You can’t make this stuff up. And you can’t make it seem normal.
President Donald Trump has just challenged his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to a battle of IQ tests. That came after reports that Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” over the summer, a description whose aptness Trump then provided evidence for by taking to Twitter to undermine Tillerson’s efforts to ease tensions with North Korea.
Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has let it be known that he thinksthe Republican president could be putting this country on “the path to World War III.” Corker, who likens the White House to an adult day-care center, says that Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, are keeping the nation from chaos. (In that light, it’s instructive to note that Mattis has told the Senate Armed Services Committee that this country should stick with the Iran nuclear deal, an assessment at odds with Trump’s campaign trail denunciation of the agreement.)
Further, the vast majority of his Senate Republican colleagues “understand the volatility that we’re dealing with [with Trump] and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road,” Corker told The New York Times. In coincidental confirmation of that, word comes that former White House chief staff Reince Priebus and other aides relied on delaying strategies and outside interventions to keep Trump from acting on his rash impulses.
Speaking of intraparty discord, Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader of the Senate, has been in a profane screaming match with Trump, who he thinks hasn’t learned the basics of governing. And don’t forget that Jeff Sessions has also found himself the target of ire from a president furious that the attorney general recused himself from a probe into possible Russian influence in the election. Trump has berated his attorney general personally, calling him an “idiot.” (Perhaps Sessions, to defend his honor, should join the grand IQ joust.)
That’s just a sampling of some of the major conflicts of recent months. Still, it’s enough to crystallize several truths, at least for anyone with eyes to see.
First, Trump is a perpetual dyspeptic motion machine, egotistical, undisciplined, immature, and vindictive, a man uneducated and apparently uneducable about policy complexities. He’s the reason this administration is a constant cauldron of chaos. All that was entirely predictable, of course; the chaos-catalyzing traits so evident in President Trump were perfectly obvious in Candidate Trump. The fact that so many ignored those signs is troubling commentary about the state of American democracy.
Second, Trump isn’t so much at loggerheads with the nominal opposition — the Democrats — as with his own cabinet and members of the political party he ostensibly leads. Yet in the face of all this chaos, most congressional Republicans prefer to duck and cower rather than speak truth to power.
Part of that comes of fear that crossing Trump will mean finding themselves facing a primary challenge from a candidate recruited by Steve Bannon, the president’s political Rasputin. Indeed, it was only after Corker decided not to seek reelection that he began voicing his concerns, which he amplified after a Trump Twitter attack.
Part of it is fear that if the lid is lifted on the dysfunctional state of national affairs, the public will turn on the party to which it has entrusted national governance.
But you can’t pretend this increasingly erratic behavior away. The emperor has no governing garments — and by refusing to acknowledge that, his fellow Republicans are nakedly displaying their own cowardice and calculation.Scot Lehigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.