Schrodinger’s Trump

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters following a meeting of his coronavirus task force in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on April 6, 2020. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
April 22, 2020 2:20 p.m.

One of the enduring features of the early Obama administration and the 2008/2009 global financial crisis was how quickly the Republican party pivoted to being the chief critic of efforts to clean up the mess their incumbent President and party had in many respects created. Suddenly the GOP barely knew George W. Bush and the 43rd President was retrospectively rebranded as the exponent of something called ‘big government conservatism’ that the GOP absolutely had nothing to do with and had never truly supported. Months into office Barack Obama was the spendthrift leading the country toward hyperinflation, decadence and ruin.

Six weeks ago I mentioned that it was now conceivable that for the second time in a generation a Democratic President – and perhaps a Democratic Congress – could come to power in January 2021 charged with picking up the pieces for a financial collapse on the GOP watch. Suddenly deficits which haven’t mattered for three years will matter again with a vengeance when it’s Democrats doing the spending.

We don’t know what the result of the November election will be. But what is remarkable is how Republicans and actually Trump himself haven’t even waited for Trump to be driven from office. Trump is now both the head of state saving the country from the global pandemic and the hidden leader of the resistance to pandemic overreach and the forces which destroyed the best economy in the history of the universe. He is both fearless leader and embodiment of the state and rebel commander goading supporters to ‘liberate’ their country.

The Trump administration has always had similar features: Trump both leads the government often remains out of sync with or rebelling against many of the people he has appointed to run the government. He coddles and kowtows to Russia while his actual national security appointees pursue policies within the bipartisan consensus. The Ukraine scandal which got Trump impeached last year was in many ways caused by his for once definitively crossing these wires, not letting them move forward in parallel. The disconnect is simply more jarring and intense amidst of a global pandemic and financial crisis. Is he a high level hostage of the Deep State or the cunning operator planning its overthrow?

Governors who are holding the line against a premature reopening of society are sometimes pointing out that they are actually operating in line with the guidelines President Trump himself has at least nominally promulgated. But Trump’s partisans know instinctively, if only because he says so so often, that Trump doesn’t support them at all. Or rather, that he supports them when he does and not when he doesn’t, whenever it is situationally convenient to do so.

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