Any one of those three things would be enough to imperil a presidency. All three of them — and all within the first six months of an administration — suggest an unprecedented (that word comes up a lot with Trump) level of political jeopardy not just for the President but for the Republican Party he ostensibly leads.
And amid all of the chaos, the controversy and the tweeting, the tweeting, the tweeting is this fundamental fact: Donald Trump ain’t changing. He is a 71-year-old man. A very successful 71-year-old man. A man who views the 2016 election as the ultimate validation that he is smarter than all of the so-called political elites.
The biggest takeaway then from Trump’s first six months in office is that there is no new Donald Trump, no Trump 2.0, no “presidential” pivot. What you see is what you get. And, unfortunately for Trump and the Republican Party, large majorities don’t like what they are getting.
Despite a series of warnings — subtle and not-so-subtle — from congressional leaders and even from certain members of his inner circle, Trump has not modified his behavior one iota.
Trump is laying down the tracks as the train is speeding down them. The strategy is survival and, in the broadest sense, “winning.” But the idea that Trump has some sort of long-game strategy on where the track is heading and how to get there is disproved with each passing day.
Congressional Republicans, to this point, have been willing to ride the Trump roller coaster because they have convinced themselves that despite all of the surprising climbs and gut-wrenching drops, they ultimately can get what they want from him.
Exhibit A — and really Exhibit Only — of that argument is the nomination and confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. It is, without question, the biggest success of Trump’s first six months in office — and one with long-lasting consequences. And, it is undeniably true, that had Hillary Clinton been elected president, she would have appointed someone far less conservative than Antonin Scalia or Gorsuch to the nation’s highest court.
It is also true that the easiest way for Trump to leave a positive conservative legacy behind him is to hope that another justice retires, with Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg most rumored to head for the exits. If that happened, Trump would be the Republican President credited with turning a split court with a swing vote into a 5-4 conservative majority. And with Gorsuch, Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito all relatively young, it could be a conservative majority for, literally, decades to come.
Short of a Supreme Court retirement, however, it’s difficult to see how Trump gets his presidency back on track after these first six months.
Health care repeal seems likely to fail in the Senate, leaving Republicans with the uncomfortable choice of doing nothing at all or working with Democrats to make fixes around the edges to make the current law function better.
Tax reform, which was rolled out to much ballyhoo by the Trump administration, remains nothing more than a broad outline of proposals — none of which have begun to make their way through the legislative process.
Despite a notable crackdown on illegal immigration, Trump’s long-promised border wall looks more and more like a pipe dream as it’s hard to see wavering Republicans in Congress cowed by a President with the approval of just over 1 in 3 Americans.
That all suggests that Russia is going to be with Trump for a very long time. And we know, from oodles of great reporting as well as his Twitter feed, that Trump is uniquely fixated — and bothered — by the ongoing Russia probe. We also know that those around Trump — led by his eldest son, Don Jr. — can’t seem to get their story straight about what happened, when it happened and why it happened.
In short: Russia was the story of the first six months of this administration, and all signs point to it being the story of the second six months too.
Depending on how Trump, his allies and his Republican counterparts — some of whom are his allies, some of whom aren’t — handle these next six months on Russia will almost certainly determine whether his presidency tips into political oblivion or whether he can wrench the wheel of state back to more favorable ground.
Given that Trump scored the single biggest upset in modern political history less than a year ago, no one should rule out that latter possibility. But, after six months of “Trump the President,” the likeliest outcome seems to be a slip into the political abyss. Believe me. Bigly.