The Unsinkable Scott Pruitt?

The right doesn’t care how many people will be harmed by Pruitt’s actions as EPA Administrator.

If there’s one thing right-wingers love, it’s spite.

Conservatives crave sticking their middle fingers in the faces of their real or perceived ideological adversaries. To that end, one can’t help wondering if the reason Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt—surely among the top five names on any list of the most corrupt Cabinet members in United States history—still has a job is because Trump knows that Pruitt’s continued presence in his position serves as a constant irritant to progressives. Pruitt’s real job is not necessarily to roll back President Obama’s efforts on climate; it’s to tick off Al Gore and Bill McKibben, and so long as Pruitt continues to do so, he’ll remain a charter member of the Trump team–even if Trump professes to be displeased by some of Pruitt’s actions.

Pruitt clearly feels he has carte blanche to do whatever he wants—shake down companies to get a job for his wife, lean on subordinates to help his daughter get a White House summer internship, build a cone of silence in his office, even pressure employees to drive him from hotel to hotel to find his favorite moisturizing lotion (the mind reels at the thought of what he did with all that lotion). Trump knows that Pruitt’s mere presence is enough to antagonize climate hawks. It’s all about the spite, nothing more and nothing less.

Would a changing of the guard in the House and Senate this fall lead to Pruitt’s demise? To quote the old song from Porgy and Bess, it ain’t necessarily so. Yes, it’s true that Pruitt’s predecessor in perversity, Reagan-era EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford, hit the road shortly after the 1982 midterm elections, as Democrats scrutinized her sleaziness to such an extent that she became a profound political liability for the 40th President. However, even if Democrats win the House and/or Senate and turn the investigative heat up on Pruitt, it’s not at all clear that Pruitt would ever step down—or that Trump would force him out. Even if a Democratic Congress were to uncover examples of explicit criminality, Trump would likely keep him on board as a form of trolling.

Keep in mind that Trump’s fanbase likely views news reports of Pruitt’s corruption as media inventions, the fictions of “warmists” mad at Pruitt for rejecting Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental views. Pruitt has now become a culture-war figure on the right, a symbol of the fight against the “war on coal” and “job-killing regulations.” If Trumpism is a religion, then Pruitt is a profoundly influential cardinal.

That’s why it’s hard to take at face value conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru’s suggestion that the right is losing faith in Pruitt:

[C]onservative support for Pruitt is waning. Republican lawmakers, including very conservative ones, are starting to express their unhappiness with Pruitt on the record. Matt Lewis wrote a scathing article about him that noted that other conservative commentators are abandoning him. I spoke to one conservative leader who signed a letter in early April supporting Pruitt in an earlier phase of his scandals; he says he would not do it today. Two other signers expressed frustration with Pruitt’s continued misbehavior. (He still has the strong support of others.)

And he always will, even if Laura Ingraham and some aggrieved members of Trump’s base want Pruitt gone. Right-wingers, “never-Trump” or otherwise, scorn federal environmental regulation and people who believe that such regulation serves the public interest. The right doesn’t care how many people will be harmed by Pruitt’s actions as EPA Administrator. In the conservative mind, those who will suffer from air, water and carbon pollution don’t really matter. All that matters is Pruitt’s ability to Escalate Progressive Antagonism.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.