In three and a half years, this is the first time I’ve seen the president say or do something that’s caused otherwise reasonably solid Trumpers to recoil in horror.
Not hardcore Trumpers. A good third of this country’s electorate would stick with him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, started kicking dogs, stealing candy from babies, whatever. They’re not going to move. And they’re most of the GOP now.
But there’s a meaningful slice of voters on top of that base, I think, that still strongly prefers him to Biden, is prepared to vote for him this fall in spite of COVID and everything else, but isn’t part of the cult. Those people have a red line — in theory. They don’t admire everything about him. They’re willing to criticize him politely when they disagree. They’re very forgiving of him in the interest of preserving Republican control of governance, though. As I say, in three and a half years he’d managed not to cross their personal red line, so that line must be awfully far afield.
This morning’s tweet crossed it for two conservative commentators who’d been with him until now, which makes me wonder if this episode is going to turn into a serious liability for him with voters. Anything that can make someone go from “Trump 2020” to calling for impeachment in the span of a few hours is something with real political salience, one would think. First up is Steven Calabresi, who co-founded the most influential conservative legal organization in the country, the Federalist Society. Not all FedSoc luminaries are solid Trumpers (see, e.g., George Conway) but Calabresi had been a good soldier for Trump. Two years ago I wrote about him and Conway clashing over the Mueller investigation. Conway defended the probe; Calabresi called it unconstitutional. He also accused Democrats of violating Trump’s Sixth Amendment rights in how they conducted the Ukraine impeachment inquiry. He’s not a Never Trumper by any means.
But maybe he is now?
I have voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980, including voting for Donald Trump in 2016. I wrote op-eds and a law review article protesting what I believe was an unconstitutional investigation by Robert Mueller. I also wrote an op-ed opposing President Trump’s impeachment.
But I am frankly appalled by the president’s recent tweet seeking to postpone the November election. Until recently, I had taken as political hyperbole the Democrats’ assertion that President Trump is a fascist. But this latest tweet is fascistic and is itself grounds for the president’s immediate impeachment again by the House of Representatives and his removal from office by the Senate…
President Trump needs to be told by every Republican in Congress that he cannot postpone the federal election. Doing so would be illegal, unconstitutional and without precedent in American history. Anyone who says otherwise should never be elected to Congress again.
I’m not sure how someone can go from calling for the president’s removal because he’s too fascist-y to grudgingly supporting him this fall over Biden but we’ll check back in with Calabresi circa late October. The second pundit to turn on Trump this afternoon is Henry Olsen, who writes interestingly about elections and polling for WaPo. Olsen’s another guy whom you might not catch in a MAGA cap but who’s been friendly to POTUS in his columns. He didn’t react to Trump’s tweet as strongly as Calabresi did, but the language here is still plenty strong:
President Trump’s tweet Thursday morning suggesting that the November election should be delayed is more than reckless and irresponsible. It is the single most anti-democratic statement any sitting president has ever made. It should be immediately, forcefully and vocally repudiated by every conservative and Republican.
I do not write these words lightly. I have generally supported the Trump administration’s policies. Everyone has disagreements even with leaders of their own party, but I remain what I was before Trump was even a candidate — a conservative Republican with populist leanings. Were this election solely a matter of Trump’s platform vs. former vice president Joe Biden’s, I would enthusiastically back the Trump agenda.
Nonetheless, his tweet strikes at the heart of American democracy and therefore must be instantly repudiated. Republicans should be among the leaders in denouncing his call.
Olsen wants Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy (both of whom reiterated today that the election will proceed as scheduled) to introduce resolutions affirming Congress’s intent that the election be held on November 3, and he wants every Republican in both chambers to support it. He even wants Mike Pence to show a little spine for once and politely disagree with his boss.
Why is it worth highlighting this stuff? It’s not just that it may presage a backlash among undecided voters and independents. It’s that harsh criticism now from erstwhile admirers about attempts to play games with the election might convince Trump that he needs to stop talking about this. Because let me tell you: If he doesn’t learn that lesson immediately, he will keep talking about it. This will get worse. It’s going to get worse no matter what as he copes with the prospect of defeat, but it’ll get worse sooner, and to a more alarming degree.
If this is how Trump is tweeting in July, cannot imagine what it will be like in October. Or Nov. – Jan. if he loses.
— Philip Klein (@philipaklein) July 30, 2020
A notable line from the Times: “Opposition leaders expressed outrage, but most agreed, in public and private, that Mr. Trump’s outburst should be treated as a distress call rather than a real statement of his governing intentions.” That’s the best thing he has going for him in terms of defusing this situation before it starts to cost him in the polls. Voters understand he’s a blowhard and that he’s prone to pop off idly. They might not dwell on his latest tweet-fart, as there are so many others to smell. But if he keeps coming back to delaying the election, evincing a real interest in chicanery to protect his own power, we might see a dam-break in popular opinion. If he were to lose the other Calabresis and Olsens out there, he could go from 50/40 against Biden to something like 52/35. And then all bets would be off as to what the composition of the next Congress might look like.
He should bite his lip going forward and trust that Dan Foster is right about this, because he probably is:
All I can think of is:
-It made him look personally weak/frightened to an unusual extent
But if it’s the latter, the race is going to tighten, and they are all going to have to get back on board and pretend they didn’t disavow him. We went through all this in ’16.
— Daniel Foster (@DanFosterType) July 30, 2020
If he stops talking about delaying the election and suggesting that any sort of voting methods except the ones of which he personally approves are grounds for delegitimizing the result, the Calabresis and Olsens will talk themselves into returning to the fold. (“In hindsight I think that one really fascist tweet he sent was just him blowing off steam.”) If he keeps going back to it, some of these people are going to conclude that they just can’t support him. You don’t extend the tenure of the most powerful man in the world if you think he’s serious about potentially clinging to power unlawfully.
In lieu of an exit question, go read Michael Brendan Dougherty on another pitiful manifestation of Trump-related “distress,” the QAnon cult. Trump copes with the likelihood of defeat by fantasizing about moving the election. QAnoners cope with Trump’s failures by fantasizing that he’s accomplishing amazing things to rid the world of evil behind the scenes and that all will be revealed in due time. When actual reality is too grim to stomach, invent your own.