February 15, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Trump Forces GOP to Expose His Weakness

He handed Nancy Pelosi a wedge to cleave the GOP in twain.

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I asked yesterday if the right-wing media would continue lying for Donald Trump after he signed legislation that funded the government but did not fund a southern border wall. I was pleased to get an almost immediate answer, which was no.

Because the right-wing media is unwilling to lie for the president, Trump had to take a different tack in order to keep himself in the right-wing media’s good graces. Today, he declared a national emergency to bypass the Congress. But in bypassing the Congress to build a border wall, Trump is taking his party down a road it does not want to go down, because traveling that road will over time expose something the Republicans have tried mightily to conceal, which is that Trump is profoundly weak.

The National Emergencies Act gives the Congress the power to stop national emergency declarations. It takes one member of the House to introduce a resolution to start the clock ticking during which time the House and the Senate would have more than a month to vote on the measure. Yes, that’s correct. Both chambers must vote.

All it would take to pass is a majority! So here’s a president trying to invoke statutes that allow him to get around the Congress in order to build a wall nobody wants to pay for. And here are the Democrats who could invoke the same statutes that could force Republicans to choose the least bad thing. Stand with a president who’s clearly violating the Constitution. Or live up to your reputations and stand against him.

Making matters worse is Trump’s own statement in which he said: “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this [national emergency]. But I would rather do it much faster.” Translation: this national emergency declaration is totally bogus. It’s almost certainly illegal as well as unconstitutional. Trump is practically handing Nancy Pelosi a wedge with which she can cleave the GOP in twain.

To be sure, Trump could veto a resolution in the unlikely event of its passing. (The Congress could try to override him, too.) But that’s less important than the resolution itself, as it would test Trump’s support in a party already getting weary of supporting him. These Republicans, remember, spent eight years building their brand as “constitutional conservatives.” They excoriated Barack Obama’s alleged presidential overreach on immigration, health care, pretty much anything. They’d rather not trade off that image (however phony it is) for a wall they don’t want. But now the matter may be out of their hands. All because the right-wing media won’t lie for Trump.

It’s often said that Trump is not a normal president, but less said is that the American people continue to hold him to more or less normal expectations. So even as pundits say he’s covered in Teflon, Trump continues to feel the consequences of very bad decision making. Like every other president, bad decisions bring him down in the polls. Unlike every other president, he thinks he’s winning when he’s losing.

And the more he loses, as he is with the wall, the more strain he puts on his party. And the more strain he puts on his party, the more that party may react in ways not necessarily beneficial to him. Indeed, Trump continues to act like the Republican Party will always be in his pocket, but that’s an increasingly big assumption. A president is only as strong as his party. Parties don’t abandon presidents until presidents give them very good reasons to. Well, Trump is giving his party very good reasons. The lion’s share of Republicans Senators is up for reelection in 2020. Now’s not the time to launch a legal battle putting Republicans on the wrong side of the Constitution.

It’s hardly surprising, to me anyway, that Bill Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, announced his intention to primary Trump on the same day that Trump declared his phony national emergency. Declaring a national emergency is an expression of profound weakness. So profound weakness is attracting challengers.

Now, Weld is a known crank. He ran as Gary Johnson’s libertarian running mate in 2016. But it might take a crank to get the ball rolling. Weld is bound to get attention, more so than Howard Schultz, because Weld is running against the partisan grain. Once he gets attention, others may jump in. And more may jump in if a Senate vote on Trump’s phony emergency declaration shows weak GOP support for the president.

—John Stoehr

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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