Even before the latest startling development, I’d bet my West Virginia neighbors that President Donald Trump’s support will soon collapse and, regardless of whether he manages to stay in office, the Republican Party will take a beating in next year’s midterm elections. This amuses them very much, and they ask to be introduced to more people from Washington who think they know what they’re talking about. You'll see, they say, Trump will be fine and the Republicans will increase their majorities next year.
I’d be spending my expected winnings right now, except for one thing: My neighbors have been right every time about Donald Trump’s electoral prospects, and I’ve been repeatedly wrong. (It started with my confident prediction that Trump’s disrespect for John McCain’s military service – “I like people who weren’t captured” – would stop the insurgent during the primaries.) By the time of the election, I’d halfway learned my lesson, and wasn’t as surprised by the result as many, but my record isn’t good.
Never mind. Things are now clearer. Since Trump took office, voters have surely learned enough to think the country has made a terrible mistake. Their opinion is crucial for the president’s prospects of survival. His approval numbers are already poor, and at this rate will surely get worse. Once that happens, Republicans in Congress will start to desert.
And the bad stuff just keeps coming. Indeed, the egregious blunders of the past week – the firing of FBI Director James Comey, sharing of classified intelligence with the Russians, and now the Comey memo – disprove a view I’d taken seriously until recently: that Trump would be contained by the job and all that goes with it. Sit him in the White House and surround him with smart people, and let the dignity of the office civilize him. He'll learn to behave.
Well, he hasn’t learned. He’s the same incompetent braggart as before, only more so. Even if the president’s powers are constrained – as the courts and Congress have shown – his personality and temperament can’t be.
So I’m certain to win my bet. Right?
The thing that gives me pause isn’t Trump, but his opponents. They’ve been the secret of his success throughout – his great enablers. I maintain they’re the reason he won the election. And sure enough, in their own misguided way, they’re still pulling for the president.
From the beginning of Trump’s time in office, Democrats and their allies in the mainstream press have been celebrating every misstep, putting the worst possible construction on every dumb comment, howling at every pratfall, one day hyperventilating and the next yucking it up – all as if to tell Trump’s supporters, “There you are, morons, you see we were right.”
However justified, that chorus of contempt for Trump’s supporters isn’t going to encourage them to defect. It will allow them to believe – also with justification – that the press isn’t dedicated to telling it straight on the firing of Comey or the sharing of intelligence with Russia or anything else Trump does. The refusal from the start to give him a chance (sorry for bringing that up again) continues to undermine his critics’ credibility even though, by now, he’s had his chance and blown it.
I still expect to win my bet. His opponents are a tremendous asset, never to be underestimated – but Trump is still Trump. He looks beyond saving. My neighbors, in case you’re wondering, will pay up with a smile. They’re good people.
The writer is a Bloomberg View columnist.