There is a new twist in Donald Trump’s wars, large and small, with everyone—North Korea, the NFL, Jeff Sessions, Mika Brzezinski, and the list goes on. He publicly broke up with the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry before the champion could break up with him. He went after wealthy athletes taking a knee during the national anthem, thereby driving his natural allies (and donors) like franchise owners Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones into the locked arms of the players. He even lost Joe the Plumber in the stands. More than 60 percent of those polled said Trump shouldn’t have inserted himself into a previously Trump-free zone.
These senseless fights are of a piece with ones he’s created in the Senate. On Tuesday, Tennessee’s highly regarded Sen. Bob Corker sent up a white flag and said he would be retiring at the end of his term, opening up what should be a safe seat for Republicans. Corker, who’d been supportive of the president through thick and thin, spoke up after Charlottesville, saying the president didn’t understand the character of the nation and “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability” to be successful. He’s been in the doghouse since, and now intends to check out after this year.
The same day Croker said he was out, Trump lost another loyal soldier in incumbent Alabama Sen. Luther Strange. In an ugly primary, Strange, who filled Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ seat in a special election, lost to fringe candidate and impeached judge Roy Moore. Trump went all in for Strange, holding a rally in Alabama and tweeting his heart out. Moore womped him.
What Alabama shows is that Trump has so weakened the Republican Party he captured in a hostile takeover that he cannot lead them to victory. At the same time, he can’t totally count on his base, despite constantly pandering to them. It’s an American Trexit, with the president no longer in control of the movement he created. What’s more he’s now competing for supremacy with his former aide and avid Moore supporter, Steve Bannon, a general he created.
Expect more primaries on the model of Moore’s. Trump opened the door when he impetuously threatened Sens. Jeff Flake and Dean Heller with primaries when they didn’t toe the line. Trump complains bitterly about needing to get 60 votes under current filibuster rules he wants killed even as he’s busy endangering the 52 votes he currently has.
Trump has more hope of a truce in Alabama than he does with the fans in the stands who, by a large majority, have rejected Trump’s belief that players who take a knee (or “sons of bitches,” in modern presidential parlance) should be fired. Despite the trouncing his preferred candidate just took, Trump’s party is likely to hold the seat. Not since 1996 have Democrats seriously contested a Senate race there. They have a good candidate this time: former U.S. attorney, Doug Jones, who successfully prosecuted members of the Ku Klux Klan for killing four young girls when they bombed a black church in Birmingham in 1963. But that’s not always a plus in the Deep South.
Back in the spring, the establishment quickly fell in line behind Trump after his defeat of Sen. Ted Cruz in Indiana; now, they are quickly falling in line behind Moore who was anathema a day ago. Speaker Paul Ryan called him merely “eccentric,” and that bastion of No-Label bipartisanship, Sen. Cory Gardner, who controls campaign funds for senate candidates, embraced him.
The loss of Strange adds to the pall hanging over the White House from various scandals, the large one over collusion with Russia but smaller ones as well, the kind that can sometimes do you in. It’s never happened that a Treasury secretary has felt entitled to commandeer a White House plane for his honeymoon, or a Cabinet secretary a Learjet to have lunch with his son on St. Simons Island, hastily summoning a meeting with health officials to justify it. For all of Secretary Tom Price’s $300,000 in private travel, there’s been a multitude of commercial flights he could, and should, have taken, according to government regulations. How far we’ve come. It wasn’t so long ago that George W. Bush’s chief of staff John Sununu Sr. got fired for using a government jet to see his dentist in Boston and a limo to buy rare stamps at an auction in New York.
Then there’s the irony of son-in-law and top aide Jared Kushner using a private email system. Should we lock him up? We don’t understand how Trump’s sons are running the family business but we do understand that the earnings of the Trump Hotel in Washington are well ahead of projections, and that he’s doubled the rates at Mar-a-Lago, with the once-in-a-lifetime promotion of a possible photo-op with the president if you book your wedding there.
Trump has no accomplishments to balance his failures. He claimed as late as Wednesday that he’s gotten more done than any president in modern history, which is true only if you count renaming V.A. centers and proclaiming women entrepreneurs as legislative victories.
On Fox News, Moore explained that Trump didn’t support him because he didn’t really know him. “When he gets to know me he’ll understand that I do support a very conservative agenda for this country.” How conservative? Trump said nastier things about NFL players than he did about neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, and no doubt Moore agrees with him. Long after Trump was pressured into dropping his racist birther conspiracy, Moore was hanging on to it. Trump kept calling Moore “Ray” during the primary but got it right in an early morning tweet, writing “Spoke to Roy Moore... Sounds like a really great guy who ran a fantastic race. He will help to #MAGA!”
Trump learns things the hard way, if at all. Should Sen. Moore come to Washington, he could be in the minority if Trump doesn’t stop indulging his taste for war and start governing. And no matter which way the Senate goes, we all know Bob Corker. Roy Moore is no Bob Corker.