Hey, Republicans: Ready to take him literally yet?
Two days after the election, I spoke with Grover Norquist, a conservative tax activist who had made peace with the prospect of a Trump presidency. Expressing confidence that Donald Trump wouldn’t attempt the crazier promises made during the campaign, Norquist said Trump’s supporters knew to take him “seriously, but not literally.”
Wrong! That hope comforted Republican officeholders and members of the establishment when they reluctantly embraced Trump during the general election. They averted their collective gaze when Trump made scapegoats of minorities, yielded to reckless impulses and exhibited authoritarian tendencies. Now Trump is president and — who knew? — he is making scapegoats of minorities, giving in to reckless impulses and governing with an authoritarian style.
Trump said as a candidate that he would ban Muslims from traveling to the United States. Now he has done it, even if he doesn’t use the term. Rudy Giuliani, explaining the new executive order, told Fox News that Trump assigned him the task of finding a “legal” way to have a “Muslim ban.” And the son of national security adviser Mike Flynn praised the “Muslim ban” on Twitter before deleting his account.
Likewise, Trump displayed a disregard for the courts during the campaign, threatening to take revenge on a judge, to sic the Justice Department on his opponents. Meeting with senators, he didn’t know how many articles the Constitution contained. And now? The Trump White House is raising doubts about whether it needs to obey court orders. After parts of the travel-ban order were blocked by federal judges, Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller declared that the order “remains in full, complete and total effect.”
During the campaign, Trump often disparaged intelligence agencies for their “bad decisions.” He said “I know more about ISIS than the generals do” and claimed generals had been “reduced to rubble.” Now he has orchestrated what amounts to a coup at the National Security Council. Out: the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who no longer will attend all meetings of the committee that handles top-level decisions. Instead, political adviser Steve Bannon will serve on the committee.
Trump at every opportunity said he would build a border wall and force Mexico to pay for it. He spoke often of tariffs on Mexico and specifically suggested a 35 percent tariff on certain imports. Last week — surprise! — the White House floated a 20 percent tariff on goods from Mexico to pay for a border wall.
Trump during the election dismissed concerns about Russia’s meddling in the campaign, even urging Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email. Now we have Sputnik news, controlled by the Russian government, comparing Trump with puppets of the Soviet Union and proposing that Moscow help Trump respond to protests by “deploying professional Russian journalists as temporary replacement for the Western employees.”
Trump is also proving himself to be the same temperamentally unsound figure who appeared on the campaign trail.
He makes up extravagant falsehoods about voter fraud and crowd size and offers the absurd claim that his travel ban is “similar to what President Obama did.” He has shown contempt for safeguards in the government, purging the State Department of top nonpartisan leadership. His White House kept Department of Homeland Security lawyers in the dark on the travel ban and then overrode their objections. He has continued to raise suspicion that he’s driven by his financial interests, omitting from his travel ban several Muslim-majority countries where he does business.
And he still shows disregard for detail, as seen in the administration’s confusion about whether the travel ban covers those with green cards, and in an executive order on Obamacare that even opponents of the law warn could cause health-insurance markets to collapse before a replacement is available.
Business leaders, including some previously friendly to Trump, have protested the travel ban, and some Republicans in Congress are opposing Trump on it, at least rhetorically. The Washington Post had counted 24 as of Monday who have opposed the order and 36 more with concerns.
Meanwhile, as The Washington Post’s Matea Gold and James Hohmann reported, conservative donors at the Koch network gathering last weekend condemned Trump’s travel ban, and Charles Koch, who didn’t get involved in the presidential campaign, warned of a “tremendous danger” of authoritarianism.
Oh, so now they’re worried? Many of these donors, like Republicans in Congress, chose not to take Trump literally during the campaign, looking away when presented with repeated warning signs. Now they have a serious problem — as do we all.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank, Washington Post Writers Group