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Trump’s mind-control superpowers

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

In our lifetime, no president has matched Donald Trump’s ability to summon the power of the pulpit, friendly media, and the tweet-by-tweet power of repetition and persuasion to move minds en masse.

The big picture: You see this in the silence of Republican critics; the instant shifts in GOP views of the FBI, Putin and deficits; and the quick, widespread adoption of his branding efforts around “deep state,” “Spygate” and “no collusion.” We hear so much, so often that we become numb to what Trump is doing. This allows big things (such as fundamental shifts in governing norms) to seem like small things or nothing at all. 

Why this matters ... Trump and allies are floating untested legal arguments: The president can't obstruct justice, or can unilaterally shut down probes of himself, or can even pardon himself. If you think he won't try something unprecedented — and maybe get away with it, at least with Republicans — you aren’t paying attention.

A few data points to marinate in:

  • For all the drama, "never befores” and controversy, at 501 days into his presidency, Trump has more party support than any president since World War II except George W. Bush after 9/11. The more Republicans see and hear, the more they agree with him. 
  • House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the second ranking Republican in the House and possible next Speaker, on CNN yesterday became the latest GOP leader to claim “no collusion,” despite Robert Mueller's ongoing probe. The more they hear his terms, the more they repeat them.
  • Michael Hayden, a huge Trump critic who's a former CIA director and National Security Agency director, tells Kara Swisher in a Recode Decode podcast that Republican support is so unmovable that impeachment, regardless of evidence, would be unwise because it'd be seen as “soft coup.”

A case in point on being numb: Trump's retaliation against Amazon.

  • He threatened the company behind the scenes, then publicly, while privately pushing U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double Amazon's package rates.
  • This was quickly forgotten even though it’s highly abnormal for presidents to use their voice and power to pick on one specific public company using misleading data points. 

Tim Miller, a Republican and the former spokesman for Jeb Bush, nailed the nothing-is-abnormal-when-everything-is-abnormal phenomenon in a tweet about a piece he wrote for Crooked Media:

  • “Take  Romney’s 47% gaffe - or frankly any major political gaffe in history - and dump it into Trumps Nashville speech verbatim. The remark wouldn’t have even made it into the newspaper.” 

Then consider this small but telling example of persuasion: 

  • No one in the world was thinking about former Illinois Gov. Rob Blagojevich, who's serving a 14-year sentence for corruption and soliciting bribes. He was a Democrat brought down by Democrats in a Democratic state. 
  • Suddenly Trump floated the idea of curtailing his sentence, claiming he was guilty of typical politics, not some huge crime. Again, this was not the view of Democrats or the courts. 
  • Then, Fox News' Judge Jeanine Pirro, a Trump favorite, made her Saturday night show a shockingly safe and sympathetic forum for Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, to kiss up to Trump and paint the president and her husband as victims. 
  • The Trump and Fox formula probably means Blagojevich will be freed — and a lot of Republicans will applaud, if recent history holds. 

Remember this: Hayden might be right. It is possible that no matter what Mueller finds, no matter how extensive or incriminating, Trump survives.

  • The only indisputable way to remove a president from office is for him to be impeached, then convicted and ousted by a supermajority of the Senate.
  • That means a bunch of Republicans would need to turn on him — and there is scant evidence to date that many, if any, ever would. 

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