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June 16, 2023

Everybody’s Wolves Come Home to Roost

If Trump is not careful, his wolves too will come home to roost, and his wolves, more than most, are hungry for him.

When one has been wrong, how do they approach a new situation and attempt to explain it is different, not like that other time, and must be approached differently? In 2016, I and most others were convinced Donald Trump could not beat Hillary Clinton. We were wrong. Trump and his supporters have since, despite the outcomes of 2018, 2020 and 2022, insisted that now 2024 is like 2016. How does one persuade them it is not?

After 2016, I sought to review why I had been wrong. My conclusions were pretty straightforward. Contrary to the Democrats’ mythology that Russia stole the election, Hillary Clinton was, in fact, a uniquely and historically bad candidate with a terrible campaign. But there was also something more significant.

Over the past 30 years, Republicans and Democrats had embraced free trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement. On paper and in the data, the agreements promised a wealth of benefits to the United States, from expanded profits in trade to lower prices for consumers. But, despite all the promises of the agreements, a lot of Americans did not believe they benefited. Instead, they felt left behind and forgotten. A cheaper washing machine is of no use to the Ohio factory worker who made the washing machines until the assembly line moved to Mexico.

Donald Trump tapped into the emotions of many Americans free trade left behind. The brainiacs and elite prospered. The coastal communities and Ivy League graduates benefited. It seemed like everyone else was subsidizing the good times of the elite. Trump gave voice to that and to the betrayals a lot of Republicans had experienced with their own leaders who made promises that they then repeatedly broke.

When Trump became a force to be reckoned with, many of the Republican consultants who helped George Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney turned not just on Trump, but on the party he now ran. Having pushed forward candidates who claimed to be pro-life and for traditional marriage and values, the GOP presidential candidates’ consultants turned out to be in it for the money, socially liberal and dripping with disdain for the base of the party. Trump exposed that rot and bought loyalty.

While some of us learned the lessons, many did not. How does one explain to the American political press that they have cried wolf so much that so few believe them? Every Republican witnessed how a fawning press turned on McCain. They declared Mitt Romney bad, bigoted and racist. Then they did the same to Trump. Even now, some outlets have started proclaiming Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis even worse than Trump. How does one explain to the self-assured, arrogant press corps that lacks any ounce of humility or the capacity to self-reflect that telling Trump voters from the moment of Trump’s 2016 victory that he was toast only makes it harder now to explain this time is different? To mix metaphors, one can only cry wolf so much before those wolves come home to roost.

Concurrently, how does one tell Trump voters that this federal indictment and all that follows really is different? They were all told the Access Hollywood tape would end Trump. Then it was Gen. Mike Flynn. Then it was Ukraine. Then it was holding a Bible in the air across Lafayette Park. Everything is always the end of Trump, except nothing has ended him. But this actually is different. If, as it appears, Trump did withhold documents from a grand jury in spite of a subpoena, that is a federal crime for which people get jail time. But how does one explain to cynical Trump loyalists who have his back because he has theirs that this is different?

And, lastly, how does one explain to the former president that this is not like those other things? He must make wise decisions now to stay out of prison. People have cried wolf so much that he will be hard-pressed to take sound advice that sounds so much like the old advice. But if he is not careful, his wolves too will come home to roost, and his wolves, more than most, are hungry for him.


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