The fake resistance inside the Trump administration
The resistance to President Trump has spread to inside the White House itself — or so claims the anonymous author of a remarkable New York Times op-ed.
This unnamed "senior official" in the Trump administration heralds these self-declared "unsung heroes" who "have gone to great lengths" to thwart a president described as "impetuous, adversarial, petty, and ineffective." Without the resistance inside the White House, he suggests, we'd all be screwed.
This bombshell op-ed was just one part of this week's endless palace intrigue from the Trump administration. There's also the looming publication of a Bob Woodward book detailing yet more shocking stories of incompetence, paranoia, and petulance inside the administration. Woodward, too, relied on the anonymous testimony of current and former administration officials to share the straight dope on Trump with the American public. These leakers and resisters clearly think they're performing some sort of public service by whispering to us from behind their veils of anonymity.
What a crock.
If there were real organized resistance to Trump within the administration or the Republican Party more broadly, these people would be doing dramatically more than they are. If they really believe Trump is a danger to the nation and world — and he is — it should hardly be a mystery what to do about it.
1. Get rid of Trump — before the 2020 election
There are two clear methods here. The first is impeachment, by which a majority of the House of Representatives votes to bring charges against the president for "high crimes and misdemeanors," two-thirds of the Senate votes to convict, and he is removed from office. Most people take it as a given that cowardly, party line-toeing GOP members of the House and Senate would never vote to dump Trump. But if they actually care about America, and see Trump as a genuine danger to it, it's time to, as pompously "principled" Beltway observers like to say, put country above party.
The second is the 25th Amendment, under which the vice president and a majority of Cabinet officers can submit a written declaration that the president is unfit to hold office. The president can submit a counter-declaration that he can hold office, but the vice president and Cabinet can override that with yet another declaration. Congress must then consider the matter. If both the House and Senate provide a two-thirds vote affirming the vice president and Cabinet, then the president is removed and replaced by the vice president.
Again, everyone assumes GOP lawmakers and administration officials would never do such a thing. But why? If the president is so bad that they'll trash him to anyone who will listen, patting themselves on the back in the pages of The New York Times for quietly "resisting" him, why don't they grow a spine and actually get rid of him? They are perfectly capable of doing so, should they choose to.
2. Quit and join the opposition
If there is not enough internal unity among Republican lawmakers to remove Trump — say, because too many of them fear the wrath of Trump's base — those who are still in possession of a conscience have another logical option: Resign and join the organized opposition.
High-profile resignations for reasons of conscience are usually a major political blow, while joining the opposition empowers the forces that could topple a bad leader. This is why so many political observers take umbrage at the mild criticisms leveled at Trump by Republican senators like Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and Ben Sasse. Schoolmarmishly sighing about the president on Twitter is meaningless. If you truly oppose him, join the opposition.
This needn't mean an abandonment of conservative principles (which Trump obviously doesn't understand or care about anyway). For a virtuous citizen convinced that a head of state is unfit for office, alignment with the political opposition makes perfect sense. Once that president is gone, typical political competition can resume.
3. Undermine him from the inside
This option is basically internal political sabotage — refusing to carry out orders, sowing dissent and mistrust, and generally throwing sand in the gears of government. That does not remove the bad leader, but at least it can slow him down a bit.
This latter option is what the anonymous author of the Times op-ed claims the internal resistance is doing. And indeed, Bob Woodward says in his new book that on at least a couple occasions, top administration staff have directly disobeyed Trump's commands or otherwise undermined his leadership. Then-economic adviser Gary Cohn reportedly swiped a letter (of which Woodward has a copy) authorizing a withdrawal from a trade deal with South Korea off Trump's desk. On another occasion, Trump reportedly harangued Secretary of Defense James Mattis with demands to assassinate Syria's Bashar al-Assad. Mattis ignored him and conducted a couple limited airstrikes instead. Because Trump apparently has little if any object permanence, he quickly forgot about both events.
Look, it's good that these things happened. But this type of resistance strategy is much better suited to a dictatorship than a constitutional republic. If there is no legal or constitutional method for removing a bad leader, or it may be dangerous to criticize him openly, then going the termite strategy might be the best option.
But the United States does have constitutional mechanisms, as outlined above. The Times op-ed argues that invoking the 25th Amendment would "precipitate a constitutional crisis." In reality, impeachment and the 25th Amendment are the constitutional mechanisms expressly designed to deal with someone like Trump. Refusing to pull those levers and instead undermining the president from within through (supposed) insubordination can constitute an actual constitutional crisis.
Disobeying the duly-elected president may be moral in some cases, but it is clearly not how the Constitution is supposed to work.
Moreover, it is far from clear that whoever wrote this op-ed is doing much of anything to meaningfully resist Trump. The same goes for the supposed "heroes" of Woodward's book. Maybe Mattis stopped the president from assassinating Assad, but he is doing nothing to stop the president from committing untold numbers of other moral atrocities.
Most fundamentally, if this Times op-ed writer were really so concerned as to undermine Trump from the inside, then what in God's name is he or she doing publicizing that effort in the biggest newspaper in the land? Trump has already gotten very angry and accelerated efforts to purge his administration of any shred of disloyalty. This person — who just put a giant target on everyone's back, to the point where a Republican senator is now floating the idea of putting staffers through lie detector tests — is either being dishonest about his motives or is incredibly stupid.
It's almost as though the Republican Party elite is attempting to pocket the tax breaks and deregulation they're getting out of Trump, while setting the stage for a quick rebrand if and when his presidency finally folds in on itself. "It wasn't me," they'll say, nimbly sidestepping a prison filled with screaming children stolen from their parents. "I was fighting on the inside."