“SHAKY BUBBLEGUM SQUID PANTS,” tweeted Donald Trump on Saturday morning, “BECAUSE FROGS AND TADPOLES MAKE WINTER STINGRAYS. MAILMAN TWINKLE ELEVATOR ARCHIPELAGO. WE MUST CHRISTMAS BANANAS FOR THE RUTABAGA SCOOTER. FRED TWELVE PURPLE NERF, BIGLY!”
No, of course he didn’t actually tweet that… but I think we’re getting there. Honestly, would you be surprised if he did? Would anyone at this point? There is gaslighting, there is throwing mud to see what sticks, and there are the strange noises Trump has been making after what was probably the worst week of his whole scurvy, feckless political life.
“We’ve had tremendous success I think over the last couple of days,” said Trump last Friday as the full scope of his Turkey debacle came into vivid focus. “We’ve taken control of the oil in the Middle East.” The Associated Press set a new bellwether for understatement by describing Trump’s quantifiably bizarre Middle East oil statement as “a claim that seemed disconnected from any known development there.” You think?
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Trump’s “tremendous success” isn’t resounding with Turkey’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, despite the fact that Erdoğan is currently rolling up northern Syria like a window shade (thanks to Trump) in defiance of a weak U.S.-brokered “ceasefire.” After Trump transmitted a letter to Erdoğan so utterly farcical it should have been written in crayon, the Turkish leader clapped back in ominous if opaque tones. “We will not forget this lack of respect,” said Erdoğan of the Trump letter. “When the time comes, the necessary thing will be done.”
On Sunday, The New York Times reported that Erdoğan wants to acquire missiles with nuclear warheads, and furthermore believes he can do so after discovering how easy it is to push around the president of the United States. Chafing at the fact that Western governments have prevented Turkey from acquiring such weapons even though “some countries” have them, he told a meeting of his governing party, “This, I cannot accept.”
Speaking of clapping back, the House of Representatives voted to rebuke Trump’s Syria withdrawal last Wednesday by the titanically bipartisan margin of 354-60. That same day, Trump voluntarily shared his spiffy Erdoğan letter with a congressional delegation when they came to the White House in an attempt to figure out what the hell he’s up to.
Trump’s self-satisfaction lasted exactly as long as it took House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hand him his own ass in an eggcup. “All roads with you lead to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” she told him during the meeting, causing him to unspool a nonsensical diatribe about Democrats liking ISIS because ISIS is communist, or something. The meeting, to the astonishment of none, did not last much longer after that. Fred twelve purple nerf, indeed.
Pelosi and the House Democrats are only the leading edge of Trump’s problems. The ongoing investigation into his self-serving Ukraine dealings has pulled in, and pulled down, a number of people who believed their dry run through the raindrops would last forever. The idea that Trump and his cohorts have been playing some game of multidimensional chess has evaporated.
Until very recently, the Trump administration was like the Mafia before the advent of wiretaps and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statutes. Like the pre-RICO Mafia, they had the local authorities in their pocket and could act with impunity — Nice aid package you got there, Mr. Ukraine, shame if something happened to it. That tableau has fallen to dust, and in its place stands the rock-bottom fact that these are small-minded men committing simple crimes. Like the mob, they only got away with it for so long because there were no guardrails to hinder their behavior. That’s over now; the House has the wiretaps, and RICO is on the books.
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney stands as the most vivid example of this phenomenon. Like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mulvaney represents the triumph of Tea Party dunderheads failing upward into a running buzzsaw.
When Mulvaney stood before the press corps last Thursday and gleefully admitted the Trump administration had withheld Ukraine aid until that country agreed to help smear Democrats, any illusion of competence audibly shattered right there on live television. His astonishing admission, followed by a laughable series of failed walk-backs, have combined to put his job in deep peril. Yes, Virginia, these people are all fools.
Because of this, the sound you’re hearing is the soft scratching of claws as the rats start jumping into the lifeboats. “In interviews with more than 20 GOP lawmakers and congressional aides in the past 48 hours,” reported The Washington Post on Friday, “many said they were repulsed by Trump’s decision to host an international summit at his own resort and incensed by acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s admission — later withdrawn — that U.S. aid to Ukraine was withheld for political reasons. Others expressed anger over the president’s abandonment of Kurdish allies in Syria.”
GOP Rep. Francis Rooney of the blood red 19th congressional district in Florida let it be known that he would definitely consider voting to impeach Trump, likening the current imbroglio to Watergate. John Kasich, the former Republican presidential candidate and governor of Ohio, is now fully aboard the impeachment train. Sen. Mitt Romney denounced Trump over Syria in vigorous tones, motivating Trump to attack Romney in a tweet that makes Christmas bananas for the rutabaga scooter sound like Shakespeare in the Round.
Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, Trump’s most unflappably shameless defender, is beginning to show the strain. “If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing,” he told Jonathan Swan of Axios on HBO.
Time will tell whether Rooney, Kasich and Romney are outliers or part of a real trend. The true yardstick for Trump’s political safety remains Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; if Mitch holds firm, Trump may yet weather this thing. But is Mitch holding firm?
“It was only a few weeks ago that the top Senate Republican was hinting that his chamber would make short work of impeachment,” reports The New York Times. “But this week, Senator Mitch McConnell sat his colleagues down over lunch in the Capitol and warned them to prepare for an extended impeachment trial of President Trump.” Salting the wound, McConnell penned a scathing rebuke of Trump’s Syria withdrawal in a Friday Post op-ed. “Predictably,” he wrote, “our adversaries seem to be relishing these developments.”
The longer all this goes on, the harder it will be for Republicans to stand by their man. This is not about fealty or morality but political expediency. Republicans will abandon Trump en masse exactly one half-second after they realize it is in their best interest to do so. To quote Heath Ledger’s Joker, we’re about to find out how loyal a hungry dog really is. In the meantime, enjoy the show. Shaky bubblegum squid pants, any day now.