I know the first rule of is politics is “don’t punch down.” In this case, using space at Washington Monthly to respond to rightwing talking points at Townhall seems in some ways like a waste of time. But there is a widespread meme on the right that the ongoing isolation and neutering of the Trump Administration constitutes a form of illegitimate coup against the rightly elected President of the United States. Today’s piece by Derek Hunter is a good example of the genre, and it’s worth addressing briefly here.
Of course, it’s not a coup. It’s understandable why it may seem that way to some Trump supporters. The President was elected as an outsider. The Democrats don’t like him, and the establishment Republican Party doesn’t really like him, either. He came in with few friends or real connections in the Beltway. So when various elements of the media, party and government infrastructures seem to be trying to fight him off like a bad infection, it’s easy to see why some of Trump’s backers would feel cheated out of the presidency they fought to enable in spite of widespread opposition from the establishments of both parties.
But politics remains a game of coalitions, and as it turns out, Trump is a fantastically poor manager, negotiator, diplomat and politician. He may well have been able to cobble together a Republican primary win and then an electoral college bank shot through appeals to some combination of racial resentments and economic anxiety, but he hasn’t managed to put together a governing coalition.
Trump could have done this. Even if he lacked the intelligence and policy acumen himself to be respected by Washington’s policy apparatus, he could have hired the best people as he promised he would and allowed them to do their work. He could have actually staffed agencies and made appointments, rather than disrespecting and turning them all against him. He could have tried to institute culture changes in various organizations without coming across as dangerously inept and ignorant of what they do.
Even more important, Trump could have actually governed as the both-sides populist he campaigned as. Had Trump actually pushed for big infrastructure spending and taxes on hedge fund managers in combination with some of the more popular elements of right-wing populism, he would have become quite formidable politically. He would have deepened fractures on the left while sidelining the Romney wing on the right. He would have made many enemies, but he would also have made many friends, and he would have passed parts of his agenda and had “wins” to show for it.
But he didn’t do that. He played up the very worst and most racist elements of his platform, while ditching nearly all the economic components that made him palatable to those who just wanted their jobs and factories back. Instead of expanding access to healthcare and making it better and cheaper as he promised, he turned over his healthcare agenda to Paul Ryan, then repeatedly insulted all the Republican legislators who tried to pass it. Internally, his White House has been such a chaotic mess that military leaders are afraid to leave him alone with the red telephone.
Democrats refuse to work with him, and for good reason. Republicans have no reason to walk the plank for him. His staff have no reason to be loyal to him. The federal bureaucracies certainly have no reason to love him. And the public has no incentive to be patient with him.
If it seems like Trump has no friends left, it’s because at this point he kind of doesn’t. But that’s not the result of some sort of nefarious coup. That’s his own fault.