I hate to start off with a cliché, but every once in a while history really does repeat itself, and I think it’s happening right now with Donald Trump.
Back in the day there was a Senator from Wisconsin named Joseph McCarthy. In 1950 he made a speech in which he claimed that the State Department was a nesting place for Communists who were planning to turn America into a Soviet-style state.
This speech set off the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950’s, with McCarthy leading investigations into Communist influence in labor unions, Hollywood, and the Truman Administration, among other targets. In effect, the alleged existence and behavior of all these secret Communist sympathizers and activists was McCarthy’s version of the Deep State.
What finally ended McCarthy’s political career and his anti-Communist crusade was when he began investigating alleged Communist subversion in the Army, beginning with what he claimed was a secret Communist cabal working in the Army Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth. This 1954 attack on the military forced the Senate to move against McCarthy who was censured and allowed to remain in office but lost his investigative authority and quickly faded away.
In other words, what you don’t do in American politics is use the military as an attack point and expect to have a successful political career. You just don’t, and it’s something that Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand.
Trump showed his lack of understanding this past week when he took a verbal swipe at the outgoing Joint Chiefs head, Mark Milley, after Milley made a speech decrying any attempt by the troops to support a ‘wannabee dictator,’ which was a clear reference to his former boss.
In response to that comment and other thinly veiled attacks on Trump, our former President referred to Milley as a ‘moron’ who deserved to be shot for his ‘treasonous’ acts.
Milley has never gotten over how Trump used him and other uniformed personnel as stage props when he posed in front of a church to show his disdain for the protests going on about George Floyd. He publicly apologized for making it appear that the military was taking sides in domestic politics, an apology which enraged Trump.
How did the military respond to this ongoing feud between Milley and Trump? They sent out the former White House staff chief, four-star Marine general John Kelly, who confirmed previously-published stories about how Trump referred to wounded soldiers and POW’s as ‘losers’ and called Trump “a person that has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law.”
The report about how Trump didn’t want to find himself in the company of wounded veterans first appeared in a 2020 article published in The Atlantic Monthly magazine and was picked up by the wire services but never got much traction because the story was about Trump’s visit to a military cemetery in France which happened two years before the published piece appeared.
But Trump is now becoming red meat for the online and print media, so Kelly’s comments made the front page. And while Trump had plenty to say on Truth Social about the trial in New York, when it came to the comments by Kelly, he didn’t say one word.
When Jimmy Carter issued a Presidential pardon for the Viet Nam war resisters, he was disinvited to future meetings of the various veteran’s organizations like the AMVETS and the VFW. But there has yet to be any outcry from those pro-military groups about Trump’s deplorable conduct in this respect.
I suspect the reason for this silence in the face of Trump’s egregious behavior reflects the fact that Trump continues to maintain his leadership role within the GOP, or at least still appears to be winning the contest for who will be at the top of the GOP ticket next year. And his primary campaign to date insulates him somewhat from challenges to his authority from the GOP.
But that situation may also change if Kevin McCarthy maintains his speakership with the help of some Democrat(ic) votes. Because in the MAGA world, making a deal with the ‘enemy’ instead of finding common cause with Trump’s legislative base would have been unthinkable just a few months ago, but it appears that the world according to Trump may be about to change.
If the so-called Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives is reduced to a gaggle of far-right legislators who can’t prevent a coalition of GOP and Democrat(ic) members from maintaining a working relationship with the man who Donald Trump claims is the ‘most corrupt’ President of all time, then we can begin to write off Trump’s political presence no matter what those primary polls show.
In 1996 the GOP realized they couldn’t prevent Bill Clinton from serving a second term, so they nominated a nice, old guy named Bob Dole to head a ticket which at least kept the two-party electoral system alive.
Could Donald Trump become the Bob Dole of the 2024 campaign?