Trump has paralyzed both sides now
Posted February 13, 2020 5:01 p.m. EST
CNN — As President Donald Trump continues to live out his revenge fantasies against his critics, the reactions are predictable: Democratic outrage and Republican evasion.
No matter. The President understands all too well exactly where he is: in charge of a Republican Party afraid of his vindictive and unrestrained attacks, and unafraid of critical Democrats who could not remove him from office.
Trump unbound is not a pretty thing. Craven and vindictive firings of his putative enemies, blatant signals to the Department of Justice that it's his way or the highway. His fearful minions salute; his critics punch jello.
The result? He has bullied the political system into paralysis on both sides of the aisle. It's not complicated. No Democrat would try to repeat the exercise of impeachment now. They've used their strongest weapon and the target remains intact, perhaps even strengthened.
And that's why Republicans cower, at least most of them.
A fun sampling of GOP answers when asked about the potential pardon of Roger Stone, courtesy of my colleague Manu Raju:
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina: "I'm not the President."Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana: "I'm not somebody who is going to tell the President what to do."Sen. John Cornyn of Texas: "Well, he hasn't said he would do it, so we'll have to wait until that happens, if it happens."
As for Democrats, there's the unvarnished "the President has no respect for the rule of law" from the House speaker and countless others. But they've barked up that tree before, so it's no surprise that Nancy Pelosi wants to get back to terra firma, talking about health care.
The truth is that the election is going to have to settle the boundaries of what is permitted. Sure, there are the formal mechanisms of oversight and accountability -- that's why Attorney General William Barr has deigned to appear before Congress, albeit six weeks from now. But we've learned the practical effect is very limited, especially when the letter of the law is in the hands of people who do not respect the spirit of the law.
The entire system depends on the idea that there is a big difference between rendering justice and protecting your friends. Pretty simple.
But Trump understands that the system is stuck the way it is -- which is the way he likes it -- until, and if, the people unstick it. As Winston Churchill famously said, "There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at with no result."
Or, as Donald Trump said at his self-described post-impeachment "celebration": "It worked out. ... It was all bullshit."