Lindsey Graham: I endorse Trump for the 2020 GOP nomination

I’m flagging this just because I wanted to toss my two cents in about the CNN piece Ed blogged this morning, which is an insult to everyone’s intelligence.

That’s consistent with Grahamnesty’s approach to Trump since the 2016 primaries. He figured out early, as did his foreign-policy nemesis Rand Paul, that complimenting Trump publicly is useful in getting him to consider your point of view. Apart from reportedly going head to head with POTUS at the infamous immigration meeting during which Trump blasted “sh*thole countries,” Graham’s been careful to stay on his good side. If you want to keep the door open to a larger U.S. presence in Syria, if you want to restrain Trump from being too quick to make a bad deal with Kim Jong Un, reminding him that you’re a big fan with public statements of support is an intelligent way to do it. (That goes double for Graham since his partner in interventionism, John McCain, is much more abrasive with Trump.) This CNN piece handed him an opportunity so he took it. Politics 101.

As I say, though, the CNN piece is an insult to your and my intelligence. The story of the Republican Party over the past 22 months has had two chapters. Chapter One: The GOP base is fiercely loyal to Trump. Chapter Two: Congressional Republicans are deathly afraid of alienating the GOP base, knowing what it would mean for their own electoral fortunes. The end. That’s why the bid to stop Trump at the Republican convention went nowhere. The GOP establishment knew that a delegate coup would have enraged the base and that would have meant collapsed turnout and certain defeat in November. They gambled that holding their noses and backing Trump would give them more of a chance to win than abandoning him for a safer, more conventional candidate would. They won.

Later, after the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged in October, some Republicans rescinded their endorsements or made noises about no longer supporting Trump — but, in hindsight, only because they were momentarily convinced he’d blown his chance at winning. Paul Ryan told members that he wouldn’t campaign with Trump for the final month, fearing that the taint would mar House candidates. Jason Chaffetz, among others, formally withdrew his support. Reince Priebus privately encouraged Trump to drop out in the name of giving the party a small chance of winning with Mike Pence on Election Day. Within a few weeks of the tape surfacing, Trump had bounced back in the polls. Chaffetz re-endorsed him. After the election, a smiling Paul Ryan greeted him in Washington. Reince Priebus became his chief of staff. The base didn’t care about Trump’s “Access Hollywood” garbage and so neither, ultimately, did most of the GOP establishment.

All the party stands for now is winning, said Trey Gowdy to Vice a few weeks ago. Once you grasp that essential truth, you’ll realize why CNN’s breathless report about Hill Republicans holding off on endorsing Trump for 2020 is lame. The piece maintains the pretense that there’s anything Trump could do that would alienate his fans and therefore anything he could do that would embolden congressional Republicans to confront him. There isn’t. As I say, the entire story of the Party since June 2015 is that the party’s leadership will refrain from crossing the cult of personality that’s formed around him. Even if Trump didn’t enjoy such loyalty from the base, there would still be a strong argument in his favor that a party’s chances of winning are better with a damaged incumbent president than they are with a less damaged insurgent. That’s why presidential primary challenges have historically always failed. It’s effectively impossible to imagine a scenario in which Trump would lose so much support among his own party’s voters that it would be not just safe for the Bob Corkers and Ron Johnsons of the world to back a challenger but electorally wise to do so.

The only semi-plausible scenario I can imagine is Trump going on a Russiagate firing/pardon spree in which Rosenstein and Mueller are canned, Flynn, Manafort, and Michael Cohen are pardoned, etc etc. The backlash to that among the wider electorate would be so ferocious and unpredictable that conceivably Trump’s job approval would fall into the 20s and congressional Republicans would conclude that he has little chance of reelection. But even then, we’d be back to the 2016 convention question: If you dump Trump and back someone else, you invite a party schism that ensures defeat in 2020. There’ll be some significant minority of the party that will. not. abandon. him. no matter what. Write him off and you write them off, which means we get a Democratic president in 2021. And besides, a lot can happen before 2020. If Trump fired Mueller tomorrow, his approval might drop to 30 percent — but we might find ourselves at war somewhere next year and the country would rally around him, boosting him to above 50. It’s always silly to write off a president but especially silly before he’s even halfway through his term.

The reason pols like Johnson are holding off on endorsing him now, I think, is just because they don’t want to be forced to defend that endorsement in case Trump really does drop the axe on Mueller tomorrow or do something similarly nutty, which is always possible. If that happens, Hill Republicans will want as much distance between themselves and POTUS as they can get. But that distant neutrality is a different thing than confronting him by lining up behind a challenger. That’s also why McConnell doesn’t want to bring any bills to the floor that might add legal protection for Robert Mueller from being fired. He doesn’t want to risk angering Trump’s base with confrontation, as usual. Like Corker, Johnson, and all the other fake non-endorses, he wants congressional Republicans to stay out of Trump’s messes to whatever extent is feasible. At least while they still can.