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“…many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.

GOP Civil War

I would know. I am one of them.”

Recent days have witnessed not only the highly hyped previews of Bob Woodward’s new book about the Trump administration (Fear), but also the remarkable publication by The New York Times of an anonymous column by a senior official in the administration (quoted above). And of course the Independent counsel investigation of various misdeeds in and around the administration seems finally to be winding toward a conclusion. The president and his administration are in deep crisis.

Woodward’s book and the anonymous NYT author tend to confirm each other in a portrait of a president who is erratic, impulsive, lacking in core principles, a chronic liar, and largely immune to evidence or argument that run counter to his biases. None of this is surprising to anyone who’s been watching the spectacle since 2016.

What is surprising is how many White House insiders talked frankly with Woodward. What is even more astonishing is the publication of the anonymous NYT piece. Many of us on the outside suspected the sorts of dysfunction that are now verified (well, Trump says the Woodward book is fiction, but who would you believe, Trump or Woodward?).

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One of the most prominent features of the Trump reign has been the reluctance of other Republicans (Senators, Representatives, high officials) to publicly condemn —or even mildly criticize—Trump, even when his statements or actions attract widespread condemnation outside Republican circles. This is usually attributed to approval of the fundamental policy directions of the administration: Trump may be an embarrassment, but with his popular base he has been able to push policies that most Republicans approve of, like the massive tax cut.

We are now seeing, for the first time, evidence that mainstream Republicans who hold office in the administration are going public with their misgivings and with their strategies for containing the damage that Trump can do to core Republican values like free trade and strong alliances.

There is also the intimidation factor: members of Congress in particular are exceedingly reluctant to challenge Trump when his base will hold them responsible in the primaries.

We are now seeing, for the first time, evidence that mainstream Republicans who hold office in the administration are going public with their misgivings and with their strategies for containing the damage that Trump can do to core Republican values like free trade and strong alliances.

It’s certainly good that these high officials have been covertly checking Trump’s excesses, but by going public they have probably guaranteed another round of purges within the administration, with many or most of the traditional Republican policy elites getting replaced by Trump loyalists.

They will thus forfeit any chance of the Cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment to declare president unfit to serve. They should have done that when they first realized his incapacity. Instead, as the anonymous author said, these officials "will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.”

What we’re seeing is the latest chapter in the ongoing civil war within the GOP, between Trump and his shrinking base on the one hand, and the party’s policy and political elite on the other. The latter can’t win elections without Trump, but Trump can’t govern without them—though he is probably about to try.

impeachment unavoidable

John Peeler