With rising tension over Trump’s zero tolerance immigration policy, PAUL CONNEW says the Republicans are moving to drop the president for the next election.
It was to the strains of Sinatra’s My Way (the Paul Anka-penned anthem to suitably narcissistic schmaltz) that Trump chose to waltz First Lady Melania around the dance floor at his inauguration ball. The song also apparently features heavily as a musical backdrop for the team working high in New York’s Trump Tower, charged with ensuring that The Donald can continue doing it ‘his way’ as president beyond 2020. Not for them any thought of the end being near, nor facing the final curtain.
Last year I reported in these pages how the Trump Tower team were working on a secret ‘Plan B’, a contingency in which Trump could run in 2020 as a populist independent – rather than a Republican candidate – should relations sour irreparably with the GOP establishment and he fail to secure the party’s presidential nomination.
Today, against the backdrop of rising GOP tension over his zero tolerance immigration policy bombast, the continued fallout from child migrant scandal and growing opposition to his trade tariff strategy, the Committee for the Re-Election of President Trump is quietly stepping up work on that fallback option. After all, as a veteran GOP campaign strategist put it to me: “Normally the idea of opposing a sitting president planning to run for re-election would be a no-no. But I can tell you that there are at least three senior Republican figures now seriously considering running against Trump for the 2020 nomination.”
Trump has always had his eyes on a second term. Indeed, he was the first president in history to file the paperwork for his re-election bid with federal election authorities on the day he was inaugurated. Whether he runs as a Republican or not is of secondary significance.
A disillusioned former senior campaign figure and longtime Trump associate told me: “Trump is obsessed with the idea that he cannot go down in history as a one-term president or wind up like his own political hero, Richard Nixon, resigning from office to escape being impeached. Hence the endless Twitter tirades against Mueller, the FBI, the Justice Department, John McCain and anyone inside or outside the GOP he sees as a critic or a threat.
“In reality, Donald isn’t so much a Republican at all. He’s the opportunist member of a special party… the Trump party. Trumpism, a personal ego trip, is what drives him, not Republican party politics, principles or philosophy… He once before came close to running for the presidency as an independent and that contingency plan has always been on the cards because of the possibility he and the GOP establishment could eventually fall out badly.”
Whether he ends up running as a Republican or independent, Trump’s re-election slogan at least hints at some continuity with the last campaign.. Keep American Great Again. There are other signs of continuity too. The strategy is being managed by social media expert Brad Parscale, who was brought in by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign guru Steve Bannon to run the digital operations during the 2016 presidential push.
Parscale, who worked closely with Facebook, Twitter and Google to boost Trump’s online impact, was described as “our secret weapon” by Kushner. While Parscale himself told CBS TV shortly after the shock election victory, “Donald Trump won, but I think Facebook was the method”.
It’s worth noting, as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation continues to rattle both Trump and the GOP establishment, that Parscale, Kushner and Bannon were instrumental in bringing Cambridge Analytica aboard during the 2016 campaign. (Bannon was a former senior Cambridge Analytica executive and close confidant of its controversial, ultra-conservative billionaire owner Robert Mercer). And, while Cambridge Analytica itself may have closed down in the wake of the Facebook/Russian Connection maelstrom, several former CA operatives have now been recruited by Parscale to the Trump 2020 team.
At the end of last year, the Trump re-election campaign kitty reportedly held at least $22 million in cash, and that figure is believed to be substantially higher now. By contrast with previous Republican presidents running for re-election, a disproportionately large percentage of mass rally fundraising goes into Trump’s personal re-election kitty and not into GOP campaign funding generally.
Currently the Trump/GOP fallout is spreading on several fronts on an unprecedented scale, outstripping even the GOP establishment alarm that greeted his infamous defence of the Neo-Nazi white supremacists involved in the Charlottesville rally bloodshed.
Among Capitol Hill Republicans (apart from hardcore Trump loyalists) alarm bells are ringing over the president’s ramped-up ‘zero tolerance’ rhetoric against migrants and the growing realisation that his so-called climbdown over separating children from parents was less than sincere and is destined to be dangerously ineffective, with the prospect of military bases being turned into long-standing mass prison camps in the glare of media focus. Then there is the grotesque reality of authorities struggling to find a way to reunite children being held whose parents have already been expelled without any knowledge of their current location. Trump’s tweets about desperate people ‘invading’ or ‘infesting’ America, and his contempt for both the constitution and legal system, are also prompting alarm among Republicans.
Shortly before the child migrant scandal erupted, opinion polls gave Trump a 90% approval rating among party members, the highest for a GOP president since George Bush in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The GOP hierarchy and campaign strategists will now wait anxiously on the first detailed polls to emerge in the aftermath. Already, snap polls have suggested more than 60% of Americans opposed Trump’s handling of the issue, while a similar figure favoured legal migration over Trump’s tougher line on immigration generally. Paradoxically, polls also suggest that immigration will be a key issue in both the November mid-terms and the 2020 presidential campaign, giving succour to Trump’s defiant claim to the GOP leadership that it is the key to victory, not defeat, in November and beyond.
It also poses a genuine headache for Democrat campaign strategists, with the party’s position on immigration almost as fudged as Jeremy Corbyn’s on Brexit.
But GOP concern is running well beyond migration, as can be seen by the hugely-influential billionaire Koch brothers’ conservative political network launching an aggressive ‘multi-year, multimillion-dollar’ campaign against the tariffs and trade restrictions being pursued by the Trump administration. Their fears are shared by many across the US business community – and among big bucks GOP donors – who worry that the president will trigger a disastrous global trade war.
The announcement by Harley-Davidson that it is switching some production overseas to counter EU penalties imposed in response to Trump’s tariffs sent a chill down the spines of globalist GOP politicians and donors.
Then there is the not inconsiderable matter of Vladimir Putin. With the Mueller investigation continuing, several senior GOP figures on Capitol Hill, together with some members of Trump’s White House team, are trying to dissuade the president from going ahead with his off-the-cuff plan to meet the Russian leader following next month’s NATO summit and his controversial UK trip. As they have discovered many times before, though, the president is not easily dissuaded.