Donald J. Trump is destroying himself before our eyes and Republicans do not seem to care.
Specifically, Trump is wrecking his presidency and reputation with the unpopular government shutdown. For example, Trump’s approval rating fell by 3% during December 2018.
In detail, President Trump (R-New York) had a 42% approval rating in December 2018 and a 39% approval rating in January 2019, the NPR/PBSHour/Marist poll estimates. Hence, Trump lost 3% of his support after just one month of the government shutdown.
Moreover, 53%; or over half of all Americans, now disapprove of Trump’s performance. Under these circumstances, Trump’s reelection chances are collapsing before our eyes.
How Trump is destroying himself
Amazingly, Trump is systematically destroying his support among his base.
For instance, the percentage of white evangelicals who back the President fell from 73% in December 2018 to 66% in January 2019. Thus, Trump’s approval rating among one of his most important constituencies fell by 7% in a month.
Consequently, Trump will probably face a contested primary in 2020 if he runs again. To clarify, polls like these will change the minds of ambitious Republicans like U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) who claim they will not run again.
Not surprisingly, Romney is acting like a presidential candidate. In fact, Romney wrote a “scathing Op-ed” for the New Year’s Day edition of The Washington Post.
You don’t attack your party’s sitting president unless you plan to challenge him or back a challenger. Thus, I conclude Romney is putting out feelers for a second presidential run in 2020. To complicate matters, other ambitious Republicans; like U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Ex-Governor Jeb Bush (R-Texas), and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are probably reconsidering their plans for 2020.
Trump’s Dance of Self Destruction
Trump’s dance of self-destruction is dangerous because no sitting president has survived a serious primary challenge since 1964.
To explain, Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas) beat back a challenge from segregationist demagogue Governor George Wallace (D-Alabama) in 1964. However, every President who has faced a serious primary challenge since 1964 has either dropped out or lost.
Examples of this phenomenon include; LBJ 1968, Gerald R. Ford (R-Michigan) 1976, Jimmy Carter (D-Georgia) 1980, and George H. W. Bush (R-Texas) 1992. Therefore, Trump has embarked on a perilous course that could destroy his political career.
Why Trump is Destroying Himself
Trump’s self-destruction is reminiscent of that of Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) in the late 1960s.
Notably, LBJ won the election with one of the largest presidential majorities in history in 1964. However, in 1968, Johnson dropped out rather than face a humiliating defeat.
Like Trump, Johnson embarked on a destructive and unpopular policy that totally consumed his presidency. That policy was the Vietnam War, which LBJ could have easily avoided or quickly pulled out of at almost any time.
Instead, of pulling out Johnson stayed the course leading to tens of thousands of American deaths. Interestingly, Johnson deluded himself into thinking that Vietnam was a noble battle he had to win.
Thus, Vietnam became a point of honor for the egoistical Johnson. He staked everything on the war and had to win at all costs. Moreover, LBJ had to win his way by defeating the guerrillas in the jungle. LBJ did not consider other solutions like a negotiated settlement or an invasion of North Vietnam.
In addition, Johnson further deluded himself by thinking most Americans supported his war. Thus LBJ could dismiss Vietnam critics as long-haired freaks or Communists. Consequently, Johnson did not realize the antiwar movement was the mainstream until he lost primary battles in 1968.
Is the Wall Trump’s Vietnam?
My guess is the Wall/government shutdown battle is Donald J. Trump’s Vietnam. To clarify, Trump believes the Wall fight is a noble battle he must win to preserve his concept of America.
Furthermore, like Johnson, Trump could believe there is a silent majority of true Americans out there that truly support his imbecilic crusade. For instance, Trump could think the “real Americans” (rural white Christians) all support him.
Interestingly, Trump could see the Wall as a matter of honor. Namely, a promise he made to his white nationalist base he is honor-bound to keep.
Therefore, he can ignore any criticism on the shutdown no matter who makes it. Remember, Johnson thought he was fighting Communism in Vietnam. Thus, LBJ could dismiss any critics of the war as a Communist.
Hence when people like Martin Luther King Jr, Barry Goldwater, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Walter Cronkite criticized the war Johnson was helpless. Any response would have made LBJ look like a paranoid fool. One reason, Johnson dropped out of the 1968 presidential race was to avoid being seen calling Martin Luther King, Walter Cronkite, and RFK Communists.
Will Trump Destroy himself and the Republicans?
On the other hand, Trump is likely to lash out at any critics of the shutdown on Twitter. Hence, Trump could behave like a paranoid fool or a raving madman which will make a primary challenge easier.
Therefore, we could have a mutually destructive feud between party leaders. Notably, America has not seen such intra-party bloodletting since feuds between Henry Clay and President John Tyler (W-Virginia); and President Zachary Taylor (W-Louisiana) and everybody, wrecked the Whig Party in the 1840s.
Significantly, the Whigs never recovered from Taylor’s presidency, presidential historian Gil Troy writes in Politico. In fact, 1852; the first election after Taylor’s death, was the last time the Whigs fielded a presidential candidate; General Winfield Scott. Tellingly, Scott the nation’s most popular war hero lost the 1852 Presidential election.
Could Trump Destroy the Republican Party?
Conversely, I do not think Trump will destroy the Republican Party. However, Trump can fatally divide the party and kill its electoral chances for a decade or a generation.
For instance, Trump could launch Twitter attacks on Republican candidates that back primary challengers. To make matters worse, Trump could campaign for primary challengers to other Republicans. Significantly, Trump is willing to take sides in Republican primary races.
Moreover, Republicans; especially in the Senate, can strike back against Trump. In particular, Congressional Republicans could join in Democratic investigations of Trump or impeachment efforts.
Fortunately, the Republican Party can survive Trump. However, Trump’s self-destruction could kill the Grand Old Party’s (GOP) chances in the 2020 presidential election, and possibly 2024 and 2028.
Republicans have no Plan B for After Trump
A true nightmare for Republicans is that Trump will destroy himself with the Wall Shutdown/debacle then bow out of the presidential race.
That will be catastrophic for the GOP because Republicans have no Plan B for after Trump. Under those circumstances, a likely scenario will be somebody like Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Romney, or Vice President Mike Pence (R-Indiana) taking the fall as the party’s presidential nominee in 2020.
In fact, the damage from Trump will be worse than the chaos after Richard M. Nixon’s (R-California) downfall during the Watergate debacle of the 1970s. Notably, there was a popular and charismatic leader Ronald Reagan (R-California) waiting in the wings to rebuild the party after Watergate.
However, there seems to be no such Republican leader out there today. Hence, the GOP could find itself leaderless while a facing resurgent Democratic Party in 2020.
Therefore, Donald J. Trump’s dance of self-destruction could drive the Republicans out of the White House and cost them control of Congress for years to come.