Donald Trump’s unrelenting pandering to his base might seem like a long-running blunder from almost certainly the most myopic and blunderous president ever, but is there a method to this madness? Is this a scramble or a reasoned gambit?
I know you’ll probably feel like you need a shower after this, but just pretend for a bit that you’re Donald J. Trump. I’ll let you take a moment to finish your cheeseburger. Okay, now let’s quickly summarize your life at the moment in one sentence. You, your organization, your foundation, your children, your son-in-law, a handful of your current and former cabinet members, some high-ranking administration officials, some former campaign officials, advisers, and at least one lawyer have either been or are being investigated, indicted, cooperating with investigators, or charged for crimes ranging from obstruction of justice to fraud to perjury to money laundering to ethics violations to conspiracy and espionage during a period of very low approval, an unpopular trade war, dubious state of emergency, worsening climate disaster, impending Brexit fallout, general attrition of diplomatic relations with former allies, deepening animosity with adversaries, and weight gain of four pounds.
That’s not even scratching the surface, or including whatever direct secret relationship you have with your alleged suzerain, Vladimir Putin. During times like this, what is a Donald to do? I could go down Ariadne’s weave here, but let’s just go over two options titled “Reasonable” and “Reality.”
Situation A: Reasonable – Admit that your time in office is limited and that any more tomfoolery would surely result in more pain and drama down the line. Let the investigations proceed. Cooperate with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer (and maybe even Robert Mueller). Move a little to the center, like any reasonable president who just had a horrible midterm election. However, alienating your base in this way means that you lose the only meaningful vestige of approval you have left. Democrats won’t suddenly come around and think you’re palatable. You’d be a president without a constituency, but it could be worse.
Situation B: Reality – Hunker down, tweet, get a chicken bone from the pile under the Resolute Desk and bite on it. Appeal to your base to a degree that engenders unwavering loyalty so that when the results are in from the Special Counsel investigation, they know to go apoplectic without you having to tell them. This isn’t Pavlovian as much as it is classic brainwashing. And be sure to call Uncle Hannity and have him broadcast your latest untenable “policy,” for good measure. This is playing with fire, but remember, you’re a pyromaniac.
Now you can get out of Trump character. What happens if Donald Trump is found wildly, unabashedly guilty of even just one impeachable crime? Will his base accept it, or will they throw a fit? What might they do to try to keep him in office? Trump has an asset in millions of angry supporters, and maybe it’s something harrowingly powerful.