Eventually, inevitably, there had to be cracks in the dike. The flood of scandals, leaks and self-inflicted crises has inundated the White House almost every single day since Trump moved in. We are drowning in stories. Who can remember what happened even this morning, let alone a few weeks ago? To illustrate that point, let me just go through the last seven days.
May 10: Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his infamous Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. The media is forced to rely on photos from the Russian news agency TASS because Trump barred American journalists. It is revealed that the recently dismissed FBI director James Comey was fired right after reportedly asking for more resources for the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election. Meanwhile, in Virginia, federal prosecutors issue grand jury subpoenas to business associates of former national security advisor Michael Flynn. Polls show Trump’s disapproval rating hit a new high of 58 per cent.
May 11: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, furious that the White House was saying Comey’s dismissal was his idea, reportedly threatens to resign. A commission is announced to investigate Trump’s voter fraud claims (which have been proven false repeatedly). It is revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had promised to recuse himself from the Russian investigation due to his own involvement, would nonetheless interview candidates to replace Comey.
May 12: Trump threatens to cancel White House press briefings. He then publicly warns Comey he may have recordings of their conversations. Comey replies that he hopes this is true and then leaks the fact Trump tried to have him pledge his personal loyalty. In an interview with Lester Holt, Trump drops a bombshell, stating the Russia investigation was the reason he fired Comey—contradicting several of his own staffers who had sworn that was not true.
May 13: Trump floats the idea of replacing his communications team with Fox News personalities. Comey states he is willing to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, but only in public. The president passed the day golfing at one of his resorts, where he has now spent approximately a quarter of his time in office.
May 14: There is speculation the ongoing Comey controversy may kill the president’s legislative agenda for the rest of the year. Former director of national intelligence James Clapper says American democracy is now “under assault” by the president. Leaks from the White House suggest Trump is planning to fire several of his most senior staff for incompetence. Once again, the president went golfing.
May 15: The Washington Post reveals that Trump, in a massive breach of intelligence protocol, reveals highly classified information during his meeting with the Russians. Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Republican legislators look at cutting $400 billion from welfare, food stamps and Medicaid to fund their promised balanced budget. North Korea tests a missile and the official White House statement strangely leads with the point that “[Trump] cannot imagine that Russia is pleased”. It is revealed the president avoids exercise because he believes the body contains only a finite amount of energy, and using it up too fast will hasten one’s death.
May 16: Trump concedes he did share intelligence with the Russians, and claims he had every right to do so. This once again contradicts several of his staff, including National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster, who had promised no such thing had happened. Later in the day, White House insiders, in an attempt to defend the president, state that he could not have intentionally leaked secrets to Lavrov because Trump never reads his briefs and doesn’t understand them anyway. That evening, in the biggest scandal of his presidency so far, accusations emerge that Trump encouraged the FBI director to drop his investigation into Michael Flynn’s Russian connections—and to imprison journalists.
Which brings us to now. (Feel free to take a breath here. Pour yourself a drink maybe.)
Is it any wonder the question being asked in capitals around the world, and all across the United States, is: “What can be done about Donald?” The answer is “not much”. The only entity capable of either shifting the president’s behaviour, or shifting him out of office, is the Republican Party. And, to date, the reaction of party members to the daily fire hose of Trump crises and messes is to furrow their brow, say they are mildly troubled, and do nothing.
To outsiders, the GOP reluctance to push back seems inexplicable, even treasonous. But in fact there are some simple reasons. First, the president’s base remains remarkably strong. While his nationwide approval ratings are at record lows for someone so recently elected, Trump’s voters continue to support him enthusiastically. Facing tough midterm elections next year, Republican legislators are not anxious to undermine their own base. Plus, any battle to rein in or remove the president will unquestionably sidetrack the party’s legislative agenda, which they have been waiting eight long years to implement.
But this time, as everyone tries to unravel the implications of the Comey memo and the possibility the president tried to subvert the Russia investigation, it feels different. Most Republican politicians have refused to speak, and only a handful are defending the president. The House GOP Conference Chair told the press she wanted an explanation from the White House as soon as possible. A Republican congressman from Illinois said these were “serious allegations” and it was time for a special prosector. Another tweeted that if the memo is accurate, it marks “the beginning of a new and very sad chapter of scandal and controversy in our country.” And most surprising of all, Jason Chaffetz, the chair of the House Oversight committee who until now has been a combative defender of the president, immediately promised subpoenas and issued a formal request to the FBI to release this memo and any other pertinent information.
My gut tells me the Republican instinct for inertia is still too strong, that Trump will survive just long enough for another scandal to distract us, and we will lose this one in the daily bramble of presidential chaos. But there are definitely leaks in the dike. And when that happens, the whole dam can begin to give way swiftly. I am now convinced that Trump will not see out his term. If I am right, then the unraveling must begin somewhere. Perhaps tonight is the beginning of that end.