Rats are not the brightest of creatures, but they know when they’re cornered. Donald Trump resembles the rat, insofar as what it does not eat, it fouls. Trump and cadre have befouled our institutions as surely as a hoard of rats ruin the contents of a grain silo. Rats are also, so far as we can ascertain, not the most self aware of creatures. But they know enough to know that staying on the sinking ship will surely doom them, whereas there might be a hope of survival, albeit slim, in jumping in the sea and swimming. So will Trump display the acumen of the common rat, and leave his campaign, as it tanks, lists and shudders, or will he go down with the ship? Or, would “dropping out of the race brand him as something worse than loser, a quitter?” Politico:
That one Trump could plausibly answer with an unusual approach: say something approximating the truth. This doesn’t sound much like how Trump talks but, in some moods, it may be close to what he thinks: Fellow Americans, I know I am a disruptor, and everyone knows I thrive on conflict. I believe that disruption is what Republicans and the country needed when I ran for president in 2016, and that is what I delivered. But I realize the pandemic creates a whole new agenda. I am going to devote the balance of my term to trying to get this country opened up safely, and allow someone without my sharp edges make the case for Republicans this fall. […]
Long term, forgoing the race with a measure of self-awareness conceivably could elevate Trump’s historical reputation higher than it would be if he loses reelection after a remorseless and demagogic campaign. In the near term, if a replacement nominee (presumably Vice President Mike Pence) would be indebted to Trump and subject to his leverage if he managed to beat Biden. If he lost, Trump could complain that his protégé blew it, and play GOP kingmaker (perhaps on behalf of one of his children or other allies) in 2024 without the stigma of having been expressly rejected by voters.
How plausible is this? Not terribly.
But how plausible is Trump reversing the astonishing decay in his political foundation in recent months? Winning a second term was always going to be a challenge for a president who has never had a majority job approval. At the start of the year, however, his advisers described a plausible path to reelection. The strategy had three main elements. One assumption was that, even if he was running slightly behind in swing states, his financial and organizational advantages, combined with the passion of supporters, would mean he would outperform polls by 2 to 3 percentage points. The second assumption was that Trump had room to grow his vote share with minority voters, especially African American men; even modest improvement by Trump could weaken the Democratic coalition in devastating ways. The third assumption was that Trump could repackage his divisive style as an asset. “He’s no Mr. Nice Guy,” the narrator intoned in a Trump TV ad that aired during the 2019 World Series, “but sometimes it takes a Donald Trump to change Washington.”
Five months into the pandemic, not one of those three assumptions looks secure. In key swing states, he is running much more than a couple points behind. After the George Floyd murder and Trump’s response, the notion of gains with African American voters is highly unlikely. His plan to portray himself as an ass-kicking chief executive who presided over a booming economy is in tatters, amid vast joblessness and the prospect that the pandemic will shadow virtually every corner of American life well into 2021.
And in the now-proverbial smoke filled rooms, these discussions are taking place as well. Trump’s allies are scared to death. Mitch McConnell has a relationship with Trump which this writer describes as “sullenly transactional.” He goes on to say, “McConnell and the business wing of the GOP don’t much like Trump, but they do like the chance to push their agenda on judges and deregulation.” Indeed they do. But right now they’re backed into a corner along with Trump and the most dire predictions project that this little transactional frolic with Donald Trump will cost the GOP its stature for decades to come. The party was splintered before, that’s how the GOP got into this mess, but splintered is one thing and destroyed quite another. The GOP enablers who choreographed this shitshow are trembling, because more than this one show is at stake. Shows close all the time, the theaters don’t necessary burn to the ground with them.
And Trump’s other “great engine of enablement” is Fox News. They were in business long before Trump and they fully intend to stay in business long after.
What are the incentives of these enablers if, in late September or early October, Trump looks as beleaguered as he does in late July? In either case, an outright break with Trump is unlikely. Fox is concerned most about preserving its huge profitability. The network’s leaders would presumably be wary of potentially sustaining permanent brand damage with corporate advertisers by joining Trump in a last-ditch campaign of racially charged cultural warfare. That’s especially so if they perceive Trump is going to lose anyway. In the case of McConnell, he knows that Trump’s unpopularity is the primary factor that continued GOP control of the Senate is at best a toss-up. He and other Republicans already aretrying to localize their races, not splitting with Trump but finding distance from him.
Everybody in Trump world is looking to survive Trump world, because they know Trump won’t. This is a lot different from when Bob Dole ran. Everybody in that race knew that Dole was not going to win. Dole himself knew it. But he carried on. And why? Because he was part of something greater than himself, to which he owed a personal loyalty. Donald Trump doesn’t even understand the concept. The Bulwark:
…Bob Dole was a Republican who had an institutional interest—not merely a personal interest—in the health of the Republican party. Dole’s incentives were aligned with the party’s incentives, and so Dole ran an honorable campaign that gave down-ballot Republicans the ability to not only survive, but thrive.
The GOP held its majority in the House (they lost only three seats) and actually picked up two Senate seats in 1996, even as Clinton beat Dole by +9 points.
Here is a thing some people said in 2016 about Donald Trump:
This man, in addition to his general bad character and unfitness for office, has no interest in the Republican party as an institution and will burn it to the ground if he thinks it will profit him one iota. Ceding control of the party to a person whose incentives have previously, and may in the future, wildly diverge from the party’s incentives is an invitation to disaster.
Lindsey Graham said it himself, back in the day when he was still thinking straight.
If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed…….and we will deserve it.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) May 3, 2016
That was a statement of wisdom then, a prescient one, and now we’re going to see it come to pass.
So, no, I don’t think Trump will resign. Although I will say this much: the man is a profound coward and a “runner” as the psychologists say. And he’s miserable. He’s not enjoying the presidency. He thought this was going to be a ceremonial, show biz gig and it’s turned into a greater nightmare than he could have imagined. Now there is dialogue about seeking accountability from this administration for the coronavirus disaster, beyond merely voting it out Therefore, as things get worse as election day draws near, anything is possible.
If there’s one thing we have learned about Trump world, it is that the truth is stranger than fiction and you can’t make this shit up. On that principle alone, keep your eyes open because the only thing to be sure of is that there’s nothing to be sure of. A lot can happen in ninety days. Or in ninety minutes. This we have learned. Like Captain Ahad, keep your eye trained to the horizon.