In the last weeks, some liberal commentators have shown satisfaction as they have described how President Trump “doubled down” on his attacks on immigrants as the mid-term elections approached. While they appropriately and undoubtedly genuinely abhor his stoking of prejudices and fear mongering, they claimed surprise – and in some cases, apparently were surprised — at his strategy, which seemed likely to alienate moderate voters in the “swing” House districts that the Republicans need to retain control of the House of Representatives even as it bound the President’s fervent supporters more tightly to him. Many came to speculate that since the polls indicated that the House was very likely to fall under Democratic control (today, we’ll see how accurate the polls were), Mr. Trump shaped his message to do what he could to ensure that the Republicans maintained their current advantage in the Senate. Mr. Trump himself has suggested that this was his objective.
Say what you will about the President – and I’ve obviously said my share – he is bright, possessed of an uncanny intuition about popular reaction to him, and savvy. I wonder, in what is admittedly the purest of speculation, if Mr. Trump really cares that much whether the Senate remains in Republican hands in January; I consider him, as I’ve mentioned in previous notes, a brilliant showman who knows that a good show needs a worthy antagonist. Whether he has one House of Congress or both bedeviling him might make little difference to him, since there is seemingly no chance that there will be 67 Senate votes in the next Congress to remove him from office, no matter what the House does.
I would offer that the goal that the President might have been primarily seeking to achieve through his campaign rhetoric is to harden his base against the evidence in the Special Counsel report widely expected to be issued not long after Election Day. I suspect that most Americans, whether they support or oppose Mr. Trump, expect the Mueller Team to issue a report which will include fairly damning particulars incriminating senior members of the President’s staff, including his son and son-in-law, and perhaps the President himself. (Given the email string Donald Trump, Jr., has admitted to relating to the senior campaign staff’s Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives in the summer before the election, it’s hard to envision that Messrs. Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner won’t be charged with something.)
Perhaps the overriding impression one gained from Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury (it was released only 10 months ago, but it seems like a decade ago), was that Mr. Trump never intended or wanted to be President; that the campaign was an immense publicity venture intended to further his business and media interests. (Some credence for this is provided by the behavior of some of the nationally-experienced leaders in the campaign, such as Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, who presumably would have behaved more circumspectly than they did had they thought that Mr. Trump might actually win.) If this was Mr. Trump’s true campaign goal, it does not seem unreasonable to assume that it might remain so. If such is the case, he may have concluded that his and his family members’ ability to escape this endeavor unscathed and to reap the harvest that their efforts have wrought lies in convincing a substantial part of the electorate – through his own efforts and those of his megaphone, Fox News and the rest of the alt-right conservative media — that no matter what is presented against them by Mr. Mueller’s team or other authorities, it’s a “lie,” “fake news,” “biased,” and “rigged”; that black is white.
As anyone that reads these pages is aware, I believe that the President and his cohort habitually lie and distort facts for their benefit, while I consider the mainstream media – unquestionably given to nit-picking, hyperventilation, and liberal coloring – to have generally had the better part of describing what the facts actually are. That said, what might be the most disturbing aspect of our current national condition is that too many of our people seem to almost wantonly cling to what they want to believe. The President’s obvious fabrications and racially-tinged messages over the last couple of years have kept me hoping that a substantial part of his base would come to see his demagoguery for what it is. That hasn’t happened – indeed, his supporters seem more avid now than they were the day he took office. This trend will certainly help Mr. Trump and his family weather any coming storm from the Mueller investigation, but his behavior has eroded and I fear will in the future further eat away at our capacity to agree upon truth, value compromise, and respect the input of all well-intended citizens. If we cannot together figure out a way re-embrace these principles, our system will cease to flourish. Today’s results – in terms of both outcomes and the level of turnout among various segments of our electorate – will provide us a measure of the size of the task we as a nation face starting … tomorrow.