Trump Stays In The Picture

Donald Trump and his pet Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy.

The headline above is a riff on The Kid Stays in the Picture, which is a title of both an autobiography and a documentary about famed film producer Robert Evans. It refers to a moment when a studio head named Darryl Zanuck had Evans’ back when some of the actors in the 1957 film The Sun Also Rises wanted him removed from the cast.

He was a much better producer than actor.

In Trump’s case, he is not good at anything other than lying and grifting, but the comparison here is how people want him gone and well, that hasn’t happened. As a shadow player in last week’s speaker fiasco, Trump demonstrated that he still has his grubby little paws all over the Republican Party and we are not really near a post-Trump GOP.

After the midterms, all the VERY Serious Members of the DC Discourse assured us that the red wave becoming more like a red trickle would surely mean that Trump is finished, that more a reasoned-seeming candidate will surely supplant Trump. Even Nice Nerdy Smart Guy Ezra Klein, who seems to be slowly catching the New York Times Magical Thinking Disease, has fallen for this and floats that Lil Marco Rubio (!) could be the 2024 nominee.

Despite all this magical thinking (which seems to still be a thing these days from the punditry, as Cassandra points out), Little Trump Toady Kevin McCarthy prevailed as Speaker of the House. KevMac’s prize is becoming the weakest speaker in U.S. history. In fact, part of the deal was allowing a single member to force a vote to oust him.

The entire deal is bad for him. But that didn’t stop Kev pulling a Lindsey Graham and giving Trump a good ol’ ass-kissing soon after landing his speakership.

Yeah, you say, the problem is, Trump didn’t really win here because his boy is weak. That is very true. But keep in mind, this is not a clearer-heads-prevailed situation, at all. Trump/McCarthy were not fighting the Susan Collins “moderate” wing of the GOP, they were fighting people crazier than they are. The concessions that they got out of McCarthy gave a lot of power to people not in the center, but to his right.

This, in my opinion, gives some creedance to an observation that I have had over the last five years that the idea that if Trump went away, the GOP would “return” to reason is wishful thinking. If anything, Trumpism has become an idea that has outgrown the man and has spread deep in the inner workings of the GOP.

If indeed Trump runs for office in 2024, which is something we need to assume will happen until he cannot either through death or legal problems, his main opposition will not come from the center. It will come from the right. Ron DeSantis is not going to talk about himself as the voice of reason to contrast himself from Trump, he is going to talk about himself as the man who can follow through on the worst impulses of Trumpism with actual action. Trump’s doctrine of cruelty had its moments in real life, such as the immigration ban, but DeSantis has turned Florida into a horror show of hate by actually passing legislation. He can easily point to those “successes” and question whether Trump is the right man for the job.

The only way Trump can combat this is by moving even further to the right, and getting nasty. We saw last week just how nasty the GOP can get with other members, including a moment where it looked like Congress was about to transform into Friday Night Fights when Alabama Congresscreature Mike Rogers had to be physically restrained from attacking Congressional Creeper Matt Gaetz. Again, this was not a reasonable person enraged at Gaetz for being a right-winger, this was a guy viewing himself as a proxy for Trump who was pissed that Gaetz was blocking Trump’s guy.

So, where does that leave us, other than in a not-so-great place where we are facing two years of bullshit investigations and blocking progress? For one, it is quite clear that Trump has now become the GOP establishment. This version is quite different than the John Boehner GOP establishment of yore, where Beltway pundits could comfortably frame battles between the Boehner wing and the Tea Party wing as a fight between the “reasoned” Old Guard and pure crazy. This is going to be fight between who wants to Burn It All Down more.

I imagine that some of the Smartest Centrists of the Discourse will couch it that way and may even try to make Trump/McCarthy out to be the reasonable ones. These are, after all, the same people who keep being wrong, from Trump can’t win in 2016 to Mueller will sink Trump to Trump’s supporters won’t be violent after the 2020 election and so on. Why stop now.

But make no mistake, Trump is now the GOP establishment, and there is a wing of the party that includes at least 20 GOP Congressbeasts who do not seem to think Trump has gone far enough. No matter what happens, Trump is not finished and will likely be a factor in some manner over the next few years. Let’s hope that continues to be bad news for the far-right party of monsters that the GOP has become, and that their damage is limited.

With apologies to Sir Elton, the last word goes to Elton John.

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