Since he works for the “failing” New York Times, I don’t imagine that Ross Douthat has much juice with Trump supporters, although he probably has somewhat more influence with the Capitol Hill crowd. He’s reflective, at least, of a small subsection of the conservative movement that has only recently become truly uncomfortable with the modern Republican Party. I can’t say that what he thinks and writes doesn’t matter at all, in other words. He’s representative of a class of people who ran the GOP until very recently. They have wealth. They either buy ink by the barrel or get paid by those who do. They know how to operate in the corridors of power. What they don’t seem to know anymore is how to win a Republican primary.
And based on what Douthat wrote today, they’re ready for Trump to be removed from power either through impeachment or by Trump’s cabinet invoking Section 4 of the 25th Amendment on the basis of the president’s mental incapacity.
Referring to Trump’s war on his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, Douthat writes:
So it’s basically madness all the way to the top: bad policy, bad strategy, bad politics, bad legal maneuvering, bad optics, a self-defeating venture carried out via deranged-as-usual tweets and public insults.
He then approvingly cites a dated piece by Megan McArdle in which she makes the case that George W. Bush would have been removed under the 25th Amendment if he had suddenly begun acting like Trump at some point during his second term:
…the only possible explanation for such a quick succession of stunning lapses in judgment would be a severe stroke, an aggressive brain tumor or some other neurological disaster that had rendered [Bush] unfit to continue in office, at least until it could be treated. I don’t even think this would be controversial, even among his supporters. “Poor fellow,” they’d murmur, “the strain of the office has destroyed his health. He has given more than his life for his country.” Time to let him rest and heal while someone else shoulders his Sisyphean burdens.
And then Douthat concludes:
Trump hasn’t had a stroke or suffered a neurological disaster, and his behavior in the White House is no different from the behavior he manifested consistently while winning enough votes to take the presidency.
But he is nonetheless clearly impaired, gravely deficient somewhere at the intersection of reason and judgment and conscience and self-control. Pointing this out is wearying and repetitive, but still it must be pointed out.
You can be as loyal as Jeff Sessions and still suffer the consequences of that plain and inescapable truth: This president should not be the president, and the sooner he is not, the better.
I, of course, wholeheartedly agree with all of this, but I think we really do ourselves a disservice if we focus on sideshows like his treatment of Sessions. I know full well that underneath the Sessions insanity is some kind of panic and desire to avoid legal scrutiny, and that this controversy has the most immediate potential to cause a constitutional crisis. But it’s Trump’s insanity that is the real reason he should be removed. It’s the risk involved in having him handle our nuclear weapons and be responsible for dealing with the nuclear weapons and ICBM’s under development in North Korea. It’s a close look at how he’s going about setting our policy in Afghanistan based on 19th-Century ideas about colonial exploitation of mineral resources and claiming the spoils of war. The man is nuttier than a Snickers Bar, and a real live demonstration of The Emperor Wears No Clothes fable. I don’t care that he routinely incriminates himself. In fact, that makes it easier to make the case for removing him. What I care about is that he’s in charge of the largest and most lethal arsenal ever assembled on Earth, and no human being can safely trust him with that responsibility.
I’m glad that Douthat and his ideological kin see things largely the same way that I do, but I wish they’d make their argument more urgently and with more focus and punch.