A strange thing about President Donald Trump’s critics: The ones who are best positioned to make a case against him and who have the strongest incentive to do so — the Democrats — have proved the least competent at doing so.
The legitimate criticisms of President Trump are mostly the ones that were obvious to critics such as myself in 2016: He does not really know how to do the job and so has trouble with basic things like staffing his administration and moving his legislative priorities through Congress; he is mercurial and inconstant; he lies, even when there isn’t any reason to, seemingly out of habit; he is vain and emotionally incontinent, which distorts his decision-making; he has surrounded himself with some very shady and untrustworthy people; he has some pretty loopy ideas about trade and about America’s role in the world. Trump says, not without reason, that he is a different kind of politician, but in reality he has been at his best when he has deferred to such pillars of the establishment as the Federalist Society and Senator Mitch McConnell.
Maybe that’s not sexy enough for some tastes, but it is the truth.
The Democrats are determined to tell a more exotic story — or stories.
Some of these are very silly — for example, the claim that Trump’s ownership of business interests abroad puts him in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which has nothing to do with the ownership of hotels or golf courses. The hotly anticipated Mueller report has so far been more fizzle than sizzle. The Trump–Russia conspiracy theories grow ever more baroque and unlikely. Louise Mensch, quondam Guardian contributor and chronicler of the behind-the-scenes doings of the “marshal of the Supreme Court,” reports (and let’s go ahead and make the asterisk there explicit) that “multiple sources with links to the intelligence communities of more than one five-eyes nation” have confirmed that there are indictments forthcoming for Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump. You will not want to hold your breath for that one.
We have seen theories of Trump as Manchurian candidate, Trump as witting or unwitting Moscow intelligence asset, Trump as blackmail victim in hock to Russian oligarchs, etc. “Resistance fantasy Twitter,” Ruth Graham of Slate calls it.
One of the problems with having a man such as Donald Trump as president is that when you hear about, oh, possibly felonious hush-money payments to porn stars in order to cover up adultery, no sane and literate person says to himself: “My goodness! That doesn’t sound like the Donald Trump I know!” Of course it does. Who else would it sound like?
But it is possible to lie about a scoundrel, to be dishonest about the dishonest. And, for some strange reason, the Democrats have latched onto the complaints about Trump that seem to be least rooted in fact, the narrative that is least connected to that which is documented and demonstrable.
I would not have been shocked to learn that Trump or his minions broke a few statutes in the pursuit of dirt on Hillary Rodham Clinton that was held by Russian operatives. It certainly seems that that’s what that Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and those dodgy Russians was about: “to get information on an opponent,” as the president himself wrote on Twitter, “totally legal and done all the time in politics.” But a broad criminal conspiracy based on “collusion” with Moscow? Maybe there’s more forthcoming, but, based on the evidence that is actually available, there doesn’t seem to be much to that story.
“Oh, but wait for the tax returns!” they say. All right. I suspect that the president’s tax returns are going to be hilarious, but they are unlikely to tell us anything about Donald Trump that we did not know in 2016.
Trump in 2019 is in some ways better than I would have expected in 2016 and in some ways worse. Substantively, he’s been about 75 percent a conventional Republican, and he has named some excellent people to some very important posts. On the other hand, I had suspected (and hoped) that he’d grow up a little bit once he sat down in the big chair, and act a little more like a president of the United States of America and less like a Twitter rage-monkey.
But what is wrong with Trump today is what was wrong with him then, and Russia, so far as the evidence can be relied upon, isn’t it.