The Question That Could Make or Break the Republican Party

As I noted recently, Trump’s complaints about presidential harassment demonstrate that he is shameless. After all, they emanate from the same man who relentlessly harassed Barack Obama with birtherism and other lies as a way to launch himself onto the national political scene.

Max Boot has written an interesting column suggesting that shamelessness is Trump’s superpower, with his cries about being the victim of presidential harassment topping the list of examples. Boot provides several other instances in which Trump demonstrated his shamelessness and, honestly, the list could be endless. He sums it all up with this:

Unlike the rest of us, [Trump] is not hobbled by fact, consistency or logic. Hypocrisy is a concept as alien to him as Kryptonite. He simply says or tweets the first thing that comes into his head without worrying about how what he just said can be squared with his previous utterances or actions. If he thought too long about any of these things, he would be crippled by self-doubt — and then he would just be another failed real estate speculator.

My only issue with Boot’s analysis is that calling Trump’s shamelessness a superpower eliminates an inquiry into how it can become a liability. I understand why Boot went there. Dealing with someone who is shameless is perhaps the most frustrating encounter we can have with another human being. It literally makes you want to pull your hair out. They are immune to reality and any sense of accountability. No matter what you say or what evidence you provide, they find a way to lie and obfuscate in order to avoid even a hint of self-doubt. If your aim is to get through to them, that can feel like a superpower.

The big liability that comes with shamelessness is the inability to acknowledge mistakes, which is the first step to learning. That is precisely why I have suggested, from the beginning, that Trump will never get better, only worse.

The facts are that Trump and Republicans just recently experienced a major loss in the 2018 midterms. But rather than admitting that, the president ignored the fact that his party no longer has a majority in the House. He only sees the gains they made in the Senate. Due to that self-imposed blindness, Trump is simply doubling down on a losing strategy of vilifying immigrants to justify his vanity project of building a wall on our southern border. It is clear that he is in the process of losing that battle as well, but he won’t admit it.

While I am no fan of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a recent report about a conference call he held with Republican donors provides us with an example of an alternative.

Speaking privately to his donors, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy squarely blamed Republican losses in last year’s midterm elections on the GOP push to roll back health insurance protections for people with preexisting conditions — and in turn blamed his party’s right flank.

McCarthy’s comments, made in a Feb. 6 conference call from which The Washington Post obtained partial recordings, represent a vindication of Democratic efforts to elevate health care as an issue in last year’s campaign.

That is an accurate assessment from McCarthy. To demonstrate what he learned from that, he said, ““If you’ll notice, we haven’t done anything when it comes to repealing Obamacare this time.”

I suspect that McCarthy has a long way to go in admitting to the mistakes he and Republicans are making, like passing tax cuts that were focused on the wealthy and are increasingly unpopular. But to the extent that his admission about health care points to an ability to learn from mistakes, it will be interesting to watch if that can extend to his unqualified support for Trump. As the president continues to dig his hole even deeper, is there any point at which reality kicks in and allows for recalibration?

We can rest assured that Donald Trump is not capable of engaging in a learning process because his delusional narcissism makes him utterly shameless. But is that also true of congressional Republicans? We’re likely to get an answer to that question over the next two years, one that could make or break the Republican Party.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.