There is a practical dimension as well: If Trump had rebuffed all of his humbled former critics, there would be no way for him to staff his government or command such intense loyalty from a Republican Party that once was united against him. Around ninety per cent of Republicans currently approve of his performance in office, according to Gallup, which is a remarkable political feat when you consider that some sixty-five per cent of registered voters surveyed in the latest Washington Post/ABC poll said they consider Trump’s conduct in office “unpresidential” (a category of behavior that must surely include Twitter-shaming fellow world leaders).
Still, sycophancy is an effective path to favor with any President, especially this one. Trump retains a Manichean view of the world, bracing in its Trump-centric simplicity. This informs foreign policy, domestic policy, and key decisions about hiring and firing—basically, everything he does. On his mystifying affinity for Vladimir Putin, for example, the Mueller report’s inconclusive findings suggest that there may be no more accurate explanation than one that Trump himself gave, in public, in 2016: “He says very nice things about me.” It’s a line Trump often uses in the accounts that have emerged of his private conversations in the White House, and his subordinates have clearly received the message. Consider Attorney General William Barr’s performance in the Rose Garden on Thursday afternoon, when he and Trump were announcing that the Administration would back off on Trump’s plan to add a citizenship question to the upcoming census. Bowing to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling against it, Barr claimed that the choice to forgo putting the question on the census was essentially a “logistical” obstacle, about timing. He applauded Trump for courageously agreeing to abide by the Court’s decision, declaring, “Congratulations again, Mr. President.”