The “why” and “how” of Donald Trump’s 2016 election surprise resulted from very basic voter dissatisfaction with government — much of which had been “cooking” long before President Trump became a candidate for president. These same complaints were “cooking” — but without realization or even awareness — for the traditional Washington “establishments,” including the media, Congress, the DNC and, perhaps surprisingly, the RNC.
And recall how few in “clueless” Washington took Mr. Trump’s 2016 run seriously. However, they learned — just like Hillary learned — that Mr. Trump was elected because working middle America had too long been taken for granted by establishment Washington. This in favor of endless wars and ever-enlarging welfare programs — while ignoring the basic principle of “it’s the economy, stupid.”
Mr. Trump also had the audacity to criticize the Washington political establishment, i.e., to “drain the swamp,” and thereby criticize Congress. This included [and still includes] both Republicans and Democrats who had supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on very bad intelligence that Saddam had “WMD,” including a viable nuclear weapons program. The Iraq war cost us $7 trillon to $10 trillion of mostly borrowed money, depending what/how one counts. And in this respect, Mr. Trump’s criticisms included both Republicans and Democrats in Congress who “do what Congress does” — simply by spending trillions of “other people’s money.”
So, in 2016, Mr. Trump basically took advantage of the ever-decreasing popularity of Congress — now even lower than ever — and he continues to beat on them. Congress has never seen anything like it — and they hate it while most Americans love it. In fact, Congress is just now figuring out that most Americans think they are useless.
Then, and mostly because of Mr. Trump’s criticism of the 2003 Iraq war, 122 so-called “members of the Republican national security community” — including both former George W. Bush administration appointees and “deep state” Iraq War advocates — put out a vitriolic personal attack of Mr. Trump in March 2016. The attack includied the statement that Mr. Trump was “fundamentally dishonest.” When this so-called “Open Letter on Donald Trump from GOP National Security Leaders” was released, many signers had obviously decided that there was no way Mr. Trump would ever be the Republican nominee, let alone elected president.
No doubt what motivated them was that signing such a personal attack against Mr. Trump would ensure their selection for “big jobs” in a Jeb Bush administration, who they thought would win the election. Wrong. And as it turned out, these 122 so-called “members of the Republican national security community” succeeded only in dumping on themselves.
A few of these “deep state” signers have tried to “walk back” from the insulting “open letter” they signed — however, how could any of them expect to be appointed in any capacity in a Trump administration? And, for that matter, how could any of them be capable of objectivity in anything they say or write about national security? In short, signing the “open letter” was the epitome of poor judgment on their part and has rendered them mostly irrelevant.
Next, we can’t forget what Mr. Trump followed: The Obama administration played the media “like an organ” for eight years, this while regarding them as “snot-nosed kids,” as the saying goes. Specifically, it was Obama NSC Official Ben Rhodes — brother of then-CBS News CEO — who described Washington media as “27-year-old know nothings” working in an “echo chamber.” This essentially allows the media to write/say virtually anything — so long as it’s preceded by “it’s been reported that.”
The bottom line here is that Donald Trump has basically “undone” the entire media structure in the United States and they hate him for it — they can’t hide their contempt for him and no longer even try. Because of Donald Trump, our media has virtually no political credibility — and this explains why they mostly interview each other these days.
What conclusions can we draw from these dynamics?
• Despite being clubbed around by the political realities Donald Trump has brought to town, Washington institutions — including Congress, the media and both national political parties — remain largely clueless about the fundamental changes Mr. Trump has made in our political system. He brought the “tweet” to D.C. and has forever changed the way the town makes news.
• Democrats have mostly focused their time and energy opposing whatever Mr. Trump wants to do — even if it’s the same kind of program [border security, for example] that Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton aggressively advocated.
• It’s also clear that Democrats will do most anything — even if it’s destructive of our fundamental American values — to oppose the continued success of the Trump agenda. This includes “tanking” the economy if they can.
• Also, much of “traditional Washington” wants Mr. Trump to fail, even if it takes us with him. This is the same reason the 2020 election may well be our last real chance to preserve our unique and autonomous system of limited government.
Bottom line: Washington had become way too full of itself and Donald Trump let the gas out of bloated institutional egos here — and, of course, they don’t like him for it.
• Daniel Gallington served in senior national security and intelligence policy positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Justice and as General Counsel for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.