It is only Wednesday, but the exhausting pace of Donald Trump’s Washington makes time fly.
The big stories from last week weren’t just about messaging. There was everything from the bewildering signal sent by first lady Melania Trump’s jacket and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders being denied service at a Virginia restaurant to the inciting language from Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and the rise of the radical left with 28-year-old democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeating Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., with (among other positions) a pledge to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
And beyond the surface of everything that is happening, there are the real effects of President Trump’s policy decisions. The tone and substance emanating from Washington is potentially disastrous for incumbents. Immigration matters to a lot of voters and the economy matters to almost every voter - and for Republicans, these are core issues. So, where are we?
First, it is shocking that Harley-Davidson would have to consider moving some of its domestic production overseas because of a looming trade war. The stock market is in decline as uncertainty grows, and there is a sense that any prospect of “zero tolerance” at the border has collapsed. The “catch and release” practice of the Obama era appears to have returned. Wasn’t Republican rule supposed to produce the opposite of all this?
Vanity Fair’s Bess Levin notes, “Harley isn’t the only U.S. company getting dinged by the Dealmaker-in-Chief’s ‘good’ and ‘easy to win’ trade war.” American businesses big and small could take a hit. And this is just the beginning. Soon enough, consumer confidence could suffer and sentiment among small business owners may follow. Republicans will start hearing from their contributors, and the rank-and-file will sound the alarm. Talk of a “blue wave” will intensify.
Republicans may have been willing to tolerate Trump’s behavior when it produced good policy and economic growth, but dark clouds are forming. Remember, the results of the 2016 election were supposed to repeal and replace Obamacare, secure our borders and produce a revving economy. That’s the deal Trump and Republicans had with voters.
In the meantime, our partisan politics seem to be approaching a boiling point the likes of which I have never seen. The president’s press secretary was asked to leave a restaurant just because the owner and staff disagreed with the president’s politics. The very next day, Waters piled on: “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in (a) department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. Tell them they’re not welcome any more, anywhere!”
Republicans think of Waters as a marginal gadfly character, but if the Democrats win the House of Representatives in November, she will be in line to assume chairmanship of the House Financial Services Committee. And it seems the left is listening to her: Protesters have begun organizing around the homes of Trump’s staff, and headlines that taunt drawing lines between “us” and “them” are accumulating. (Republicans have produced a withering ad that summarizes the “unhinged” anger on the left.)
We have to admit that we are waiting for the next shoe to drop and someone thinks they heard the call to partisan violence. Maybe more with twisted souls such as the demented liberal who showed up at the House GOP baseball practice last year and almost killed House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., will be incited. Maybe a madman from the extreme right.
All of this puts the president under pressure. His isolation and anger tend to lead to wild tweets and erratic outbursts. Republicans in Congress still have a role to play, but increasingly I hear resignation in their voices.
Nothing is going to the change our course if the president doesn’t take the lead. We are heading toward a cliff. The problem is that no one knows how steep that cliff is and what lies at the bottom. Call me a pessimist, but I don’t see how we progress from here or diffuse the growing tension in a positive fashion.
Ed Rogers is a columnist with The Washington Post.