Alone on Trump Island
Does America's president have any friends left in Washington?
President Trump must be feeling awfully lonely.
Six months into his presidency, his approval rating is at an all-time low, even according to the most right-leaning of pollsters, which isn't a big deal unless you're the kind of person who's fanatically devoted to tracking your own poll numbers and trumpeting them on Twitter with minimal self-awareness. The Democratic Party, which Trump pledged to work with on issues like trade and infrastructure, has never been more united, arguably even under President Obama, than in opposition to his administration. Vast swathes of the media regard the president as a bigot and a likely traitor whose every utterance should be interpreted according to a kind of hermeneutic of suspicion. (It must be said that Trump has brought much of this upon himself through incompetence, inaction, unkept promises, and cartoonish lies.)
Trump cannot rouse his own party in Congress to pass a bill replacing the Affordable Care Act or funding infrastructure projects or enacting tax reform. He does not have a close working relationship with either House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Members of the party's hard right wing think he is a squish (and not just the ones whose fathers he accused of helping to assassinate JFK), while moderates like Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have rarely had a kind word for him (often with good reason).
And it's not just Congress. Trump apparently cannot get Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to declare China a "currency manipulator," an action that was one of the hallmarks of his campaign. He cannot even convince Jeff Sessions, his hand-picked attorney general and the first Republican in Washington to have endorsed him, to hocus-pocus away the inconvenient investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Trump is clearly angry about all of this, especially Sessions' seeming dereliction of what Trump considers his duty to support the president at all costs in defiance of all legal and procedural norms. It is strange for a sitting president to criticize the actions of a member of his Cabinet openly, as he recently did seemingly without much in the way of prompting, in an interview with The New York Times in which he referred to Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation as "unfair." Trump even suggested that it if he had known that the recusal was in the cards, he would never have offered Sessions the position. How isolated from your own attorney general do you have to be to start dumping on him in an interview with a newspaper whose sole mission you believe to be the manufacture of "fake news" meant to undermine you and your presidency?
Trump's criticism didn't end with childish complaints about what's "unfair to the president." He is making no secret of his contempt for Robert Mueller, the special counsel heading up the Russia investigation, or his view that his position should not exist in the first place. He is seemingly on bad terms with H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, as well. The president has dismissed him as a "pain" and overly chatty; Trump ignores his advice, leaves him out of meetings, and screams at him. James "Mad Dog" Mattis, his defense secretary, a man who is not exactly well known for mincing his words, is going out of his way not to defend any action taken by the administration with which he does not explicitly agree. Even Vice President Mike Pence seems aloof, comfortable trying to get a hearing for parts of Trump's legislative agenda among his former colleagues in Congress, but totally unwilling to get his hands dirty by speaking up about Russia.
At least he and Pence were able to go to Mnuchin's third wedding together.
Whom does that leave firmly in the pro-Trump camp? Melania? Ivanka? Don Jr.? Jared Kushner? Trump's 6-year-old granddaughter?
None of this can be a recipe for success at home or abroad. The president cannot live alone on Trump Island. He needs allies and advisers whom he trusts and who trust him. Even Richard Nixon, the most paranoid, bile-filled reactionary of modern times, had friends in the White House and in Congress, and he would have died before bringing internal squabbles voluntarily to the attention of his enemies in the media.
The Nats are still hot. Maybe somebody should take the president to a ballgame.