Donald Trump’s campaign against his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in which he is seemingly attempting to insult and humiliate and tweet-shame Sessions into resignation, is an insanely stupid exercise. It is a multitiered tower of political idiocy, a sublime monument to the moronic, a gaudy, gleaming, Ozymandian folly that leaves many of the president’s prior efforts in its shade.
Let us walk through the levels of stupidity one by one. First there is the policy level — generally the lowest, least important in Trumpworld, but still worth exploring.
To the extent that any figure in the Trump administration both embodies “Trumpism” and seems capable of executing its policy ambitions, it is Sessions, who is using his office to strictly enforce immigration laws and pursue an old-school law-and-order agenda.
You may hate his agenda (as most liberals do) or dislike parts of it (as I do), but it is clearly the agenda that Trump ran on, and the attorney general’s office is one of the few places where it is being effectively pursued. So cashiering Sessions would be a remarkable statement (though hardly the first) that the president cares almost nothing for his own alleged platform and governing philosophy.
Next in our tower of folly is the institutional level. Trump has had difficulty staffing his administration, his secretary of state is muttering about leaving, and his White House is riven by factionalism and paranoia. Meanwhile, he is both under investigation by Senate Republicans and dependent on their good will to keep the investigations contained to just the Russia business.
Trying to defenestrate Sessions, the lone Republican senator in Trump’s corner during the primary campaign and a popular figure among his former Senate colleagues, will make things worse for the president on both fronts. It demonstrates a level of disloyalty that should send sane people running from Trump’s service, it tells other cabinet members to get out while the getting’s good (and to leak and undermine like crazy on their way), and it further alienates Republican senators whom Trump needs to confirm appointees (including any Sessions replacement) and to go easy on his scandals.
Next on our tour is the level of mass politics, where Trump’s war on Sessions is one of the few things short of a recession that could hurt him with his base — which he needs to hold, since he isn’t doing anything to persuade anyone outside it.
Of course many Trump supporters will side with him no matter what and lots don’t care about Sessions one way or another. But the Trumpian core also includes conservatives who like Sessions for ideological reasons, who trust Trump in part because Sessions vouched for him, and who don’t like or trust very many other people (the family, the New Yorkers, the ex-Democrats) in Trump’s inner circle. Which is why Trump’s campaign against Sessions has already brought him negative coverage from Breitbart, Tucker Carlson and various pro-Trump or anti-anti-Trump pundits — making it an extraordinary act of political malpractice from a White House that lacks a cushion for such follies.
Next there is the legal level. By his own admission, Trump’s beef with Sessions centers on the attorney general’s recusal from the Russia investigation, which from Trump’s perspective led to the appointment of a special counsel he now obviously yearns to fire.