On Wednesday, President Donald Trump will meet with the Pope at the Vatican, capping what has been a highly successful first trip abroad. Meanwhile, at home, his political enemies — Democrats, the media, and the undead zombies of NeverTrump — continue to plot his removal.
There is, as usual, a way for Trump to overcome the political challenges he faces. But first there are several strategic realities facing him that must be acknowledged.
1. The Democrats are determined to push the Russia conspiracy theory, regardless. On Tuesday, former CIA director John Brennan testified on Capitol Hill, producing no evidence to back up the Russia conspiracy theory, and offering nothing new besides his own suspicions. It did not matter: Democrats hailed his testimony as a watershed. They are committed to the narrative in spite of the facts. Their donors, and their media allies, keep rewarding them.
2. The Democrats’ tactics are working. Until now, Democrats have failed to win any of the special elections that have been held since November 8. That may change. In the runoff for the Georgia seat once held by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, Democrat Jon Ossoff leads Republican Handel by seven points in the latest poll, even though he does not live in the district. The conspiracy theory is false, but it is motivating the party base.
3. There is nothing Trump can do to stop the conspiracy theory talk. In fact, everything Trump does makes it worse. That is not primarily his fault: the media are primed to exploit even truthful statements against him, such as his insistence in Israel that he never said the word “Israel” to the Russians. The media, having claimed for days that he did almost exactly that, now claim they never did so, and that he had only made the problem worse for himself.
4. The Republicans are frightened and divided. Only a few Republicans are distancing themselves from Trump — so far. But the resignation of Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) from the moderate Tuesday group is a sign that the party has deep divisions that have nothing to do with Trump. Across the country, Republicans are worried: they have no achievements yet, and do not have a unifying party message. And they have still not learned how to fight the media.
5. Trump’s base is still loyal to him because he has not betrayed them. Though some of his promises have been delayed, and he has broken a few smaller ones, he has not abandoned his voters. In fact, he continues to double down. The new budget the White House released Tuesday, for example, contained some cuts to entitlements — but also funded the border wall and defunded Planned Parenthood. His voters still support him — and are still powerful.
6. Republicans and Trump need each other — like it or not. The only thing that can save the House majority in 2018 is high turnout from the conservative base. And that will only happen if Republicans can deliver on their most basic promises to their voters — especially ending Obamacare. Trump, meanwhile, needs the Congress to block a phony impeachment — and to use Democrats’ impeachment talk to inspire Republican voters to defend democracy.
So there is one way for Trump to regain the advantage, and that is to focus on the issues. That was how he made his way through the most challenging moments of his campaign.
By fighting for the border wall — through a shutdown if necessary; by pushing for Congress to pass the best possible version of the American Health Care Act; and by pushing his tax reforms through, Trump and the Republicans can preserve the House and boost his presidency.