Marc Thiessen has had enough. The American Enterprise Institute fellow wrote in his Washington Post column last week that former President Donald Trump has finally gone too far.
“It’s time for Trump supporters to acknowledge a sad but undeniable truth: Trump is spinning out of control,” Thiessen wrote, no doubt salting his keyboard with tears. “Yes, his presidency was filled with historic achievements, and he was treated unfairly by his critics in Congress and the media. But since the election, something has snapped.”
Really? What has Trump done to deserve this stern rebuke? (It’s not completely clear which election Thiessen is referring to that caused something to snap. The one more than two years ago? The one on November 8? Take your pick.)
After praising Trump’s great achievement in “his remaking of the American judiciary with the appointment of three outstanding Supreme Court justices and hundreds of lower court judges,” Thiessen lamented that Trump has now gone and spoiled it all by saying something stupid. “But now,” he wrote, “with just a few bizarre social media posts, Trump has repudiated that entire legacy.”
Thiessen explained that he is referring to Trump’s denunciations of the Supreme Court when it refused to block the release of his tax returns. The court, Trump wrote on Social Truth, “has lost its honor, prestige, and standing, & has become nothing more than a political body, with our Country paying the price.”
Thiessen’s bone to pick is that this sounds like something Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi might say, in criticizing the court that Trump picked a third of. In fact, Thiessen argues, the refusal of Trump’s court picks to bend to him will prove the opposite—that he “appointed jurists whose only loyalty is to our laws and our Constitution.”
That’s a stretch, but even if it were true, it is incidental to Thiessen’s contention that Trump, in lambasting the court and then, in a separate post, calling for the “termination” of parts of the Constitution, had crossed a new line. While it’s true that Trump had until then refrained from explicitly attacking the Constitution itself—even though his disregard for the document was clear to observers even during his original campaign—it was only a matter of time before he treated our government’s founding document the way he has treated everything and everyone else that stands in his way.
Consider, for example, what he said as a candidate in 2016: that federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not be impartial when hearing a case against Trump University because the Indiana-born judge was “a Mexican.” Or when—again, still a candidate—he called Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg an “incompetent judge” who should resign because she mildly dissed him as “a faker.” Or when he referred derisively to Judge James Robart, who blocked his Muslim travel ban, as a “so-called judge.” Or when he raged against Judge Jon S. Tigar, who in 2018 blocked Trump from implementing a cruel new asylum policy, calling him “a disgrace” and “an Obama judge.” Back then, this drew an admonition from Chief Justice John Roberts (nominated by George W. Bush, for whom Thiessen was a speechwriter): “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges.”
At a public lecture in 2019, US District Court Judge Paul Friedman reflected on Trump’s long history of attacks on the judiciary, which he said violated “all recognized democratic norms” and threatened to “undermine faith in the rule of law itself.”
None of these things caused Republican leaders to remove their lips from Trump’s hindrance. My Google searches for “Marc Thiessen” and the names of the above-mentioned judges turned up nothing to show he ever had a problem with Trump’s disrespect for the judiciary in any of these cases.
But the record does show that Thiessen cheered on the Republicans’ rush to install a replacement for Ginsburg, who died in September 2020, less than two months before an election, after they denied Obama’s March 2016 judicial pick of Merrick Garland on grounds that there was an election happening a mere eight months away. Thiessen, in an appearance on Fox News, claimed “neither side has cloaked themselves in consistency on election-year Supreme Court nominations.”
Thiessen’s indictment, which followed a more plaintive “Please Mr. President, don’t run” column about three weeks earlier, said the reasons for dumping Trump go beyond his sudden declarations of contempt for the judiciary and the Constitution and the rule of law. There’s also the fact that Trump “has descended into a spiral of conspiracy theories and personal grievances. He has surrounded himself with the political dregs.”
Really? This is new? Trump spent years pushing the preposterous notion that Barack Obama was a secret Muslim born in Kenya. He gave credence to bat-shit crazy theories that Bill and Hillary Clinton had their enemies killed, that Ted Cruz’s father had something to do with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, that Obama and Joe Biden staged the killing of Osama bin Laden using a body double, and that Kamala Harris is not actually a US citizen, among many others.
Just last week, Trump and Mar-a-Lago hosted a prominent QAnon supporter, Liz Crokin, who says she specifically discussed “Pizzagate”—the delusional belief that political elites including Hillary and Bill Clinton are running a child sex trafficking ring out of a pizza shop in Washington, DC Crokin’s visit didn’t even merit a mention in my state’s two largest newspapers, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal. It’s the same old same old. We’ve seen it all before.
And are we to believe there is something remarkable or different about Trump’s embrace of the politics of personal grievance, after he yanked the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan as punishment for his critical comments, denied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the use of a military jet to visit US troops in Afghanistan, threatened to withhold pandemic assistance to electoral battleground states that moved to expand mail-in voting to mitigate the pandemic, or called for government crackdowns on social media companies that offended him?
As for surrounding himself with “the political dregs,” just who exactly was surrounding Trump before? Paragons of virtue like Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Sebastian Gorka, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Rudy Giuliani? It is just not possible to go downhill from there.
Thiessen, in his syndicated column, went on to woefully note how the former president recently dined at Mar-a-Lago with the antisemitic, Hitler-loving rapper formerly known as Kanye West and the outspoken white supremacist Nick Fuentes “in a meeting that was apparently arranged by Milo Yiannopoulos, a former Breitbart editor who was purged for defending pedophilia.”
Really? This is a sticking point for Republicans? The same people who stood by Trump after he was shown boasting about how he could get away with grabbing women “by the pussy”; who encouraged violence at his rallies; who praised a congressman for body-slamming a reporter; who cozied up to dictators including Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; who approvingly quoted Benito Mussolini; who shared that he and murderous North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un “fell in love”; who insisted there were “very fine people on both sides” of a neo-Nazi rally; who refused to condemn former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke; who advised the extremist Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by”; who instigated a violent attack on the US Capitol in an effort to overturn the result of an election he lost?
All of this was tolerable. But, somehow, breaking bread with these two nitwits was a bridge too far?
Thiessen laid it on the line: “Fellow conservatives, it’s time to move on—because Trump is unstable, and because he cannot win. With his behavior since losing office, Trump has made himself irreversibly toxic to swing voters.”
His behavior since losing office? What about his behavior in office? Was there really nothing wrong with that?
There is only one reason among all of the many cited by Thiessen that Republicans are turning away from Donald Trump now: because he cannot win. Everything else they were perfectly willing to put up with, and they would put up with it again—if only they believed that he stood a chance of helping keep them in power.