Week of Lessons

Donald Trump Betrays Everyone. Somehow, Republicans Still Seem Surprised.

He’s not just new to the game, or inexperienced. He’s genuinely, catastrophically terrible at politics.


Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The Navy SEALs have a saying that should be familiar to the Trump team by this point; “The only easy day was yesterday.” Given that Monday was a holiday, the past three days have been filled with betrayal, pain, and humiliation for Trump’s supporters, enablers, and media cheerleaders that have been a delight and a vindication for those of us who told you all along that everything Trump touches dies.

Pain is the truest teacher, and after months of pretending that Trump was “new at this” or that his administration was just a little rough around the edges, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walked out of the Oval Office Wednesday feeling the sting of betrayal. The greatest dealmaker in history got rolled like a rube before their very eyes. Donald Trump sold himself to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi without a blink, giving the hapless Democrats a powerful political lever by agreeing to their terms on the debt ceiling. Even for the most shameless of the clickservatives endlessly insisting Trump was ready to drain the swamp and MAGA, spinning this story as a Republican and conservative win is like trying to pass a kidney stone the size of the golf ball.

Ryan and McConnell were humiliated, but they certainly shouldn’t have been shocked. No matter how many times they tried to normalize Trump, no matter how many of his impulses, outrages, and deviances they forgave, Wednesday was inevitable.

Trump isn’t a good president. He isn’t a smart man. He isn’t a conservative by any stretch of the imagination. Praising the Umber Emperor’s fabulously tailored suit when he’s capered across the American political stage like a jiggling column of pasty flab always took a lot of effort for both these men, but after Wednesday, it may be more than they can muster.

They complained before in off-the-record interviews and leaks, using more-in-sorrow-than-anger tones: “Oh, that scamp Donnie!” Sure, he attacked their intellect, their principles, and their manhoods, but until now he’s still never dropped his knickers for the Democrats in a debt-limit deal that was sure to blow a hole in the GOP caucus. The betrayal of the speaker and the majority leader was just one of the three big middle fingers Trump extended in the first two days of this short week.

The biggest disaster, and the one with the most sweeping repercussions was his almost comically maladroit handling of his reversal of President Obama’s DACA policy. Because he’s terrible at politics—not just new to the game, or inexperienced, but genuinely, catastrophically terrible at politics— his DACA train wreck was epic.

He broke the central promise of his campaign. No, that wasn’t “Make America Great Again” or “Lock her up!” or “But the Supreme Court!” The central promise was a wall to stop the brown tide, while deporting the ones already here illegally. For his cult, all Mexicans look alike; they’re not here not to build a better life, but to mule in a few kilos of coke over the border, form criminal gangs more puissant than ISIS, engage in hyper-violent crime sprees, take your job, and then pop out enough anchor babies to man a rifle squad. Trump’s opening salvo was a jingoistic attack on Mexicans, delivered on the day he descended the golden escalator, and the horde howled with glee. It was chum in the water for the faction of the GOP who came to believe that all their woes are attributable to immigrants.

The promise of mass deportations made Ann Coulter and the rest of the clickservatives swoon with the thought that we could finally rid ourselves of hard-working people drawn to the dream of America and willing to bust their asses to get here, work here, and build a life here. Crushing those dreams would make America truly great, right?

Deep in his dull, blinkered brain, Trump could feel the moral and political hazard of a harshly framed reversal of DACA. Even Trump, a man never known for intellect, introspection, or the consideration of anything other than the immediate gratification of his needs knew this was a stinker. His nerve broke, and he dispatched Jeff Sessions to take point on the DACA reversal. The cult noticed they’d been played, and the wailing and lamentations have been biblical. Trump set out to do just enough to avoid a livid Steve Bannon from having a full-blown meltdown on the pages of his alt-right fanfic site… and failed.

Trump’s fans should have seen this coming. Just as the wall is nothing but an empty pitch for more Trump vaporware, so too was his DACA and deportation posturing. Coulter, Mark Krikorian, and the rest of the usual suspects in the immigration fearmongering business didn’t get their fantasy of door-kicking ICE raids, mass roundups, and weeping kids dragged before the camera and frog-marched to the border. His executive order was full of exceptions, delays, codicils, and soft-landings for people his base hate with the fire of a thousand suns… and he still managed to look like a child-deporting monster in the eyes of three-quarters of the country not familiar with the details of DACA. Bravo, Don. Bra-vo.

A smaller betrayal broke Wednesday night, as former Goldman Sachs chairman Gary Cohn saw his dream of being named to the Federal Reserve shattered by the usual Trump disloyalty. Why did Cohn—who Trump knows is an essential signifier for Wall Street, corporate America, and official Washington that there are grownups in his White House—miss the ultimate brass ring for a master of the financial universe?

It isn’t simply because Trump is utterly disloyal, a chronic liar, and abuser. It wasn’t because Cohn isn’t loyal, qualified, and capable.

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It was because some tiny, flickering spark of moral conscience led Cohn to make it known he wasn’t comfortable with the president’s endless flirtation with the tide of human filth represented by the alt-right, white supremacists, and raging anti-Semites in Charlottesville. The only thing worse in Trump’s universe than being critical of his handling of race would be to criticize his BFF Vlad Putin. It’s another lesson in a week of lessons, all of them painful for anyone, anywhere who ever trusted Donald Trump.

Betrayal isn’t just a part of Trump’s behavior; it’s wired into his DNA. Donald Trump will always lie. Always. He will lie and betray when he thinks it makes him look good. He will lie and betray when he knows it will make him look bad. His default setting is to lie and betray, and if this week hasn’t finally taught Republicans and conservatives that lesson, it’s hard to see what will.