"When you strike at the king, you must kill him."
On Feb. 15, 10 days after the Senate acquitted him on two articles of impeachment, President Donald Trump tweeted out Ralph Waldo Emerson's well-known quote. Yet Trump's foes make this grave mistake again and again.
They think they are thrusting another dagger into Caesar, saving the republic with a blow that will hasten his political demise. But Trump's fiercest enemies, Republican and Democratic, do nothing but make him stronger. Every attempted slaying represents exactly what caused the conservative GOP base to propel Trump to victory in 2016. Continuing attempts to destroy him can only drive those voters angrily to the polls in 2020.
The race is narrowing somewhat, with former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders emerging as the front-runners after Super Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, the newest antagonist with a personal disdain for Trump, his rival billionaire and fellow New Yorker Mike Bloomberg, debuted at the ballot box. He has already spent half a billion dollars and wants to remove Trump badly.
On Wednesday, after an abysmal showing, Bloomberg dropped out of the race but has so far pledged to keep spending right through Election Day. "So while I will not be the nominee, I will not walk away from the most important political fight of my life," he told supporters. Please, Mike, keep spending. Not only will these ads become redundant and tiresome, but he also represents exactly the kind of cosmopolitan elitist whom Trump was elected to oppose. Bloomberg put his tone deafness on full display last week with wraparound banners apparently appealing to voters who can afford the finer things in life — charging that Trump likes his steaks cooked too well done and cheats at golf.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg has suggested that Chinese President Xi Jinping, who runs concentration camps for Chinese Muslim minority Uighurs, is not a dictator. Trump's efforts to undo China's years of stealing American jobs and pirating our products and technology remain one foundation of his support from U.S. workers.
Trump's chief Democratic antagonists last year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, tried to kill off — or at least mortally wound — the president by impeaching him. Instead, polls showed Trump's favorability ratings rising as impeachment proceeded. Just weeks after the Senate acquitted him, he is as popular as ever.
Pelosi has long been the Democrat every Republican, pro-Trumper and never-Trumper, loved to hate. Schiff took his place beside her for the pro-Trump camp by leading in the fruitless effort to tie the 2016 Trump campaign to the Kremlin and then pausing barely a moment before leading the charge on impeachment. Both Schiff crusades were viewed by Trump's furious base as little better than attempts to steal the 2016 election by disgruntled Democrats, who think Trump was elected by haters who denied Hillary Clinton her rightful claim to the throne.
For Trump voters, Pelosi and Schiff, with their California high-handedness, personify the many Democrats who view the GOP base as Bible- and gun-clinging deplorables — to combine commentary offered by President Barack Obama and Clinton — who are too ignorant to select presidents.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, sure thought he stuck it to Trump by being the sole Republican in both the House and the Senate to support impeachment — voting to convict on the abuse-of-power count. Romney framed his choice as the result of a five-round mixed martial arts contest with his conscience, which finally won out to seize for his better half the championship belt in the moral-paragon weight class. One can be forgiven for doubting the claims of virtuous decision-making by a man who accidentally revealed his contempt for the right by proclaiming himself "severely conservative" during the 2012 election and who derided Trump during the 2016 Republican primaries as the lowest form of subhuman political animal and then begged to be his secretary of state.
Romney's vote against Trump will help the president in November. That's because Romney is also exactly the kind of politician Trump was elected to replace: He pretends raw political ambition and personal resentments — Trump won the presidency Romney thought he deserved — are really about high-minded public service.
Similarly, the decision by the late Sen. John McCain, another GOP presidential loser, to sink Trump's Obamacare repeal effort after having opposed the legislation for years may have been a policy blow to Trump, but it marked a political victory. McCain, who had collaborated with Democrats for years on issues like health care, campaign finance reform and immigration, was exactly the kind of political insider the GOP base loves to hate. In his 2016 re-election bid, McCain was forced to scramble to defeat conservative primary challenger Kelli Ward. At one point, McCain was disliked by 50 percent of Arizona voters, compared to 35 percent who approved of him.
Washington and even many outside the Beltway were aghast in 2015 when Trump dismissed McCain's celebrated war heroism — "I like people who weren't captured." But, again, Trump knew what he was doing. He understood that large numbers of bedrock conservatives disliked and distrusted McCain, despite his courage years before in a North Vietnamese prison.
If current voting trends continue, either democratic socialist Sanders or Biden will end up as the Democratic Party's nominee for president. As leader of the opposition party, both would unload sustained invective against the president.
Trump and Republicans are aching for Sanders to win the nomination, because he embodies yet another force, perhaps the most pernicious, that Trump was elected to eradicate: leftism that believes in massive "deep state" government control of the economy that usurps personal freedom, political correctness that eviscerates free speech and support for unlimited immigration that Trump backers fear cannot be assimilated quickly enough to avoid adulterating the American culture.
For Trump, Sanders would be the most empowering enemy yet.