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Bill Straub: Trump’s disposition should unsettle one and all so the question is — should he be replaced?

WASHINGTON – The immortal Hank Hill would often in frustration intone, “That boy ain’t right,’’ in reference to the antics of his son, Bobby, thus indirectly providing the citizens of this great nation with vital insight into the appalling behavior of the president of these United States, Donald J. Trump.

It is well past time for America to come to grips with the overwhelming evidence that there is something disturbingly and dangerously wrong with the man more than 60 million voters – 60 million, for crying out loud – decided to support for president less than 10 months ago. His disposition is that of a madly raging bull elephant with access to the nuclear code, a reality that should unsettle one and all.

The latest outrage arrived Tuesday during a political-style rally in Phoenix reminiscent of Fidel delivering a lecture in the Plaza de la Revolución. It was simultaneously weird and insulting, not unlike many of the president’s previous oratorical calamities, providing additional fodder to the notion that this man must be replaced. And quickly.

Trump used the occasion to defend his indefensibly weak assessment of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, rant against news organizations, threaten to shut down the federal government if Congress refused to pay for his stupid security wall along the border with Mexico, pointedly slur Arizona’s two U.S. senators who happen to belong to his own Republican Party and hint that he intends to pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a racist of the first degree, who was recently found guilty of ignoring a court order to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants.

It was a typically humiliating and debasing Trump performance that cries out for some official response. As Barney Fife often said about Earnest T. Bass, “He’s a nut.’’

Which brings us logically to the man who can at least do a little something about it – Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root ‘n Branch’’ McConnell, of Louisville, who recently has found himself in the awkward position of catching the president’s wrath while simultaneously being married to that same president’s transportation secretary, Elaine Chao.

Trump has been giving McConnell migraines since the get-go but ol’ Root ‘n Branch, forever overconfident in his abilities, offered quiet assurances to those uneasy about having a mad man in the White House that he could handle him. The GOP agenda would slide through Congress as easy as Stephen Curry knocking down a three-pointer.

Fat chance.

Thus far, McConnell has succeeded in confirming Trump’s choice for a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, and he had to cheat in order to do that. Otherwise the list of legislative accomplishments this session is shorter than the roster of Ted Cruz’s friends. There is no budget for 2017, there is no tax reform, raising the debt ceiling remains up in the air, promised infrastructure initiatives are inert and, most significant of all, of course, the Senate failed to repeal and replace Obamacare after a seven-year Republican effort.

That lack of progress has not gone unnoticed in the White House and Trump has made his displeasure known, both publicly and privately, intimating at one point that he would favor McConnell’s removal as majority leader if he ultimately fails to repeal Obamacare, calling his inability to do so to this point a “disgrace.’’ He also urged – no, ordered – McConnell to kill the filibuster, thus allowing Senate Republicans to pass legislation with just 50 votes.

McConnell, as is his wont, held his tongue, initially dismissing Trump’s criticism as an example of the president’s governmental inexperience – a mild admonishment that, of course, sent the president off like a fire cracker.

Still ol Root ‘n Branch held his tongue like a stone Buddha until Trump publicly equated those protesting at a white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, VA with those very same neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klanners. Even then, in asserting that, “We can have no tolerance for an ideology of racial hatred. There are no good neo-Nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms,’’ McConnell refused to criticize the president’s inexplicable statement.

Then early this week came word through The New York Times that, according to sources, McConnell was privately expressing doubt that Trump “will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.’’ The two men, according to the article, had not spoken in weeks.

The Times added:

“Mr. McConnell has fumed over Mr. Trump’s regular threats against fellow Republicans and criticism of Senate rules, and questioned Mr. Trump’s understanding of the presidency in a public speech. Mr. McConnell has made sharper comments in private, describing Mr. Trump as entirely unwilling to learn the basics of governing.’’

It is difficult, impossible, in fact, to believe that, unlike the incredibly obsequious Vice President Mike Pence, McConnell believes Trump is doing a wonderful job. It’s much easier to assume that McConnell, after 32 years in the upper chamber, finds that Trump is a real danger to the republic and that he needs to be stopped

All of which makes sense given Trump’s frequent sojourns off the reservation, his unending criticisms, his personal attacks on McConnell’s Senate charges and the fact that he has been of no help, in fact, a detriment, in getting anything accomplished.

But now, of course, ol’ Root ‘n Branch, in that delightful passive-aggressive way we have all come to know and love, has issued a tut-tut, insisting that he and the president are getting along splendidly, thank you, that they are “working together’’ and “in regular contact.’’

“We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we are committed to advancing our shared agenda together and anyone who suggests otherwise is clearly not part of the conversation,” McConnell said in a statement.

Hence another example of ol’ Root ‘n Branch being too cute by half and, in so doing, failing the nation. Does anyone seriously believe the close McConnell associates who spoke with The New York Times did so without his urging or blessing? It’s even totally possible that Mitch asked some allies to get with the reporters and plant a bug in their ears that he was highly dissatisfied with the way things are progressing.

That allowed McConnell to get the word out, providing reassurance to those Republicans ready to jump off a cliff, while simultaneously providing him with a patina of deniability. It also offers a buffer with the folks back home where a recent Public Policy Polling survey showed that Trump remains bizarrely popular in Kentucky, drawing a 60 percent approval rating, while ol’ Root ‘n Branch is dragging bottom with a paltry 18 percent.

It is difficult, impossible, in fact, to believe that, unlike the incredibly obsequious Vice President Mike Pence, McConnell believes Trump is doing a wonderful job. It’s much easier to assume that McConnell, after 32 years in the upper chamber, finds that Trump is a real danger to the republic and that he needs to be stopped.

But Mitch doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to confront the president and he’s willing to continue the corrupt bargain with the White House, hoping against hope that he can somehow push the GOP agenda through despite the obvious barricade presented by the chief executive. And the nation suffers.

Ol’ Root ‘n Branch remains willing to put up with the indignities to retain his vaunted position. Like Kevin Bacon in Animal House, he’ll soon be begging “Please, sir, may I have another.’’


Washington correspondent Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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