|JABIN BOTSFORD / THE WASHINGTON POST|
Today's riff is on a recurring theme: Has Donald Trump finally reached his breaking point?
It was inevitable that things would go badly for Trump, a deeply corrupt reality TV star and faux billionaire who scratched the compliant Republican Party tummy and, with considerable help from Russia, social media and quirks of the Electoral College, backed into a presidency for which he is profoundly unqualified.
Nowhere is Trump's disqualification more apparent than his overarching ignorance of what it takes to be a true leader -- as opposed to being a garden-variety bully -- coupled with a deep disrespect for the Constitution, which is the bedrock of American democracy, and disdain for the institutions that are the glue binding that democracy together. The surprise is that it has taken nearly three years to reach what, for all the world, looks like his breaking point.
Trump's greatest concern in being a bully has been projecting strength, but he is weakened on virtually every front and now is in danger of being forced from office. Writes Philip Rucker at The Washington Post:
Trump now finds himself mired in a season of weakness. Foreign leaders feel emboldened to reject his pleas or to contradict him. Officials inside his administration are openly defying his wishes by participating in the impeachment probe. Federal courts have ruled against him. Republican lawmakers are criticizing him. He has lost control over major conservative media organs. Polling shows that Americans increasingly disapprove of his job performance and support his impeachment.Does this mean the president finally has reached that breaking point, especially as he slouches into the heart of the third straight week during which his White House of Cards continues to collapse around him? Sadly, no. And declarations among the punditocracy that a point of some sort -- breaking, tipping, inflection or name your own point -- has been reached are so much wishful thinking.
This is because the cracks in the firewall of Republican congressional support are more like hairline fractures, although there is a glimmer of hope here.
Trump tried to mitigate his disastrous Syria troop withdrawal only when Republicans objected. And although he blamed Democrats when he reversed course barely 24 hours after awarding the G7 summit meeting in 2020 to his struggling Doral golf resort in Florida, his capitulation was because of Republican outcries over his crass violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits a president from profiting from his office.
While House impeachment investigators certainly aren't swayed by Trump's latest effort to move the ethical goal posts yet again, let alone Mick Mulvaney's instantly infamous "I have news for everybody: Get over it" imprecation. The present danger is that while Trump is mindful of Republican disaffection, the White House's fiendishly brazen Ukraine scandal defense is succeeding where it counts in keeping the house of cards from completely collapsing.
The defense goes something like this: Hey, we're not even bothering to deny that Trump shook down Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky for political gain by withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to fight Russian aggression because that's well within a president's rights, a pretzel-logical legal argument that is central to his impeachment defense. Republicans are arguing that the Ukraine quid pro quo might have been inappropriate, but is not impeachable.
The hope here is that as Trump comes under even more pressure and becomes even more paranoid (he called the impeachment inquiry a "lynching" in a racially charged tweet on Tuesday as yet another State Department official disobeyed him and met with House investigators), he will further alienate at least some of his defenders.
That official, William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, delivered the most explosive testimony yet when he described the quid pro quo the White House continues to deny in stark terms: Diplomats were told the desperately needed aid to fight Russian aggression would not be released nor would Trump meet with Zelensky until he agreed to making a public pledge to investigate Trump challenger Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
"Over 13,000 Ukrainians had been killed in the war, one or two a week. More Ukrainians would undoubtedly die without the U.S. assistance," Taylor wrote in his opening remarks, a necessary and overdue reminder that Trump's ego-tripping dirty work in helping carry Vladimir Putin's toxic water was exacting a human toll.
The White House did not dispute Taylor, instead renewing its attack on the impeachment process. Trump is demanding undivided Republican loyalty and pulling stunts like demanding the censure of Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman and impeachment leader, could boomerang. Then there is the potential impact of forthcoming televised hearings in making the case for impeachment as Democrats prepare to wrap up a series of closed-door depositions on the Ukraine scandal.
And in its own perverse way, the cumulative effect of Trump's brazen corruption-in-plain-view modus operandi as with the Ukraine scandal may end up being the most effective way of turning those hairline fractures into real cracks.
"When we're dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?" asked the late, great Elijah Cummings shortly before his death last week.
House Democrats and the growing number of voters who say they favor removing Trump from office have answered that question. But congressional Republicans have not, nor do they intend to until when -- and a very big if -- their hand is forced.