When I read that tweet, my first reaction was: What in the hell is Donald Trump talking about? Instead of answering any of the numerous questions swirling around Comey Fever, the president decided to leverage his Twitter account to add even more questions to the mix. This story gets stranger and stranger as the hours go by.
My second reaction to the tweet, however, went beyond the here-and-now and into the future: When will Republican lawmakers wake up from their deep slumber and begin putting a few degrees of separation between themselves and a Trump White House that is disorderly on a good day?
The GOP needs no reminder that Donald Trump is the symbolic head of their party. He’s the man who won the highest office in the land and brought GOP influence back into the Oval Office for the first time in eight years. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that unless and until Republican lawmakers demonstrate some backbone – John McCain and Lindsey Graham excluded – the GOP Congress will be attached to Donald Trump and his oddball antics in the minds of most American voters. Trump’s problems with credibility will become the GOP’s problems with credibility.
And just as Democrats swept into the White House and increased their majority in the Senate after Richard Nixon’s resignation, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi will be the beneficiaries of the Russia and Comey scandals hovering above the Trump administration, as they seek to label the Republican majority guilty by association. The campaign slogans write themselves: “Republicans were too spineless to protect American democracy from an autocratic president. It’s time to put the Democrats back in charge before more damage is done.”
These electoral swings are nothing new in American politics. The success and the health of the president’s party is often contingent on the popularity of the president, and when the president becomes tarnished in the eyes of the electorate, so does the party. It happened with Nixon and Watergate. It happened with Carter and the Iran hostage crisis. And it happened with George W. Bush and Iraq. What’s to say that political control in Washington won’t change yet again after Russia and Trump?
Republican lawmakers are in a very difficult situation. They have long understood that Trump was erratic and had the patience of a five-year-old whose mom wouldn’t let him eat candy for dinner. Last year’s presidential campaign-turned-reality show made all of this abundantly clear.
Many, however, held out hope that Trump would act differently once he entered the Oval Office. Surely the historical significance and weight of the presidency would ground Trump and force him to act more like a statesman and less than a publicity-hungry narcissist. Surely Trump would realize that saying outrageous things with no basis in fact damaged his poll numbers and trust with the American people. Surely he wouldn’t turn the office of the president into a bad comedy. And if Trump didn’t change his ways, surely other Republicans in Washington would at least attempt to talk some sense into him.
None of that has come to pass. The Comey scandal may eventually cost the Republicans their majority. All eyes fall now on November 2018.