In the 1850’s, disaffected Democrats and Whigs, members of the two major political parties then dominating national elections, coalesced to form a new national party, the Republicans, in order to halt the spread of slavery and end that archaic and morally bankrupt institution once and for all in the country. It was a sea change in American politics, creating the Republican Party we have today and consigning the Whigs to the dustbin of history. Now that Republican Party has been captured by a crass businessman of great wealth and small political and policy experience, a man who seems to live in a world of his own, a world in which he is its center and the rest of us, the country and the world, are satellites in his orbit.
President Donald J. Trump, a month into his new presidency, can’t seem to staff up and hold an effective White House team (his two prominent potential picks to replace his prematurely departed National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, have pulled out over concerns about autonomy should they assume the role). In the wake of Donald Trump’s failed executive order to halt immigration from a dangerous part of the world, because it was sloppily conceived and executed, it’s become increasingly clear that the Trump White House is dysfunctional.
The president’s solution? Hold a press conference to insult and lambaste the media and hit them with a bunch of patent falsehoods and then double down when called out on them after which just head out to a couple of campaign style rallies to re-charge the batteries of his wounded ego. The president needed another fix of audience adulation and where better to obtain it than on the campaign trail? But governing isn’t like campaigning and if he doesn’t soon figure out the difference, he is going to leave Republicans in a pickle.
Trump won election by narrowly breaking through in three formerly Democratic stronghold states to give him the electoral vote majority, even while losing the popular vote by a substantial number. Our system of democracy spreads the vote out regionally, allowing the popular vote in different states to give a loser of the nationwide popular vote an electoral victory at times. That’s enough to make someone president but it’s not a mandate. Yet this president seems unable to comprehend this obvious fact and has chosen to govern in the same high-handed manner his predecessor so often displayed — only with a lot less finesse. President Trump, rather than putting together an effective White House team, prefers to just tell us he has done that, even while his early actions seem to crumble before our eyes. And he has left Congress without direction, allowing all the different factions to fight among themselves. That’s no way to get your agenda implemented.
If Trump stumbles, as all indications now suggest he may be doing, he will leave Republicans in a quandary. While his search for someone to replace Mike Flynn drags on, as candidates back away out of fear of associating themselves with a flailing administration — or an overbearing boss who doesn’t know much about anything but delivering applause lines to angry audiences — the Republican agenda which, only a few months ago seemed to finally be on the verge of implementation, recedes ever more rapidly from the shores of victory.
Should Republicans close ranks around a flailing administration that seems lacking in leadership, in genuine national standing and in the skills needed to be effective? Or should they just hang back now, as Flynn’s potential replacements seem to be doing out of a concern of associating themselves with a badly listing ship? If Trump fails so, too, does the Republican agenda and perhaps even the Republican Party which may be permanently tarred by its embrace of a man who seems each day less and less fit for the office he won? If the Trump presidency proves a dud, the Democrats, on the ropes in 2016 will have a clear field for a comeback in a country longing for sanity again.
There is something to be said for breaking rules and shattering expectations but there are ways to do that and riding a wave of lies and insults, bombast and divisiveness hardly seems like the best one. Republicans can hang with Trump or hang without him at this point. The only question is whether the second option, the one the Whigs chose when they failed to take a stand against the evil of slavery, will lead to the end of the Republican Party as we know it and its replacement by something better. We’re in new territory now though it’s not a place we haven’t been before. If Trump can’t change, then Republicans must.