The theme of the day was the palpable sense of rats leaving a sinking ship as Republicans, administration officials, and administration-adjacent people distanced themselves from the president.
There was a foreshadowing of that exodus on Wednesday, when Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) let loose about the president in a telephone call with constituents. Sasse was an early critic of Trump but toned down his opposition significantly in the early part of the administration. On Wednesday, he reverted to his earlier position, saying he had “never been on the Trump train.” He complained about the way Trump “kisses dictators’ butts,” and went on: “The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women, spends like a drunken sailor…. [He] mocks evangelicals behind closed doors…has treated the presidency like a business opportunity” and has “flirted with white supremacists.” He said: “What the heck were any of us thinking, that selling a TV-obsessed, narcissistic individual to the American people was a good idea?”The theme of abandoning the administration became apparent yesterday, when officials leaked the story that intelligence officials had warned Trump against listening to his lawyer Rudy Giuliani. This was a high-level leak, and suggests that more and more staffers are starting to look for a way off the S.S. Trump.
The audience numbers for last night’s town halls was also revealing, as Biden attracted 700,000 more viewers on just one ABC outlet than Trump did on the three NBC outlets that carried his event. Biden’s town hall was the most watched event since the Oscars in February. It appears that people are simply tired of watching the president and are eager for calm and reason.
Today, a group called “43 Alumni for Biden” released an ad called “Team 46.” It says that they are all lifelong Republicans, but because they recognize the qualities of leadership—including empathy– everyone “on this team” is voting for Biden. “Let’s put Joe Biden in the White House.” The ad features a number of pictures of President George W. Bush, the forty-third president, and is narrated by someone whose voice sounds like his. Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance notes, “This looks awfully close to an endorsement of Biden from George W. Bush.”
— 43 Alumni for Biden (@43Biden) October 16, 2020
Also today, the former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Committee, Jennifer Horn, urged “my fellow Republicans” not to vote for Trump’s reelection. In a piece in USA Today, Horn reminded Republicans of “the overwhelming sorrow and grief that this president” has inflicted on the country. Citing Covid-19 deaths, “cultural divides, racial unrest, economic disparity and constitutional abuses,” all of which “are just tools to be used to feed his narcissism, advance his political ambitions and line his pockets,” Horn indicted both Trump and the Republican Party that enables him.
“This election poses a unique challenge,” she wrote. “It will test not Republican vs. Democrat or Trump vs. Biden, but rather, “We the People.” It is our role in this constitutional republic, our leadership, and our dedication to the promise of America that is being tested. Trump or America,” she wrote. “We cannot have both.”
Under pressure, Trump changed course today and approved the emergency declaration for California that he denied yesterday. Such a reconsideration would normally have taken until after the election, but this one happened fast. Earlier this week, Trump tweeted: “People are fleeing California. Taxes too high, Crime too high, Brownouts too many, Lockdowns too severe. VOTE FOR TRUMP, WHAT THE HELL DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE!!!”
Today CNN began teasers for a special on Sunday that will explain how former senior Trump officials believe Trump is unfit for the presidency. According to former White House Chief of Staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, “The depths of his dishonesty is just astounding to me. The dishonesty, the transactional nature of every relationship, though it’s more pathetic than anything else. He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life.”
Also today, Caroline Giuliani, the daughter of Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, urged people to end Trump’s “reign of terror” by voting for “a compassionate and decent president,” Joe Biden. “[C]orruption starts with ‘yes-men’ and women, the cronies who create an echo chamber of lies and subservience to maintain their proximity to power,” she wrote in a piece for Vanity Fair. “We’ve seen this ad nauseam with Trump and his cadre of high-level sycophants (the ones who weren’t convicted, anyway).” Giuliani cheered Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris for his running mate, and wrote, “in Joe Biden, we’ll have a leader who prioritizes common ground and civility over alienation, bullying, and scorched-earth tactics.” “[T]ogether,” she said, “we can vote this toxic administration out of office.”
And yet another story from the day: a third career prosecutor from the Department of Justice resigned after publicly attacking Attorney General William Barr for abusing his power to get Trump reelected. “After 36 years, I’m fleeing what was the U.S. Department of Justice,” Phillip Halpern wrote. “[T]he department’s past leaders were dedicated to the rule of law and the guiding principle that justice is blind. That is a bygone era, but it should not be forgotten.” Noting that “Barr has never actually investigated, charged or tried a case,” Halpern expressed deep concern over Barr’s “slavish obedience to Donald Trump’s will.” “This career bureaucrat seems determined to turn our democracy into an autocracy,” he warned.
Georgetown Law Professor Paul Butler, who worked as a federal prosecutor under Barr when he was George H. W. Bush’s Attorney General, told Katie Benner of the New York Times that such criticism is “unprecedented,” and reflects Trump’s pressure on the AG. “I have never seen sitting prosecutors go on the record with concerns about the attorney general,” he said.
And yet, Barr’s willingness to bend the Justice Department to Trump’s personal will may, in the end, not be enough to keep Trump’s favor. Angry that Barr did not produce a report attacking the Russia investigation before the election, Trump just yesterday said he wasn’t happy with Barr’s performance, and might not keep him on as AG if he wins a second term.
There are signs people in the administration are preparing for Trump to lose the election. His cabinet is rushing to change regulations to lock in Trump’s goal of giving more scope to businessmen to act as they see fit. Normally, changes in regulations require setting aside time for public comment on the changes, but the administration is shortening or eliminating those periods over changes in, for example, rules allowing railroads to move highly flammable liquefied natural gas on freight trains, what constitutes “contract” work, how much pollution factories can emit, and who can immigrate to America.
Russell Vought, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement: “President Trump has worked quickly from the beginning of his term to grow the economy by removing the mountain of Obama-Biden job-killing regulations,” and that the current push simply continues that effort. But no one is missing the quiet distancing going on in Washington as Republican lawmakers are shifting away from public support for the president.
Meanwhile, at his rally tonight in Georgia, Trump told the crowd “You should… lock up the Bidens, lock up Hillary.” The crowd then began to chant “Lock them up.” But one thing about a bully: when people finally start to turn on him, there is a stampede for the exits.
Tonight, at his Georgia rally, Trump outlined all the ways in which he was being unfairly treated, then mused: “Could you imagine if I lose?… I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country, I don’t know.”