Trump troubles mount, but GOP challengers lack firepower

Many of Trump's goals are unrealistic.



By Elizabeth Drew (View from Washington)

Published: Fri 13 Sep 2019, 10:14 PM

Last updated: Sat 14 Sep 2019, 12:17 AM

As the US Congress reconvenes this week after a six-week recess, the administration is mired in controversies, almost all of them set off by President Donald Trump.
Trump's behavior has been at its most peculiar since he took office, undoubtedly partly owing to panic over the 2020 election. He has more reason than most incumbent presidents to wish for reelection, as he is still facing several lawsuits.
Perhaps the greatest political danger to Trump lies in the growing evidence that he has used the presidency to enrich himself. Unlike his predecessors, Trump declined to put his assets in a blind trust, and he is being sued for accepting constitutionally prohibited "emoluments" (payments to a president by foreign governments). For example, the Saudi regime and others have made extensive use of his hotels, including one near the White House. Similarly, at last month's G7 summit, Trump let it be known that he wants to host next year's meeting at his struggling Doral golf resort near Miami.
Voters may well have grown accustomed to Trump's frequent patronage of his own hotels and golf facilities (along with the cost of the Secret Service and other attendants). According to one estimate, by mid-July, Trump had spent 194 days at his own golf courses, earning the Trump Organization $109 million. Various Republican Party functions have taken place on his properties.
But in recent days, Trump's presidential greed was in particularly high relief. First, there was Vice President Mike Pence, who, earlier this month, stayed at a Trump-owned facility in Ireland, flying 291 kilometers to reach his high-level meetings.
Pence's chief of staff ultimately confessed that Trump had "suggested" the accommodations.
Shortly thereafter, Politico reported that earlier this year, a military transport on a routine supply trip to the Middle East refueled near a Trump-owned property in Scotland, where the fuel cost more than at military facilities normally used during flights to the Middle East. The five-man crew stayed overnight at Trump's Turnberry golf resort. Having discovered many more stopovers at Turnberry, the Air Force has ordered a review of its use of stopover facilities around the world. Trump has turned the presidency into a racket.
In addition to revelations of Trump's venality, his near-pathological insecurity has become increasingly flagrant. To Trump's mind, an associate has said, to admit an error is to appear weak. The most flagrant recent example was his desperation to convince the public he hadn't been wrong in predicting Hurricane Dorian would hit Alabama.
In another controversy, Trump stirred up a ruckus in early September by ordering $3.6 billion in Pentagon construction funds to be shifted to his phantasmagoric wall on the southern border with Mexico.
Although few believe that Trump's wall is the most efficient way to keep out illegal immigrants, his mentions of it during the 2016 campaign drew wild cheers (at the time, he assured the crowds that Mexico would pay for it). It still does, so he has stuck himself with the issue.
The sudden dismissal this week of John Bolton, Trump's third national security adviser - Bolton insists that he quit - was both surprising and inevitable, because it's been clear the two men disagree on most foreign policy issues. Bolton was the hawk to Trump's dove; one of the more interesting disclosures about the president is that he really doesn't want to go to war. The final split apparently came when Bolton let it be known that he opposed Trump negotiating with the Taleban so that US troops could be withdrawn from Afghanistan, preferably by the election. Trump also evidently wanted to host the Taleban at a Camp David peace conference.
But Bolton's removal won't make much difference. Many of Trump's goals are unrealistic. He's a bad negotiator. And his White House has no coherent decision-making process. US foreign policy has come to reflect Trump's caprices and his outsize faith in his ability to persuade others.
The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump's way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months.
- Elizabeth Drew is a Washington-based journalist and the author, most recently, of Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon's Downfall.


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