Like so many other people, I can almost no longer be surprised at what President Donald Trump says or does. However, his speech this past Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was, in a word, disturbing.
It seems that this appearance before the “creme de la creme” of his extremist base was a sort of catharsis for Trump after a week of setbacks, from the disaster that was his summit with North Korea, to the testimony before Congress of his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who implicated the President in various crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and not his other headache, the Robert Mueller investigation. Not to mention the battle over his “emergency” declaration along the southern border, at which some of his allies, like Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, are turning their backs. With Paul, there are now four Republican senators who, voting with all of the Democrats, would approve the resolution to revoke Trump’s national emergency declaration, which was already approved by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives last week, with support from thirteen Republicans.
Of course, even if the measure is approved and sent to Trump for his signature, he has promised to veto it.
Trump needed the adulation, applause, and love of his loyal base, to whom he spoke for two hours and two minutes, after embracing one of the United States flags that adorned the stage.
What happened next will go down in the history books as one of the craziest messages that any president has ever given, even sprinkled with vulgar expletives.
Trump revisited some of his favorite hits: Mueller’s “witch hunt,” immigrant “criminals,” and the Democrats who oppose his emergency declaration and wall because they “hate the United States.” The country, according to Trump, is better off than any other time in history thanks to his presidency; but at the same time, the country is in “big trouble” and apparently someone might have invaded us because, according to Trump, “we have to get our country back.” He made fun of the Democrats’ long-term plan to combat climate change, the Green New Deal, saying that it means “No planes. No energy.” His enablers even said the plan would prohibit “cows” and one of them, Sebastian Gorka, declared that the plan’s promoter, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, “wants to take away your cars and your hamburgers.”
And don’t forget their new talking point: the Democrats are “socialists,” a claim also embodied by Ocasio-Cortez.
It’s easy to dismiss Saturday’s sad spectacle as just another act in the circus that is Trump’s presidency, but its intention is more sinister.
This speech was the battle cry of a cornered president to his own loyal base which, like him, remains stuck in the 2016 elections and the call to lock Hillary Clinton up.
And it was also a message from Trump to those Republican legislators who, despite the dozens of reasons why they should stand up to this president, remain stuck with their tails between their legs, because they know that this lunatic has the overwhelming support of the Republican Party.
This is something that the Democrats must not lose sight of. Preventing Trump’s reelection must be like their north star. They must close ranks and choose a candidate who has a real chance of competing against Trump, setting aside the differences among them.
I have already lost count of how many Democrats want to compete for the presidential nomination. Hopefully their differences in ideology and personality will not eat up all the time needed to appeal to disaffected Republican voters, independents, women, young people and other minorities.
Trump only courts his base, but unless something happens that prevents him from finishing his term, he has a few things going his way: he is the incumbent and the economy is on his side, and the distraction of an internal Democratic battle would give him some running room, not even counting the “external help” he could receive, as he apparently did in 2016.
At the end of his appearance before Congress last week, Cohen, Trump’s ex-lawyer, issued a warning to Congress and in some ways the entire country: “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power, and this is why I agreed to appear before you today.”
Trump already planted the seeds of authoritarianism in rows, and Cohen’s words should sound alarm bells among the Democrats, whose mission must be to stop the excesses of this president without falling victim to the infighting that ultimately would only help our autocratic head of state.