Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Earlier this morning I wrote that the 2018 election may be the last chance to save American democracy, if Trump does the unthinkable and the Republican Congress refuses to hold him accountable.

The smart money says that Republicans will absolutely refuse to move against Trump. There has been almost no public break in the wall of silence that has greeted the Trump Administration’s increasingly alarming transgressions. If Republicans failed to draw a line in the sand when Trump fired Comey, they will almost certainly cave on principle if Trump pressures Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller, or fires Rosenstein and replaces him with someone who will.

Meanwhile, Trump has already shown zero interest in policy. He has, in Grover Norquist’s immortal words, enough working digits to sign whatever legislation the Republican Congress gives him. Whatever populist policy instincts Trump and Bannon might have had on the campaign trail, they were either never genuine or they no similarly aligned policy wonks to help them put those instincts into legal practice. Which means that the Trump Administration has fully outsourced its policy agenda to Paul Ryan, much to the consternation of the racists, nationalists and even economic policy moderates who helped put Trump in power. But that suits the Republican Congress fine.

But even all that said, one has to wonder just how much of this chaos the GOP will tolerate.

The Trump Administration is moving to a full political war footing. This was supposed to be “Made in America Week.” Instead, it turned into “Will Trump Create an Authoritarian Regime” week. The ongoing political damage from the investigations are making it impossible for the White House to generate positive news coverage for its initiatives. We are now six months into total Republican control of the federal government, and aside from installing a stolen Supreme Court justice, Republicans have very little to show for it.

Trump’s total ignorance of policy is also a serious impediment. At a time when Senate Republicans are agonizing over a dying healthcare bill, Trump is claiming publicly that health insurance for young people costs $12 per year. As best as anyone can tell, that seems to be because of low-price life insurance advertisements running on Fox News. This isn’t just an embarrassment. It also means that Congressmembers cannot count on an effective bully pulpit to pass legislation. Legislators also know that Trump will readily throw them under the bus at the first opportunity. He’ll demand a “win,” celebrate partial legislation in the Rose Garden, then insult it and call it “mean” when he gets an inkling of what is in it. He’ll demand that others walk the plank for him so that he can win a couple of news cycles, but will take no responsibility for what he signs when the backlash erupts.

And then, of course, there’s the long-term damage to the party and its brand. Trump may remain popular with his most ardent fans in the GOP base, but everyone else in the electorate has soured on him or gone white hot with rage. Trump’s popularity is now the lowest in history for a president at this point in his term. Democrats failed in the years after Obama took office to hold Republicans to account as the party of George W. Bush, but they will not be likely to make the same mistake again.

If the Trump/McConnell healthcare legislation dies ignominiously as it seems likely to, thus jeopardizing tax reform and other GOP economic priorities, then Republicans are staring down the barrel of two years in full control of the government in which they managed to accomplish almost nothing of significance. Will they accept that? Will their donors?

Probably. The danger from the Trump supporters in their base and the conservative media establishment, should they oppose the president and impeach him, is still probably greater. But they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. There may come a point when even Republicans in Congress decide that enough is enough, and that it’s safer to pass closer to the angry hounds of their base than to drown in Trump’s widening whirlpool.

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Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.