It’s been fun, but it’s about time for Republicans to admit that the great Donald Trump experiment isn’t going to work out—for them.
One hypothetical version of President Trump—the ideal version, for Republicans, and one that many convinced themselves he would become, given practice and training—is a new Reagan: a mouthpiece for the ideas and policies inserted into his empty head by members of an ascendant conservative movement riding his television-mastery to power. Surround this version of Trump with good party men like Reince Priebus and Mike Pence, and he takes care of entertaining the masses—and distracting the opposition—while true-believing conservatives actually run the country, enacting their entire agenda too forcefully and quickly for anyone to effectively fight them.
We could still get some twisted version of this, especially since Trump is still going to outsource all actual governing and policy decisions to others, but what Trump showed today, in his unhinged press conference, is how quickly and impetuously he can (and will) undermine and sabotage their efforts.
Another version of Trump—the nightmare for liberals and not one conservatives would welcome either—could be a second Nixon, with no real political philosophy, but a willingness to do anything to maintain his grip on power. Not just through unethical and criminal means, like the Watergate break-in or the sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks, but also in his willingness to do decidedly un-conservative things if they’d benefit him politically—like the wage and price controls he implemented, to great popular acclaim, in 1971. This is the model Steve Bannon likely hopes to emulate.
But Trump will fail to be either, and by now Republicans should recognize this. He’s too impetuous and narcissistic to be Reagan, and not smart enough to be Nixon. Half of his advisers will attempt to use him as a pitchman for conservative policy, the other half will attempt to use him to create and sustain a white nationalist international coalition, and he will instead tweet for hours about which celebrity slighted him this week. Trump will reject conservative ideas if he believes they will not be popular, but if Trump attempts to cynically abandon conservatism to maintain popularity, he will find that he has no clue how to go about doing actually popular things.
The end result won’t work for anyone. Successful corrupt right-wing populists generally tend to actually deliver tangible things to their bases of support. Trump will be unable to do this, and the Republican Party is too tied to its dead philosophy to help him. Ethno-nationalism needs welfare chauvinism to flourish, but today’s GOP might actually be too opposed to all forms of welfare (for the non-rich) to ensure their own political success.
Meanwhile, Republicans who hoped to use Trump as a useful idiot are already finding that he’s generally more of an actively destructive idiot. Whether or not he meant it sincerely enough to back it up with action, Trump has promised to protect social welfare programs Paul Ryan has been salivating at the opportunity to dismantle. Official Washington is already failing to maintain its hegemonic grip on foreign policy. Republicans are already flailing in their attempts to dismantle Obamacare, and Trump can’t help but screw up the messaging every time he discusses it.
If Republicans were smart—if they were a rational political party able to act in their own best interests—they’d impeach Trump as soon as possible. His bizarre performance today, and his brazenly inadequate response to the many very obvious conflicts of interest and opportunities for corrupt dealings that his administration will invite, give Republicans a perfectly acceptable rationale to do so. They can say it is for the good of the country, but the truth is that it would be for the good of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.