In the past week, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE has had to deal with two embarrassing, history-making stories. His own secretary of State apparently called him a “moron” and then refused to deny doing so. Then, a senior member of his own party, who happens to be the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, implied the president is a man-baby who requires adult day care.
Even for Trump — the most unpopular president in modern history — that’s an astonishingly bad week.
Trump’s response to Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerDeficit hawks voice worry over direction of tax plan The Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Overnight Finance: White House requests B for disaster relief | Ex-Equifax chief grilled over stock sales | House panel approves B for border wall | Tax plan puts swing-state Republicans in tough spot MORE’s (R-Tenn.) adult day care tweet was to launch yet another Twitter tantrum, posting a video of hard-working first responders in Puerto Rico and lamenting that he isn’t being given enough credit for their work.
In his childish and narcissistic worldview, he, the (alleged) billionaire president of the United States, is the real victim of a hurricane that hit 1,500 miles away from his stately home and left millions of Americans without clean water or electricity. In just a few hours, Trump proved that Corker’s tweet was correct.
More importantly, though, Corker’s “adult day care” tweet highlights three important truths about the Republican Party’s enabling of Trump, as most party officials continue defending the indefensible.
First, everyone knows that Corker is right that Trump needs to be carefully managed by his staff. Even his staunchest defenders would admit that Trump is impulsive (though they would classify it as “authenticity”; polls show that most Americans would classify it as unhinged, reckless and dangerous).
The central staffing dilemma of the Trump era for people like chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoTom Price’s resignation shows importance of strong Cabinet Transportation Dept. grants Puerto Rico M for road, bridge repair Treasury probing K Mnuchin flight from New York to DC MORE or national security adviser H.R. McMaster is whether to take the moral high ground and resign, opening the door to more Kellyanne Conways, Sean Spicers and Trump family members who will unquestioningly do Trump’s bidding; or stay in place and try to limit the damage that Trump can do by talking him down from his worst impulses.
Corker’s tweet was powerful not because it was a novel idea, but because the “adult day care” line referred to this open secret in Washington — and someone was finally willing to say it.
That brings the second key point: Corker was willing to say it publicly. A senior Republican senator going on the record is an important shift. It changes the calculations of other Republicans who might want to speak out but were worried about backlash from the Trump base.
That worry still exists, certainly, but now anyone who speaks bluntly about Trump’s unfitness for office will have powerful company from the senior ranks of the party.
The growing rift between the White House and Capitol Hill will likely prove pivotal for the ambitious legislative agenda ahead, which will require finesse and a sure pair of hands — something this White House does not have.
Indeed, Trump showed the same depth of strategic thought as someone who accidentally steps on a rake and then is surprised when the handle whacks them in the face. Trump needs Corker for the next 15 months, not only to pass legislation but also to steer foreign policy. Corker, on the other hand, doesn’t need Trump for anything.
Third, while it’s important that Corker said publicly what most elected Republicans have been saying privately for some time, it doesn’t absolve their past endorsements of Trump for the sake of their electoral prospects or their narrow-minded focus on using Trump as a vehicle to pass certain legislation. Corker spoke truth to power this week, but those truths have been painfully obvious for at least two years.
There’s nothing that Trump has done in office so far that has been surprising to anyone who was paying attention to Donald Trump during the campaign. Trump has been remarkably consistent at showing the world who he was and then governing accordingly.
Corker and other Republicans saw Trump’s call to ban Muslims from the United States; they saw him attack John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts The VA’s woes cannot be pinned on any singular administration Overnight Defense: Mattis offers support for Iran deal | McCain blocks nominees over Afghanistan strategy | Trump, Tillerson spilt raises new questions about N. Korea policy MORE for getting captured in Vietnam; they saw him belittle a Gold Star family; and they saw the tape in which Trump boasted about sexual assault. They saw the crazy tweets, the outbursts and the recklessness.
Still, Corker and most elected Republicans stuck with Trump all the way to the White House. Most elected Republicans are still sticking with him despite week after week of Trump’s unacceptable behavior. The main difference between Corker and Republicans who remain silent is that Corker is not running for reelection so he has nothing to lose, which is itself a depressing statement on the dysfunction of American politics.
Such is the ambiguity of the Trump era. Corker has become somewhat of an overnight hero to those who (correctly) believe that Trump is unfit for the grand office he occupies. But does Corker deserve praise for bashing Trump as unfit to be president after he helped make Trump president?
In the meantime, though, let’s hope the White House day care starts offering extended hours, because America — and the world — needs it.
Brian Klaas is a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics and author of “The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding and Abetting the Decline of Democracy.” Follow him on Twitter @brianklaas.
This post originally appeared on The Hill