Sometimes a basic truth about politics or life, or political life, is staring you right in the face and you don’t see it, but it becomes obvious when someone points it out. That’s how I felt with a column from David Graham, who used this week’s bizarre press conference from acting White House chief of staff Mike Mulvaney to make a more general point about Team Donald Trump:
Who knows what acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had in mind when he stepped to a lectern in the White House briefing room Thursday? (Not Trump’s legal team, apparently.) Whatever his goal, Mulvaney delivered a succinct credo for both the Trump administration and the Trump 2020 campaign.
“I have news for everybody: Get over it,” Mulvaney said …
“There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy,” Mulvaney chided reporters. “That is going to happen. Elections have consequences, and the foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.”
As Graham notes, all the furor over the immediate impact of Mulvaney’s comments — which admitted a quid pro quo in Trump and his representatives’ communications with Ukrainian officials — may have obscured the fact that this is generally the White House’s attitude about everything strange or illegal or reckless this president does.
Mulvaney’s comments weren’t just more revealing than he intended about the specifics of the Ukraine scandal. They also distilled the guiding mantra of the Trump administration. Others have tried to coin their own phrases (one senior administration official tried to make “We’re America, bitch” happen, and failed), but the real Trump doctrine is “Get over it.”
The administration is forcing foreign governments into quid pro quos in order to assist Trump’s political prospects? Get over it.
It’s using the power of the presidency to financially benefit the president and his company? Get over it.
It circumvented Congress’s power of the purse to begin construction of a border wall? Get over it.
It separated children from families at the border, locking them in inhumane conditions? Get over it.
The president is evading Senate confirmation by naming “acting” officials to top posts? Get over it.
Russia hacked the 2016 election? Get over it.
The prevailing message, in case you have missed it, is that having won the presidency in 2016 (by the skin of his teeth and enormous luck, of course, whether or not you believe Russia had something to do with it) everything he wants to do is mandated, and any resistance is an effort to overturn the election results — i.e., a “coup.” This would most obviously include an impeachment effort, which is designed to end Trump’s imperial reign before his full term has ended. The very unlikelihood of Trump’s initial election makes it, in his mind and that of many of his supporters, even more of a wondrous thing that should dispel all criticism of the stable genius who accomplished it — and explains all objections to his conduct as sour grapes.
That there are constitutional limits on presidential powers doesn’t enter into the equation — that’s a technical detail of interest only to his armies of lawyers who daily do battle with “activist judges” who also haven’t accepted the Historic Victory of 2016. That the Democrats who control one branch of Congress, and the media who aren’t part of his personal echo chamber, have their own constitutionally sanctioned role to play, doesn’t enter into Trumpian calculations at all. From that perspective, of course impeachment is “unconstitutional,” despite the clear language of the Constitution providing for it.
You get the sense that if, despite it all, Trump is reelected next year, the four ensuing years would take this administration down a long dark path of vindictive and even more reckless behavior. And why not? If the initial “mandate” from the electorate is regarded as virtually unlimited, a reconfirmation of his presidency after he has fully displayed his contempt for any curbs on his power and his corrupt cronyism must surely make him a colossus bestride a supine nation that has acknowledged his greatness. I don’t know if during the 2020 campaign Democrats can find a way to articulate this “you ain’t seen nothing yet” concern, or convince Americans that a vote for Trump is a vote for a much wilder and megalomanic president than they have previously seen. But if the 45th president survives both impeachment and 2020, and is in a position to enjoy fully the “consequences” of not one but two elections, the norms he might then break are beyond imagining. And Trump critics would simply have to “get over it.”