Looking at both the latest polling and the more precise picture of President Trump that has emerged since he took office, you arrive at a reluctant conclusion and a perplexing question.
First, the 2020 presidential race will likely shape up not as a broom-out-a-buffoon sweep but as a tough, competitive election. So what, exactly, would it take for Republicans to abandon this dishonest, divisive, dysfunctional president?
Everyone should know by now that major aspects of Trump’s self-spun personal story are fraudulent. We’re all familiar with the narrative: An indomitable dynamo who by dint of his coruscating intellect won admission to an elite college and then, with the help of a (later repaid) $1 million loan from his father, built a billion-dollar business empire.
This week The Washington Post revealed as bogus another bit of that biography with its revelation that Trump’s admission to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania was aided by a close friend of his older brother. James Nolan, now 81, told the Post’s Michael Kranish that when working in the university’s admissions office in 1966, he got a call from his very close friend Fred Trump Jr. seeking help with brother Donald’s hoped-for transfer from Fordham to the Wharton School. Nolan was accommodating, meeting with Donald and his father and then giving Trump a rating that apparently aided his application. Further, despite his many assertions about his intellect, Trump wasn’t even on the dean’s list his senior year, the Post reports. By itself, none of that is big or surprising news, but it does highlight once again the gap between Trump’s autobiographical boasts and the actual privileged nature of his advancement.
After graduating, Trump avoided the Vietnam War-era draft with the help of a diagnosis of bone spurs, which earned him a medical deferment. Except that, as The New York Times has reported, the daughters of the physician who diagnosed that supposed condition say he did it as a favor to father Fred Trump, who owned the building where the doctor had his office.
In fairness, that’s an anecdotal account, one without real proof. But The New York Times had documentation aplenty for its investigative report that, rather than parlaying his father’s $1 million loan into a fortune, as he has often claimed, Trump was the beneficiary of some $413 million (in today’s dollars) funneled his way by the family patriarch. Despite that, as a businessman, Trump still resorted to bankruptcy no fewer than six times.
Imagine for a moment the derision the GOP would heap on a Democratic president with such a dubious record. And yet, most Republicans don’t seem to blink an eye at Trump’s history. Or his Potemkin village personal narrative.
Equally puzzling is the backing he receives from the evangelical community and other conservatives who, in different circumstances, claim that morality and character matter to them. After all, even if one doesn’t include the various allegations of forced or unwelcome lip kisses, at least 10 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct over the years, including author and columnist E. Jean Carroll, who recently said that Trump attacked and (though she didn’t use the word) raped her in the mid-1990s in a luxury department store dressing room, an incident she told friends about at the time.
Even if assembling an antiabortion majority on the Supreme Court is an important priority for someone, how, exactly, can he or she maintain support for a politician after such a litany of accusations? An amoralist’s response might be that, character notwithstanding, Trump at least steers by crucial Republican tenets. Except that he has abandoned as many as he’s upheld. Fiscal discipline? Free markets and free trade? A strong US-led Western alliance? All in exile. So, too, are broader American values such as a basic regard for the truth. Or respect for the rule of law. Or a commitment to transparent, ethical, non-nepotistic government.
And yet, this president now seems positioned to run a competitive race in 2020.
As discouraging as his presidency has been, that’s the truly dismaying commentary about our country.