That was not some Never Trump pundit. That was the president’s own defense secretary saying the situation “could spiral.” It’s possible that Trump fired Esper out of pique, but it’s also possible that he had other motives as well, something that would move in a “dark direction.” By the way, does any Trump backer question the president’s judgment in choosing this delicate moment—when foreign adversaries may seek to capitalize on what they see as American chaos—to fire the defense secretary?

Some object that Republicans who are indulging the president’s tantrum are merely playing for time and waiting for him to come to terms with reality. That makes no sense. By helping him to stoke the base’s paranoia, they are making it less, not more likely that he climbs down off the crazy tree.

No, the branch of Republicans that brought Trump to power are now attempting to poison the well for sane Republicans in the future. Instead of being able to focus on policy or (gasp) possible cooperation with the Democratic president on urgent matters like the pandemic, the narrative will be set by the grievance machine. The Trump crowds were still chanting “lock her up” in 2020. Is there any doubt that they’ll be chanting “Trump won” in 2024?