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Donald Trump withers in darkness. He needs sunlight—media attention—to thrive. Otherwise, he reverts to his natural state: Florida-based hotelier who will direct you to the omelet station or maybe give a toast at your wedding or bar mitzvah (though the toast is likely to focus more on the 2020 election than your blessed event). As Ukraine, gas prices, and other events of actual note dominate the news cycle, there is less and less room for Trump. Add in the fact that he’s also on the utterly wrong side of one of those events—Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—and for the first time since 2015, Republicans have a relatively painless way to rid themselves of the Mango Mussolini once and for all. Will they take it?
Probably not. But they should.
Trump is clearly feeling his displacement from the media ecosystem; hence his single-spaced three-page letter to NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt about Holt’s interview with Bill Barr (part of the Bill Barr Historical Revisionism Book Tour, as I call it). Some might see the letter, which boils down to a greatest-hits collection of Trump’s usual complaints, nicknames, and lies, as a Trumpy way to correct “the record,” whatever that means in Trumpworld. But I see it as yet another desperate attempt to inject himself back into the media discourse. The problem is that Trump, like an elderly vaudevillian, has only a few tired topics in his repertoire.
Bill Barr was a big disappointment to me as Attorney General, he was afraid to act, and usually didn't. Even the Mueller investigation, which came out with a finding of NO COLLUSION, should have gone much faster, especially after knowing all of the information that was available and already at their disposal. As everyone now knows, my campaign was SPIED on, and Bill Barr did nothing about it. Comey, McCabe, the Two Lovers, and everyone all the way up and down knew what was happening, but Barr didn't want to “upset the apple cart.”
Things are not going great for Donald Trump. While the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has seemingly backed off the investigation into the former president’s businesses, Trump is still the subject of multiple investigations. There’s one pending in Georgia regarding the 2020 election, there are several civil suits related to the events of January 6, and there is also increasing pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland, in part from the House select committee investigating January 6, to mount a Department of Justice investigation of Trump’s activities. We don’t know if Garland will do anything, but it sure would be nice if the DOJ would do its J-O-B.
On Saturday, Trump gave an 84-minute speech to 250 top GOP donors. Soon after, the audio was reviewed by The Washington Post, whose reporter Josh Dawsey tweeted this choice quote: “Stupid corrupt Mitch McConnell. Not good for any of us. He hurts our party so badly.” That is not, by any means, the wackiest thing Trump has postulated. But it is one of the meaner things Trump has ever said about the minority leader. Meanwhile, in late February, Florida Senator Rick Scott released his own 60-page glossy “agenda” that included such “popular” ideas as making kids say the Pledge of Allegiance, paying down the federal debt, implementing congressional term limits, and building a border wall named after Donald Trump. McConnell smacked Scott down, saying, “If we’re fortunate enough to have the majority next year, I’ll be the majority leader. I’ll decide, in consultation with my members, what to put on the floor.” While it’s hard to know the inner machinations of GOP leadership, it does seem as if Trump’s trashing of McConnell has caused some Republican fracturing.
During the Saturday-night speech, Trump yet again explicitly put himself on the wrong side of the war in Ukraine. He made a point of musing about fascists he respects. “I knew Putin very well. He would not have done it,” he said, and the assumption here is “it” means “invading Ukraine.” “He would have never done it.” Trump then went on to praise authoritarian dictator Kim Jong Un and suggest (perhaps jokingly) putting Chinese flags on American military planes, and sending them to bomb Russia: “And then we say, ‘China did it; we didn’t do it, China did it,’ and then they start fighting with each other and we sit back and watch.”
According to Dawsey, “Several people in the room said Trump’s speech stretched far too long and he sounded like he was rambling more in the last 30 minutes. In the middle of the speech, attendees said people in the crowd seemed to lose interest.” This is not the first time Trump has bored an audience, but clearly there’s a subtle shift, a decreased submissiveness, and the crowd’s indifference should be noted.
Even more meaningful, on Monday night the ambitious young senator from Arkansas, Tom Cotton, delivered a speech at the Reagan Library in which he criticized Trump and called the First Step Act, a criminal-justice-reform bill that Trump signed into law, “the worst mistake” of Trump’s time in office. Quite a contrast to Cotton’s February 27 appearance on This Week With George Stephanopoulos, where he refused to condemn Trump’s pro-Putin rhetoric. (Although, of course, it’s well within Republican norms to give Putin a pass and later slam criminal-justice reform.)
During his Saturday speech, a full 10 days into the war, Trump not only trashed NATO but shopped a World War III scenario, which just goes to show how profoundly destabilizing this Russian invasion is for members of the far right who have allied themselves with Putin. According to a CBS source, Trump called NATO a “paper tiger” and asked, “Are all of these nations going to stand by and watch perhaps millions of people be slaughtered as the onslaught continues? At what point do countries say, ‘No, we can’t take this massive crime against humanity?’ We can’t let it happen. We can’t let it continue to happen.”
A month ago, U.S. News & World Report wrote that Trump’s “iron grip over the Republican Party appears to be weakening.” They pointed out that “white male voters without a college degree overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2020, with exit polls showing the Republicans taking that voter group by a 70% to 28% margin. But YouGov’s poll found that half of that group see Trump in a favorable light now, with 46% of them disapproving of Trump.”
It’s hard to imagine that the constant stream of Ukraine footage showcasing Putin’s brutality won’t further destabilize the far right.
Last week, The Washington Post ran an editorial titled “Right-Wing Nationalists Backpedal as Putin’s Ukraine War Worsens.” It discussed France’s perennial far-right presidential candidate (and onetime ally of Steve Bannon) Marine Le Pen, but raised the important point that “in the United States, Mr. Putin’s invasion has prompted some Republicans to distance themselves, uncharacteristically, from Mr. Trump, who termed the Russian leader a ‘genius.’ Some will have their own explaining to do when confronted by their previous remarks. And Americans will have the chance to judge who did, and did not, try to delude them about the Russian leader.”
Even the most sycophantic Trumper would have to admit that hearing about Russians murdering innocent Ukrainian civilians is bad for the autocratic brand. Trump may love autocrats but Americans are getting a real-time reminder of what hell they’ve wrought.