President Donald Trump’s colossal mishandling of the worst national health crisis of our time has already imperiled his prospects for re-election in November. His inability or unwillingness to provide leadership even in presenting an example of personal behavior, by refusing to wear a protective mask even when White House staffers have been afflicted with the virus, attests to his abysmal ignorance and self-centeredness.
The very concept of the presidency as the embodiment of institutional and moral leadership in the nation has been shattered in the worst political blunder ever committed by the electorate. It placed the country in the hands of an incompetent and ill-prepared imposter who governs only in terms of his inflated sense of self-worth and wisdom.
But the damage of Trump’s first-term reign of ineptitude in the Oval Office goes beyond the presidency. It also risks the demise, or at least the diminution, of the once Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln. Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
The wholesale surrender to Trump’s roller coaster of willful chaos by permissive Republican members of Congress invites a political tsunami this fall. The Democrats are poised for a repetition of their 2018 midterm recovery that recaptured the House of Representatives and restored Nancy Pelosi as speaker.
This time around, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is in the Democrats’ crosshairs along with enough of the 23 Republican incumbents up for re-election to seize the majority. The question is whether once-proud, independent-minded GOP senators of the mold of Robert Taft of Ohio, Everett Dirksen of Illinois, Bob Dole of Kansas and Howard Baker of Tennessee will surface again to reclaim that mantle.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, has so far managed to survive the Trump era with a modicum of self-respect. But it will take more than a golden oldie to repair and revive the GOP after the manner in which its members on Capitol Hill have allowed themselves to be Trump’s doormat.
As for the sitting president, his hopes for a second term clearly rest on that miraculous economic recovery he continues to foresee despite the cloud of a second wave of the coronavirus. Prominent medical experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, continue to warn that it may well come back in force this fall.
Fauci, who earlier disappeared from the White House press briefing room after weeks of stealing Trump’s thunder with frank answers to reporters’ questions about the peril of the virus, reappeared Tuesday before a Senate committee. He emphatically reiterated his fear of its return, especially if social distancing guidelines are ignored.
From the outset of the virus crisis, Trump has been betting all his chips on it being at most a passing mirage. First it was going to disappear overnight. Then, worst of all, in reckless imitation of a medical doctor, he floated the deadly notion that it could be countered by ingesting a common household disinfectant.
Just the threat that there could be a second round of the coronavirus magnifies concern that the eight months remaining in Trump’s term will deepen the erosion of stability at home, and of American respect in the world at large. What tricks might he yet have up his sleeve to complicate the five remaining months of the presidential campaign? It already has been derailed by the social distancing lockdown, and now the nominating conventions are in doubt.
Trump, in his fashion, has even mulled over the pipe dream of being president for life. So who knows what mischief he might conjure up to make a mockery of one of our cherished exercises in self-government.
We can only hope that the outsized delusions of Donald Trump are unable to overcome the Founding Fathers’ provision of a presidential election every four years. But we’d all better fasten our seat belts for a rocky ride between now and November, as Trump conspires to retain national power.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.