The GOP went all in on Trump. How's that going for them?
Not well. Not well at all.
When the Donald Trump presidency comes to an end — in 2021, 2025, or who knows when (maybe next month?) — every Republican will confront some hard questions about their own complicity. Perhaps by then the disasters many predicted won't have come true, and the incidents that today are so frightening will in retrospect look overblown or even comical. Or perhaps we'll be standing on the smoldering ruins of what once was America. Either way, the people who aided and abetted President Trump’s rise to power will have to ask themselves: Was what I got out of supporting Trump worth it?
It was always a risk — both that he might lose in 2016, and then that his presidency could go terribly. But the possibility that worried Republicans most was that Trump would be ideologically unreliable. With his history of selecting issue positions seemingly at random (at times he had been in favor of abortion rights and gun control, among other things), his utter lack of interest in policy, and his populist rhetoric, many Republicans were unsure whether he'd be there for them when it counted.
It turns out that ideology should have been the least of their worries. But that hardly means Republicans are thrilled with the Trump presidency so far.
The president certainly got praise from establishment Republicans for his new "strategy" on Afghanistan (which essentially amounts to "do the same thing we've been doing for 16 years and then hand it off to the next president”). On the legislative front, however, it's been a disaster. There hasn't been a single significant bill passed and signed by this president. The worst disappointment, of course, was the failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the responsibility for that certainly lies with Congress. But could a different president — one who knew something about the issue, who didn't contradict his party leaders and promise things they couldn't deliver whenever he opened his mouth, who understood how to wrangle votes and not alienate members of Congress — have been able to shepherd it through to completion? We'll never know for sure, but it seems possible.
And how about the executive branch? There are bright spots for Republicans, like the Environmental Protection Agency, which Administrator Scott Pruitt has turned into a crusader for the cause of increasing pollution and gutting government oversight, or the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where Secretary Ben Carson has undertaken a project of malign neglect that shows what someone determined to destroy government from the inside can accomplish. At the Department of Health and Human Services, Secretary Tom Price is working hard to sabotage ObamaCare, with some success. However, Trump has shown little interest in actually running the government, as evidenced not only by the chaos in his White House but by the fact that, according to The Washington Post's nomination tracker, he hasn't even bothered to nominate anyone to fill 368 of the 591 key posts in the federal government. Tales of empty hallways and dispirited agencies abound.
And then there's the question of what Trump is doing to his party and the conservative movement. The steady stream of controversies, shocking statements, and infantile outbursts do not exactly convey the impression that the GOP is a responsible governing party that can be trusted to do right by the public. Having a president with approval ratings in the 30s is never good for a party, and Republicans now spend much of their time trying to avoid questions about the president they're following.
In addition, it's fair to say that if an ordinary Republican had become president — someone like Marco Rubio or John Kasich — we wouldn't be seeing anything like the enormous liberal mobilization that has taken place to counter Trump. There would have been a reaction, because there always is; the opposition party becomes angry at the president, which spurs some organizing and boosts its turnout in the midterm elections. But what we're seeing now on the left is unprecedented. Indivisible, the organization formed after the 2016 election, now claims an astonishing 6,000-plus local groups. Before this year, the largest number of women who had reached out to the pro-choice group EMILY's List for help running for office in one election cycle was 920; so far this year they've had over 16,000 women contact them saying they want to run for something.
We don't know yet whether that will produce a wave election in 2018 that sweeps Democrats into control of the House and ousts large numbers of Republican governors. But there's little question that Democrats are in a better position now to reverse their losses of recent years than they would have been if a different Republican were president, and an entire generation of liberal activists and candidates has been energized and motivated to get involved. That may wind up being the most lasting political effect of this presidency — and it's one Republicans probably didn't count on when they made their choice to stand behind Donald Trump.