The Trump captivity of the GOP has reached its sad, inevitable destination: a failed presidency defended by a cowed party. As President Trump’s malignant narcissism and incompetence have been fully revealed — and can be objectively measured by the level of needless death from covid-19 — his approval among Republicans has remained strong. Across a continent filled with elected Republicans, only a few have taken a stand for sanity and effective governance.

Trump is, no doubt, in a perilous political situation. The activist right wing of his party has seized on social distancing as the health-care equivalent of socialism. The tea party fundraising machine has lurched into loud, clanking motion, trying to manufacture outrage against epidemiology. Some pro-life and pro-family groups have joined in the ill-timed promotion of social anarchy.

The president seldom defies the right-wing populists, and his immediate response was to identify with their anger. But this is a different political circumstance from any Trump has faced. In this case, pleasing the most vocal portion of his base puts another important constituency — older voters — at additional risk of painful, suffocating death. It is difficult to play both sides of this issue. And there are indications in recent polling that seniors have grown increasingly critical of Trump’s pandemic response.