Trump on an island with Trump

It’s a tough time for Republicans. Although there are worse things in the world than being stuck with Donald Trump as president. You could be locked in a cage with a ravenous tiger. Tied to the leg of a stampeding elephant. Locked in a small room with a swarm of rabid ferrets.

Truly, the list goes on. Stop complaining.


This week Trump denounced the Republicans’ tax plan before they even had one. He appeared to change his mind once again on immigration and kept the House and Senate dangling on health care. He also told reporters that “I’m a very intelligent person.” The only two things we can absolutely be confident about are that on almost any given day, Trump will refer to himself as intelligent and remind people how many electoral votes he won. For the rest, it’s anybody’s guess.

Republicans in Congress generally try to just soldier on, but some of them are starting to snap. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., denounced his party’s president in a dramatic “I’m outta here” speech that Trump shrugged off, saying, “Even before the campaign he came out with this horrible book.” This would presumably be the anti-Trump book Flake published two months ago.

Did you know that Jeff Flake once appeared in a reality TV special called “Rival Survival”? I am bringing this up because there does seem to be a reality TV theme running through Washington. Some years are about “hope” and some years we have “fiscal responsibility.” This year it’s along the line of “Naked and Afraid.”

“Rival Survival” paired Flake with a Democratic senator, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. The two of them were left alone on a desert island to test their ability to feed and shelter themselves with bipartisan cooperation. They got along great but were almost completely incapable of catching fish or boiling water. You will have to come up with your own moral.

Now Flake is one of the prideful Republican rebels who are standing up to Trump on a daily basis, along with Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John McCain of Arizona. Corker, whose theme is that Trump is “utterly untruthful” and sort of nuts, does not seem to have ever been in a reality TV show. However, McCain ran for president in 2008 with Sarah Palin as a running mate and that should count for something.

Trump, of course, spent much of his career pretending to be himself before the cameras. That’s the thing about reality TV – it’s actually happening, but you’re also making it up. Jeff Flake and his buddy were alone on the desert island with a camera crew. And, according to some reports, the producers decided who to fire on “The Apprentice.”

The president tends to be extremely agreeable when he’s playing chief executive at meetings. He had a gathering with Republicans to talk about tax cuts and received a standing ovation. “I called it a love fest,” Trump said later. This is the same guy who got along super-well with some Democratic senators at a dinner not too long ago. They discussed taxes, too, and agreed about everything.

But nothing’s necessarily going to last once people leave the room. This week Trump tweeted a denunciation of any Republican tax bill that would modify the popular 401(k) program, vowing, “There will be NO change to your 401(k).” On Wednesday he said it was something his party could use for “negotiating.”

This is a man whose strong suit is supposed to be deal making?

Early in this presidency, optimists believed that when Trump suddenly veered wildly from one position to another it was because of canny tactics. Now optimists believe that he’s just … really forgetful.

It’s tough, as everybody knows, to come to a bipartisan agreement on anything in Washington these days. Way harder than when Jeff Flake was trying to get milk from a coconut with Martin Heinrich. Now, if the two parties are ready to come together, they can’t be sure the president won’t rewrite the script and denounce them for betraying the middle class.

I know many of you are exhausted with the continuous wave of crazy-person stories pouring out of the White House. Perhaps you would feel better if you believed Donald Trump does not so much lie as rerun reality on a different camera. He said this week that he was “extremely nice” to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of the four soldiers killed in Niger. Myeshia Johnson said that the president was unfeeling and appeared not to know her husband’s name.

Trump claimed he got all the names right because he has “one of the great memories of all time.” It is possible that’s the way he recalls the scene. In the real world, he seems to naturally say things that are off-kilter. And there are possibly days that he calls his oldest daughter “SriLanka.” Or “Mary Sue.”

Does that make you feel better? No? Well, I tried.