Opinion | Trump to the Rescue—of What?

opinion | trump to the rescue—of what?

In a prelude to next week’s Super Tuesday primary bonanza, Michigan’s Republicans just voted to send Donald Trump back to Washington, where he would . . . what?

Some might believe at this juncture that the reason Mr. Trump is determined to make it back to the White House is to fend off the posses chasing him up and down the East Coast. Or to win a grudge match with Joe Biden. More charitably, we should note that Mr. Trump’s oft-stated public purpose is to make America great again. Though demonized daily by Mr. Biden, MAGA is a grand political vessel that carries the hopes of Mr. Trump’s many supporters in the GOP primaries.

Hope springs eternal is a useful sentiment in politics, but has anyone actually looked lately at the Washington that Mr. Trump’s base expects him to bend to his will?

Standing in the shadow of Mr. Trump’s primaries this week and next is a Washington facing another federal shutdown unless Congress passes a budget. Congress, as we know, holds the constitutionally ordained power of the purse, a power that is the bedrock of a balanced democracy. But instead of exercising this power, our Congress is impotent.

This edition of the budget shutdown matters more than most because also caught in the impasse is funding for Ukraine and Israel—both in the middle of wars of survival—and for Taiwan and other U.S. Indo-Pacific partners. It’s a mess in part because some three dozen Republican House members from the Freedom Caucus want to pull the plug on Ukraine and are pressuring Speaker Mike Johnson for deeper spending cuts, including to defense. Mr. Johnson’s daily existence turns on a hair-trigger vote to vacate his speakership. Gridlock has many godparents.

Looking further into Washington’s political impotence, let’s turn to the intriguing case of the man nominally atop the city’s power game, Joe Biden. Mr. Biden has signed several major laws that are spreading hundreds of billions of dollars into every crevice of the economy—for which he is getting no political credit.

A recent Journal article about Mr. Biden’s lack of public appreciation quoted political-messaging specialist Rich Thau: “When I ask in focus groups to name one accomplishment, a large number of people can’t name a single thing he’s done in his first two years as president.”

Not one? How can this be?

To be sure, much of Mr. Biden’s no-respect problem is self-inflicted. People can’t connect the dots between the uncertain fellow they see in public and all this legislative success. The problem, though, is bigger than Mr. Biden. The Biden presidency calls to mind a saying: If a tree falls in an empty forest, does it make a sound? The empty forest is Washington itself.

I believe the public has come to regard Washington as a shapeless blur. People don’t know what’s going on there anymore, other than the not-implausible sense that nothing important is going on.

Some of Congress’s most talented young members have quit in frustration, including Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher and former Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse.

Opinions may vary on the start date for Washington’s disappearance into the fog, but it began in earnest with the Trump presidency. From January 2017 on, the Beltway decided the Founding Fathers’ magnificent creation of governance existed for one reason: to get Trump. This obsession—Russiagate, a special prosecutor, two impeachments—became an alternate universe alongside the actual presidency and Washington’s normal responsibilities.

Many voters on the right, no longer able to distinguish between the 45th presidency they elected in 2016 and Washington’s war on that presidency, transformed the blur into the “deep state.” Who can blame them for thinking Washington had become an incomprehensible dystopia? It sort of was.

The irony is that Mr. Biden and the Democrats inhabit the same black hole of public indifference. They spent two years showering the country with billions and hardly anyone seems to notice or care. In Mr. Biden’s third year, he and a Congress in the grip of preening divas achieved a state of inertia.

Mr. Trump is nothing if not canny about surviving whatever the status quo is dishing out. Amid the public’s confusion, anger and despondency, his answer is to offer personal grandiosity. Somehow, he’s “bigger” than all this. So far, it’s working. Republican primary voters have brushed past governors of substantial accomplishment, believing that whatever Washington’s problem, Mr. Trump will solve it.


Mr. Trump’s answer to a divided Congress—he may win the election but lose control of the House—is that he would expand presidential authority, mainly using executive orders, for example to eliminate civil-service protections for recalcitrant bureaucrats. The left, overstating everything as usual, says this would be a dictatorship.

Rule by executive order has become an addictive sugar high. Lacking legislative permanence, succeeding presidents can reverse them, as Mr. Biden did to dozens of Trump orders. Courts can block or invalidate orders as well.

Republicans are having an adrenaline rush over Mr. Trump’s march to the nomination. Enjoy the campaign. It could be the high point.

Write [email protected].

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