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With Sessions out and the Senate secured, Donald Trump is remaking the GOP in his image

The gains suggest that Trump’s victory in 2016 was not a fluke

November 7, 2018

2:59 PM

7 November 2018

2:59 PM

As soon as Donald Trump says ‘I’ll be honest,’ which he did at his press conference today, you know he’s about to tell a lie. The media, he proclaimed, ‘really does bring disunity.’ No, it doesn’t. What it brings is coverage of his administration rather than the beatification that he craves. Trump’s performance was more than ordinarily intemperate. He was clearly nettled by CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s questions about the Russia investigation, deeming him ‘a rude, terrible person’ who behaves in an ungentlemanly fashion toward his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. After NBC reporter Peter Alexander tried to defend Acosta, Trump barked, ‘Well, I’m not a big fan of yours either.’

Trump oscillated between genuflections toward bipartisanship and issuing threats about prosecuting Democrats in the Senate for allegedly leaking classified information and doing other bad things. What they were he did not say. He simply tried to let the threat linger in the air and stated that he would adopt a ‘warlike posture.’ Nancy Pelosi, who is the incoming Speaker of the House, is unlikely to be cowed by Trump’s belligerence. If Trump cannot handle the press corps without blowing his top, it’s an open question whether he can cope with the House Democrats getting up in his grill on a daily basis. Trump, who has only a hazy conception of how Congress actually functions, will soon discover that they can harass and torment his administration in ways that he cannot even conceive.

No matter how much Trump recited statistics attesting to the grand performance of the GOP under his leadership in the midterms, he couldn’t wave away the fact that the GOP surrendered the House to the Democrats. He can blame Paul Ryan. He can mock Mia Love for not showing him enough loving. But the truth is that the cosseted first two years of the Trump presidency are over and his little project of recreating Orbánism in the US have come to a crashing halt. With Adam Schiff running the House Intelligence Committee, Trump and his dealings with Russia, past and current, will be subjected to forensic scrutiny. In addition, the Mueller report seems likely to land soon. The Democrats may seek to request Trump’s tax records. Robert Mueller probably has them. ‘I could fire everybody right now, but I don’t want to stop it because politically I don’t like stopping it,’ Trump said. ‘It’s a disgrace. It should never have been started, because there is no crime.’

The GOP’s gains in the Senate will probably embolden Trump. The gains suggest that Trump’s victory in 2016 was not a fluke. He reassembled his base in red states to help knock off key Democrats. His nativism worked, within limits, to shore up the Senate even as it eroded Republican prospects in suburbs. His loathed Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned at his request today, and now Trump can divest himself of Defense Secretary James Mattis. He is likely to take a tougher line with America’s allies abroad. There will be no John McCain, Bob Corker or Jeff Flake to remonstrate with him. Instead, he will have faithful retainers such as Marsha Blackburn in the Senate, vouching for the brilliance of his each and every move, at home and abroad. The GOP has been molded in Trump’s image.

But there is no gainsaying that the Democrats made big advances last night. They claimed the governorships of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan — key states for rebuilding the political wall that Democrats have relied upon. Reclaiming the House means that the Democrats are back in the game in Washington. Had they lost their bid, the party would have been crushed at the national level. As Greg Sargent observes, the myth that Democrats cannot compete with Trump was shattered last night: ‘Trump really is deeply unpopular, and that translated into a large rebuke at the polls, in the form of the Democratic takeover of the House, which was driven by a widespread desire for a check on his presidency.’

The stakes for 2020 could not be clearer. Trump will not be able to claim the rustbelt states without a serious fight. No Democrat will replicate the mistakes that Hillary Clinton committed in 2016 of blithely assuming that they would obediently march into the Democratic column. Like not a few presidents before him, Trump, who is jetting off to Paris for the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, may soon discover that he prefers traveling abroad to the trench warfare that awaits him in the capital of the free world.

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