Thought the election might restore some order? Oh you poor, sweet child
WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, American voters had their say: They gave Democrats control of the House, a check on the chaotic and rageful Trump presidency that left many voters saying in Election Day polls that they felt anxious and overwhelmed.
On Wednesday, President Trump gave his response: He will be even more chaotic and rageful going forward.
Trump called a news conference Wednesday and, incredibly, proclaimed Tuesday’s loss “a great victory for us … very close to complete victory.”
He mocked Republicans who lost, claiming they didn’t embrace him enough: “Too bad, Mike … Mia Love gave me no love.”
He threatened to respond to House Democrats’ prospective probes of his administration by bringing government “to a halt,” going to a “warlike posture” and directing Senate Republicans to investigate House Democrats.
He raged at the media, renewing his “enemy of the people” accusation, telling CNN’s Jim Acosta “you are a rude, terrible person” and accusing an African-American journalist, PBS’ Yamiche Alcindor, of asking “such a racist question” because she dared to inquire about Trump’s self-declaration as a “nationalist” emboldening white nationalists.
And then, the coup de grace: Soon after the news conference ended, Trump announced that he had ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He hadn’t even bothered to tell Sessions himself. Trump replaced him with a loyalist, Matthew Whitaker, who has publicly criticized special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe and speculated about ways to end it.
This was a brazen and defiant response to the election results by a president who is apparently moved neither by convention nor by constitutional checks on his power. He renewed his threat Wednesday unilaterally to try to rewrite the Constitution’s citizenship provisions by executive order. Rather than offer reconciliation, he trolled his opponents and spun more wild fantasies: The Democrats “agree that a wall is necessary” on the border, Democrats “at a high level have suggested … getting rid of law enforcement,” CNN has perpetrated “voter suppression.”
Though the Sessions firing had been expected after the election, Trump’s handling of it renewed a sense of looming crisis. Trump, before announcing the ouster, again declared the Russia probe “a hoax” and asserted that support for Mueller had fallen. It’s difficult to see the appointment of Whitaker, stripping Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein of authority over the Mueller inquiry, as anything but an attempt to shut down a probe that has already earned criminal convictions against several Trump advisers.
For those who hoped the election results would restore some calm and order to politics, Trump has just informed them that they can expect more of the same — and worse.
The defiance of the electorate is breathtaking. Republicans appear to have lost nearly 35 House seats, seven governorships, more than 225 state legislative seats and six legislative chambers. And Republicans’ House losses would be higher if not for gerrymandering.
Trump’s victory claims rest on Republican gains of a few Senate seats — an artifact of a political map friendly to Republicans, not popular will. The latest popular-vote tally for the Senate, though distorted by the absence of a Republican candidate in California, shows Democrats leading Republicans by 12.5 million votes. Voters turned out at near-presidential levels. Of the two-thirds of voters who said Trump was a factor in their votes, most said they were voting to oppose him.
And yet, asked Wednesday “what lesson did you learn most” from the election results, Trump replied: “I think people like me.”
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, after the Democratic takeover of the House had become official, Trump retweeted a message saying “Trump is the magic man.”
And he is! Trump made three dozen Republican House seats disappear, sawed his party’s advantage in governorships in half and caused six legislative chambers to escape from Republican control — while pulling one racist canard after another out of his hat about invading hordes of migrant criminals.
Most troubling: Trump is acting as though he actually believes the midterms were a triumph. His sacking of Sessions suggests he thinks he can get away with anything — even ousting Mueller — with impunity. And he seems to credit his reckless campaign tactics for his fantasy election outcome.
“Why are you pitting Americans against one another, sir?” asked NBC’s Peter Alexander.
Trump’s reply: “We won a lot of elections last night.”
Trump’s fury and falsehoods sent tens of millions to the polls Tuesday to tell him to tone it down.
Instead, he’s determined to be even worse in defeat.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group
Video: President Trump is treating the midterm elections like a mandate to do what he wants. He does not quite have it, says columnist Dana Milbank.