Donald Trump derangement syndrome works both ways. It makes the President’s enemies hate him so much they go insane. It also affects Trump’s allies and supporters, who love him so much that they have become demented.
Among Republicans in Washington, you still have elitist Never Trumpers, who loathe him with a pathological fury. You also have a growing number of insider loyalists who revere him so intensely that they’ve gone blind. They are Ever Trumpers.
Ever Trumpers are specialists in doublespeak. On the one hand, they talk about what a triumphant hero the President is. He never sleeps, they say, he spends every hour Making America Great Again and he’s draining the DC swamp. On the other, they insist that the ‘deep state’ is sabotaging Trump’s agenda, that his administration is stuck in the bureaucratic mud.
Some of the subversion theories seem true. Trump’s former top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, reportedly stole letters from the President’s desk to ensure he didn’t break off trade deals. In September, the New York Times published that now infamous anonymous anti-Trump opinion editorial. The piece was written, supposedly, by a ‘senior official’ in the administration who claimed to be ‘working diligently from within to frustrate parts of [Trump’s] agenda and his worst inclinations’. Darren Beattie, a former policy aide and Trump speechwriter, says that, given the huge number of White House officials who treat Trump as a menace, ‘the more shocking op-ed would have been from a mole inside the White House who actually likes the President and is secretly working to implement the agenda he campaigned on’.
The true believers have mostly been removed. Stephen Miller, senior adviser to the President, and Dan Scavino, his social media guru, are just about the only White House staff who worked for Trump before he won the nomination. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his daughter Ivanka still have roles in the administration — but nobody knows what they believe. The early MAGA crew — Steve Bannon, Hope Hicks, Keith Schiller, Sebastian Gorka, John McEntee and others — are gone. Ever Trumpers might take comfort that the President is still pursuing an America First agenda on trade tariffs. They also point to Mike Pompeo, Trump’s second Secretary of State, who, unlike the first, seems to do what the President wants. But they can sound disillusioned, too. One former MAGA White House official told me that ‘things are bad’. When asked who still worked to advance the Trump agenda, he answered: ‘I don’t want to paint a target on anybody’s back.’
He wouldn’t dream of blaming Trump, because Trumpists never do. ‘It’s a miracle that the President has achieved what he has considering what he is working against,’ he said.
Corey Lewandowski, the President’s former campaign manager, was fired in June 2016 — he says he still doesn’t know why — but he continues to preach the MAGA gospel wherever he goes. Like other sacked aides, he talks about ‘being more useful to the President working on the outside’.
That said, he still seems to have an inside line. ‘I am 100 per cent certain that John Kelly will not be the chief of staff when Donald Trump is re-elected as President of the United States,’ he told me recently. ‘I think we’ll find out pretty soon.’ Two days later, Kelly announced his resignation. I rang Lewandowski. ‘Ah, it’s as if I knew,’ he said, knowingly. He was thrilled. Trump loyalists believe that Kelly has been the chief obstacle to their agenda. It can’t be Trump who’s failing them, after all.
When pushed, Ever Trumpers will concede that their President has erred. He should have been quicker to realise the threat posed by the Mueller investigation into Russian collusion, they say. He should have fired James Comey as FBI director ‘on day one’. He should never have appointed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. ‘He puts personal loyalty above commitment to ideological loyalty, and that means he has blind spots,’ says one former staffer.
‘Trump didn’t know the people in Washington,’ adds Lewandowski. ‘He’s a New York guy. He listened to people from the swamp.’ Now, with Kelly gone, Lewandowski is excited again about what the future holds. ‘This is the most important step to ensure Donald Trump is re-elected in 2020.’ He predicts more staff changes will follow.
Ever Trumpers like to say that, unlike other politicians, Donald Trump keeps his promises. They point to the record unemployment lows, or the ripping up of the Iran deal. Trump himself hands around a long list of his administration’s accomplishments, and his spokespeople are learning it by heart.
But even Trump’s greatest fans can’t claim he has honoured his most headline-grabbing vows. He hasn’t built a wall along the Mexico border. He hasn’t defunded the abortion provider Planned Parenthood. He hasn’t repealed Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Now, having lost the House of Representatives in the midterms, Trump seems less likely than ever to complete the revolution his acolytes crave. The Democrats will use their House majority to fire what’s being called ‘the subpoena cannon’. They will start endless Congressional oversight investigations into his tax affairs, his murkier business dealings, and much else. He’ll probably face more bureaucratic and legal obstacles in the next two years than he has so far.
‘It’s going to be tough,’ admits Jeffrey Lord, a former Reagan administration official and Trump media enthusiast. ‘But if anyone can bulldoze through the next two years, that person is Donald Trump.’
All political lives end in failure, though, as Enoch Powell said. Perhaps, hamstrung by Congress, Trump will decide that he can’t face running again in 2020. Loyalists will scoff at the suggestion, but long-time Trump associate Roger Stone told Spectator USA that while Trump enjoys ‘the adulation’ that comes with being President, he’s not so keen on the governing. ‘He doesn’t like the fact that half the country hates his guts,’ he said.
Earlier this month, Trump attended a Hanukkah celebration, and a crowd of admirers started chanting ‘four more years’. ‘It’s six more years,’ he replied. Imagine the Ever Trumpers’ disappointment if that turns out to be another promise he can’t keep.