Nobody Knows Anything

Column: Confessions of a columnist

Images via AP
February 10, 2017

"Republicans seized her microphone," writes the New York Times. "And gave her a megaphone."

Who's she? Elizabeth Warren, the overrated Democratic senator from Massachusetts. The other night Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell rebuked her for impugning colleague Jeff Sessions. Exercising a little-known rule, the Senate revoked Warren's floor privileges for 24 hours. Now, says the Times, "Ms. Warren is considered a very early frontrunner for 2020, should she run."

I'm sorry. I just can't. We are three weeks into the presidency of Donald J. Trump, the most unusual and unconventional man to inhabit the White House in a century, possibly ever, and the New York Times is already naming the frontrunner to replace him? The same media and consultant class that assumed Hillary Clinton would win the presidency in 2008 and again in 2016 presumes to declare how a Senate kerfuffle in February 2017 will affect Iowa caucus-goers in 2020? Who are these people? Where did they come from? What makes them so obtuse, so beholden to gossip, so given to wish-casting, so certain that their momentary impressions of trivial matters carry cosmic weight? Was it college that inflated their sense of self-worth? Is that what $50k a year buys you—a degree in smug? We may never know.

Let me make a confession. I have no idea who the Democratic nominee will be in 2020. Nor am I completely sure, since we are being honest, who the Republican nominee will be. (Trump, I guess?) McConnell's decision to cut off Warren may have been a disaster of epic proportions for the GOP. Or it could have been a brilliant strategic move, elevating an unlikable Massachusetts liberal to the top of her party. McConnell himself is probably ambivalent.

I do suspect, however, that if Harry Reid had cut off Ted Cruz's microphone in 2013 the Nevada Democrat would have been hailed as a hero and genius. Even so: The shoe-on-the-other-foot argument may not count for much any more. Nothing may count for much any more. If the last year and a half has taught us anything, it is that what we think is supposed to happen does not. Brexit was not supposed to happen. Trump was not supposed to happen. The Patriots' comeback was not supposed to happen. Yet here we are.

And no one seems to be drawing lessons from any of this. I open Twitter and see the very people who were convinced Trump wouldn't win the Republican nomination, who were convinced he'd lose the general election, immediately embrace the most negative interpretation of anything Trump says or does, of any event that might impact him in the slightest. They may well be right. But they just as easily may be wrong, as they have been, consistently, for some time. A modicum of humility and skepticism would go a long way. I understand that these qualities are not especially useful in a city of careerists and poseurs and pseuds. But why not give them a whirl nonetheless.



Taken a deep breath? Good. Here, then, is the situation: The Republican Party won an upset victory thanks to its geographic strength, the weakness of the Democratic candidate, and the qualities of a GOP nominee who deviated from party orthodoxy on immigration, trade, and war, and who also had the power to command huge audiences on both social and broadcast media. While the public has serious doubts about the character of its new president, it is divided on the question of his job performance to date, with Trump maintaining his core support. His positions also remain popular.

The opposition party, meanwhile, has been driven to its coastal enclaves, and is so terrified of its far-left base that it is doing anything it can to stop the president, including boycotting committee votes, slowing down the confirmation process to a pace not seen since George Washington was president, breaking centuries of precedent to testify against fellow senators, and calling a man who won recognition from the NAACP a racist on the Senate floor. Joining the Democrats are the New York and D.C. media and the cultural establishment in Hollywood, all of which feel so liberated and empowered by membership in the "resistance" to an incipient strongman that they jump on false stories about him, his team, his supporters, and his election.

The president therefore has an opportunity to build on the low unemployment, bull market, and rising business confidence he has enjoyed so far. His numerous meetings and photo opportunities with small business and corporate leaders attest to the strength and ultimate importance of his economic message. If he falters, it will be because his base of rural and white working class voters abandons him. How might that happen? A betrayal of campaign promises, massive corruption, unpopular war, recession, or somehow otherwise giving the impression that he is no longer on the side of his people. These are the things that matter; these are the developments that bring down presidents.

Could they happen to this one? Absolutely. But they haven't yet. And no one, not Elizabeth Warren, not the New York Times, not me, not you, and definitely not Twitter, knows when and how the wheel of fortune will turn against Donald J. Trump. As it always does.