Don’t look now, but Trump fatigue might be finally hitting him where it counts: with Republicans.
“I think the dam is getting ready to break, here,” former Republican Rep. Charlie Dent said Monday on CNN’s New Day. “I don’t think this is going to be a simple trickle. When it breaks, it breaks. Because this increasingly erratic behavior by the president is placing these [Republican] members in this completely impossible positions [sic].”
Later in the day, Democratic Senator Michael Bennet echoed the sentiment, telling CNN’s Jim Sciutto that his Republican colleagues are “horrified by the president’s behavior and they’re horrified that he invited Ukraine to interfere with our elections, they’re horrified that the White House chief of staff admitted it was a quid pro quo.”
This sense of increasing Republican frustration is consistent with reporting from The New York Times that it was pressure from fellow Republicans that forced Trump to reverse course and drop plans to hold the next G7 summit at his Florida resort.
This isn’t the first time we’ve been warned about Trump fatigue. As recently as August, there was a spate of columnists claiming it had finally set in. This was around the time when Trump got mad and canceled a diplomatic trip because Denmark wouldn’t sell him Greenland. It was also around the time when he lamented that Fox News “isn’t working for us anymore!”
But that was before Trump invited the Taliban to a secret meeting at Camp David… which led to a confusing situation where Republicans congratulated Trump for calling off a meeting he had called for. And it was before it was revealed that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden… which was before Republicans had to defend Trump agreeing to look the other way on Hong Kong… which was before Trump abandoned the Kurds in Syria… which was before Republicans had to defend the Doral-G7 business… which was just minutes before Mick Mulvaney admitted to a quid pro quo in regard to Ukraine… which was just before Trump reversed course on the G7 meeting, hanging his erstwhile defenders out to dry... which was before Trump’s Cabinet meeting where he called the Emoluments Clause “phony” and insisted that "we never gave a commitment to the Kurds.”
To be sure, I have omitted dozens of mini-scandals that have ensued these last few weeks. Still, each of these incidents required Republicans being forced to defend the indefensible. Each time, that depleted a little bit of their energy, a little bit of their self-respect, and a little bit of their soul.
Think of it. Even for a professional spinmeister, there is no intellectually honest way to defend pressuring a foreign government to dig up dirt on a domestic political rival—or hosting the G7 at your own resort—yet Republicans were forced to do so.
It was even harder for most Republicans to argue that a precipitous withdrawal from Syria—one that betrays our allies, leaving them to be slaughtered by Turkey, and potentially risks allowing ISIS militants to escape—makes sense. Indeed, in this case a lot of Republicans—including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—publicly condemned Trump’s decision.
It’s unclear whether criticizing Trump’s withdrawal from Syria makes it more or less likely Republicans will support impeachment, but one imagines it’s easier to defy a president the second time.
It would be nice if I could say that Republicans are finally fed up with a lawless president, but a better way to look at it is that they are simply exhausted by having to cover for him, day in and day out. As conservative writer Matthew Continetti noted, “The sufferers of Trump Fatigue aren’t driven mad by the president. They are just tired of having to wake up every morning to another of his sudden attacks, reversals, exaggerations, and boasts.”
And here’s the thing: There’s no reason to believe the chaos will ever stop.
Trump can’t let well enough alone—can’t take “yes” for an answer. Having survived the Russia scandal, what was his first impulse the day after Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony? To pick up the phone and ask the president of Ukraine to do him a “favor.” Republicans are finally starting to realize that things will never settle down. Every day Trump is in the White House is another day Republicans are going to be put in an awkward, lose-lose position.
The problem for Trump is that politicians tend to be motivated by the “pleasure principle,” and we have arrived at the point where the pain that comes from sticking with Trump is finally starting to outweigh the pain that breaking with Trump might cause them.
To escape this trap, a lot of Republicans have simply decided to retire. For others, though, the decision to exit politics might instead be imposed on them by voters who have come down with their own case of Trump fatigue.
Consider this recent report by National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar, which warns: “New polling and fundraising figures show that Mitch McConnell’s hold on the Senate majority is looking awfully precarious. Indeed, the pathway for a narrow Democratic takeover of the upper chamber is looking clearer than ever.”
Kraushaar’s gloomy analysis is buttressed by plenty of data, which ultimately leads to the conclusion: “Right now, control of the Senate past 2020 looks awfully close to a toss-up with over a year until the next election.”
Trump’s transactional style of leadership means the only thing keeping his elected supporters behind him is self-interest. When that goes, they go.
Up until now, Trump’s “flood the zone” style of politics has probably been more a feature than a bug. Whether you’re a journalist or a regular citizen, trying to keep track of this reality show feels like drinking from a firehose.
Trump fatigue might have started off as a way to wear down the president’s critics, but it has ended up a way to wear down the president’s friends.
And with friends like Trump, who needs enemies?