Donald Trump and his incredible shrinking political muscle

There’s an old saying that a popular president can get away with anything, while an unpopular president can’t get away with anything. Richard Nixon survived the first year of the Watergate investigation because he was popular. He didn’t survive the second year because by that time his popularity had collapsed. Political capital, political muscle, whatever you want to call it, defines everything that happens in a presidency. Donald Trump no longer has any.

By virtue of entering office with a historically low approval rating after an illegitimate election, with millions of protesters marching in the streets against him from day one, Trump had precious little political muscle to begin with. It’s a big part of why, despite having a majority in the House and Senate, he’s managed to pass so little legislation. But the most glaring manifestation of Trump’s total lack of muscle has come with his increasing inability to fire anyone.

Sure, he managed to annoy FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe into retirement yesterday, but McCabe was planning to retire anyway. This wasn’t a victory for Trump. It was merely the steam he pointlessly blew off after realizing that he doesn’t have the muscle to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, or Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump can’t do anything anymore, and he seems to know it. Liberals are afraid he’s going to try to save himself by starting a war. But the window for him to get away with pulling off a war closed a long time ago. He arguably had the muscle to do it six months ago. He doesn’t now.

Donald Trump, like any toxically unpopular president, is a sitting duck. All he can do is wait it out and hope that perhaps his popularity will somehow eventually rebound of its own accord. That has historically happened on occasion, but never when a president is this unpopular, and certainly never when a president is this scandal-plagued and is being investigated for crimes against the United States. The Resistance needs to remain as vigilant as ever. But the worst thing we can do is start assuming that he has powers and abilities that he clearly no longer has. That only hands him leverage, at a time when he has very little left.

Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report