November 17, 2018

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Despite midterm setback, Trump remains defiant

Editorial

One might have thought Tuesday’s U.S. midterm elections, which saw the Democratic party regain majority control of the House of Representatives, would have sufficiently humbled President Donald Trump to prompt a prudently tactical muting of his usually raging rhetoric and perhaps even a more conciliatory approach to governing.

One could not possibly have been more completely, categorically and comprehensively incorrect.

Mr. Trump was in full battle mode on Wednesday, engaging in angry confrontations with media members during a briefing in the East Room of the White House and then later effectively firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and installing as his interim replacement a loyal underling who, prior to joining the Trump administration, was an occasional news-network commentator who described in several television interviews the strategy he would use to shut down the Russian-collusion investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.

The day started with the ever-combative Mr. Trump declaring Tuesday’s electoral result — in which Republicans slightly expanded their majority in the Senate — as “very close to ­complete victory.” After mocking several defeated Republicans whose losses he attributed to their failure to “embrace” him and his policies, Mr. Trump took questions from the media, and the event slid quickly into utter chaos.

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One might have thought Tuesday’s U.S. midterm elections, which saw the Democratic party regain majority control of the House of Representatives, would have sufficiently humbled President Donald Trump to prompt a prudently tactical muting of his usually raging rhetoric and perhaps even a more conciliatory approach to governing.

One could not possibly have been more completely, categorically and comprehensively incorrect.

Mr. Trump was in full battle mode on Wednesday, engaging in angry confrontations with media members during a briefing in the East Room of the White House and then later effectively firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and installing as his interim replacement a loyal underling who, prior to joining the Trump administration, was an occasional news-network commentator who described in several television interviews the strategy he would use to shut down the Russian-collusion investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.

The day started with the ever-combative Mr. Trump declaring Tuesday’s electoral result — in which Republicans slightly expanded their majority in the Senate — as "very close to ­complete victory." After mocking several defeated Republicans whose losses he attributed to their failure to "embrace" him and his policies, Mr. Trump took questions from the media, and the event slid quickly into utter chaos.

Highlighted by a rancorous exchange with CNN reporter Jim Acosta — a frequent Trump critic whom the president called "a rude, terrible person" — and a seething assertion that a query from PBS correspondent Yamiche Alcindor about white-nationalist racism was itself "such a racist question," the East Room debacle demonstrated that the Democrats’ gains have not given Mr. Trump even a moment’s pause.

The departure of Mr. Sessions was significantly less confrontational; in fact, Mr. Trump opted not to even speak directly to his once-favoured attorney general (but more lately reviled for having recused himself from oversight of the Mueller investigation). Instead, he sent chief of staff John Kelly to handle the dirty work. While he was not technically fired, Mr. Sessions’ resignation letter stated everything it needed to in its first sentence: "At your request, I am submitting my resignation."

Following immediately was the appointment of Mr. Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew ­Whitaker — the aforementioned provider of cable-news blueprints for stifling the Mueller probe — as acting attorney general. Several Democrats were quick to observe that Mr. Whitaker’s past statements have also placed him in a conflict of interest that requires recusal; early reports suggest the new acting attorney general has no such intention.

While the president’s post-midterm antics are in keeping with his reputation as someone who "punches back" when confronted, Mr. Trump might soon be forced to confront the realization that his preferred avenue of politics — pugnacious, with a tendency toward division fuelled by anger, lies, insults and distraction — might no longer be as readily accessible when the newly balanced Congress begins its business.

Mr. Trump’s level of agitation on Wednesday was particularly interesting in light of what lies ahead for him; the shift in majority power means Democrats will control all the various House committees and will have full subpoena power when they launch the inevitable wave of POTUS-focused investigations that will be unleashed in January.

Come the new year, Mr. Trump will have more than enough to "punch back" at.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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