Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Because you surely have; the meltdown of Donald Trump’s shambolic presidency may be the most predictable event in political history.
The rationalizations, wish-casting, and projections of the pro-Trump flunkies notwithstanding, his presidency is cratering, at least in terms of governing. As Trump becomes more isolated and his relations with Congressional leaders trend into mother-in-law territory, the prospects for legislative victories appear to have gone south of slim. As a result, his presidency has now shifted into the full-on Grievance Phase.
This was also predictable.
As I tweeted the other day, it is worthwhile going back to the last weeks of the 2016 campaign, when Trump seemed on track to an historic defeat. Re-read this piece from The Washington Post’s Philip Rucke and Robert Costa, headlined “Inside Donald Trump’s echo chamber of conspiracies, grievances and vitriol”:
He is preaching to the converted. He is lashing out at anyone who is not completely loyal. He is detaching himself from and delegitimizing the institutions of American political life. And he is proclaiming conspiracies everywhere — in polls (rigged), in debate moderators (biased) and in the election itself (soon to be stolen).
In the presidential campaign’s home stretch, Donald Trump is fully inhabiting his own echo chamber. The Republican nominee has turned inward, increasingly isolated from the country’s mainstream and leaders of his own party, and determined to rouse his most fervent supporters with dire warnings that their populist movement could fall prey to dark and collusive forces.
This is a campaign right out of Breitbart, the incendiary conservative website run until recently by Stephen K. Bannon, now the Trump campaign’s chief executive — and it is an act of retaliation.
Four days later, Costa predicted that this “Trump-driven divide” would haunt the GOP long after the election.
The axis of furious conservative activists and hard-right media that spawned Trump’s nationalist and conspiratorial campaign is determined to complete its hostile takeover of the GOP, win or lose.
Trump’s insistence that the election will be “rigged,” which he again suggested at the debate, has only stoked the specter of a grievance movement that will haunt Republicans for months and years to come — threatening to leave the longtime norms of American politics shattered and Washington paralyzed by his followers’ agitation and suspicion.
Fast forward to this week, and Trump’s Phoenix rant, twitter storms, attacks on the “fake news,” and on his fellow Republicans. It’s all there as if nothing has changed: the politics of division, paranoia, anger, with Trump always as the victim – the “fighter” who is being betrayed by an opposition that is simultaneously weak, low energy, and yet “dark and collusive.”
In defeat, Trump’s campaign would have evolved into an ongoing “grievance movement.” But in victory, the result has been the same thing, a president unable to lead, but determined to stoke a deep sense of alienation and grievance among his base. For Trump, that may be enough.