertainment. It includes liability immunity for businesses, but no money for state and local governments to prevent mass layoffs. You would be hard-pressed to come up with something that would better highlight their disdain for working people, docility in the face of Trump’s self-dealing and capitulation to corporate interests.
The final blow was delivered by none other than Trump. In a singular moment of clarity, he declared the proposal “sort of semi-irrelevant." If there is to be a deal, it will have to be worked out between the House and White House. So what purpose are Senate Republicans serving here? The next Democratic ad might rightly ask why “sort of semi-irrelevant” lawmakers should be in the majority.
Neither Trump nor Barr nor Republicans in Congress have a clue what the public wants or how they come across outside the right-wing media bubble. They remain stubbornly divorced from reality and temperamentally unfit for the serious task of governance. In less than 100 days, voters have the chance to drive them from office and return sane, stable characters to government.