A little more than two months in, Donald Trump's presidency is already unique in a number of ways. One of these that has so far gotten little attention (since there's so much else going on) is Trump's complete lack of a honeymoon period with the public. Trump's job approval polling started out pretty bad and it's only gotten worse. The first few months of a presidency isn't always indicative of how successful any president will wind up, of course, but Trump is truly in a category of his own in the polls so far -- and not in a good way.
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Never were the words of the Grateful Dead so fitting in the world of politics. "Trouble ahead, trouble behind" is indeed a perfect description of the spot Paul Ryan and Donald Trump found themselves in today. Because Casey Jones faced precisely the same no-win situation, and it didn't work out so good for him, either.
Donald Trump will doubtlessly go down in history as many things, but what we're all coming to grips with right now (a bare two months into his presidency) is that Trump will also surely be remembered as the first "Conspiracy-Theorist-In-Chief" in American history. Trump, in fact, personifies the old adage: "I've made up my mind -- don't confuse me with the facts!" This was on full display today, as the heads of the F.B.I. and the N.S.A. testified before a House committee that there is simply no evidence whatsoever that can in any way, shape, or form validate the wild claim Trump made two weeks ago -- that Barack Obama had personally wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. This adds to a long list of people (who all have the highest security clearance and full access to such things), all of whom have now said the same thing: no evidence exists whatsoever to back up Trump's bizarre accusation. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
This was a tough choice to make, for a Thursday column. After all, this was a fairly big week in punctuation news, which normally would be catnip for a pedant such as myself. Not only was the president's spokesman trying to use the old "it was in quotes" defense (or should that be the "it was 'in quotes'" defense?), but there was a recent court ruling which actually hinged on the "Oxford comma." The plaintiffs won because they (correctly) argued that absent the final comma in a list, the final two items have to be taken as a single item, at least legally (it hinged on the phrase "loading for transport or delivery" -- which is different than "loading for transport, or delivery"). As you can see, I could easily have gotten a fun (to me, at any rate) column out of those juicy grammatical items alone.
In the hyperkinetic political era we live in, change happens very quickly. President Trump is the driving force behind this increased speed of the political discourse, but Paul Ryan gamely tried to capitalize on the new frenzy by passing his own favored "repeal and replace Obamacare" bill as quickly as humanly possible. He was going to whip it through the House so fast nobody would know what was in the bill, and then the Senate was magically going to refuse to even debate the bill and instead move it directly to the floor for a vote. This would all happen at blinding speed, and then everyone in Congress could go home for the Easter holiday, having already put the bill on Trump's desk. Problem solved!
As is becoming the new normal, a ton of things happened in Washington this week. Donald Trump kicked the week off by tweeting out a conspiracy theory, then he rolled out "Muslim Ban 2.0," and by week's end a gigantic fracas within the Republican Party was building to fever pitch. Oh, and that fever will not be covered by the new GOP Obamacare replacement plan, sorry.
That title is not a weak attempt to make a pun on the genetics company "23andMe." It is not a throwback to "23-skidoo." And it's definitely not an attempt to sound like a quarterback calling signals at the line (besides, it's the wrong season for football metaphors). Instead, it represents the three biggest hurdles that Republicans now face in their efforts to dismantle Obamacare.
It's never a dull moment in Donald Trump's White House, and this weekend was certainly no exception. Trump began the weekend early Saturday morning by tweeting out what seemed to be a conspiracy theory. This did precisely what it was intended to do, which was to divert attention from the growing questions about Russian influence in both the Trump campaign and in his administration. Trump was reportedly furious during a Friday meeting that Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the investigation, because to Trump any backing down from any previously-held position is a sign of weakness and not to be tolerated. As dawn broke on Saturday, Trump decided to distract the media by tossing another Twitter hand grenade into the political conversation, and as a result Sessions quickly dropped from the news.
This was supposed to be a good week for Donald Trump. He was going to give a big speech, and he was all set to roll out the 2.0 version of his Muslim ban. As usual in the Trump administration, though, things didn't quite work out as planned.
As is frequently said in Washington, it's not the crime but the coverup that gets you. It's looking like that theory is going to be tested sooner than anyone might have expected, in the Donald Trump administration. No matter what happens now, they may have already done permanent damage to themselves in the eyes of the American public. The underlying theme of Trump being no more than a stooge for Russia's Vladimir Putin seems to be growing by the day, at this point. Which means that everything they do to fight this image is going to have the flavor of "Methinks they doth protest too much" about it. At this point, they can't avoid it.