How much can they stand?

The moment Republicans figure Donald Trump cannot keep Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren out of the White House is the moment they decide he has to go.

The rapidity with which GOP senators went from declaring him an unfit con man  in 2016 to becoming boot-lickers following his unexpected victory was head-snapping. But it should also serve as a reminder of how quickly these people can change their minds when the need arises.

In return for a couple of supreme court justices — and because they were afraid of his base — they have put up with Trump’s lies, pornstar pay-offs and utterly un-Republican stance on trade, deficit spending, immigration and national security.

They also figured that if they pandered to his narcissism — and as long as there were enough grown-ups surrounding him to check his impulses — he couldn’t do too much damage. Why, he might even grow into the job.

That hasn’t panned out. Now Republicans are starting to look at the clock, the polls and the  inescapable fact that Trump is not making America great again. Quite the contrary. He is doing huge damage to the country and its global relationships. And he is doing it in their name.

Day by day, the evidence hardens that Trump put the squeeze on Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky to help his reelection, which would be illegal. 

He wanted a statement from Zelensky he could use to slime former Vice President Joe Biden and discredit the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller that the Kremlin had helped put him in office. 

If Zelensky obliged, Trump would give him an Oval Office meeting and the weapons Ukraine needed to hold off Russian-backed revanchists in the Donbas. If not…nice country you’ve got there, Volodymyr, would be a shame to let more of it be annexed by my good friend Vladimir Putin.

The evidence is coming directly from Trump’s own mouth and that of his acting chief-of-staff Mick Mulvaney; from the transcript of a telephone conversation between Trump and Zelensky the White House itself edited before releasing; and from the sworn statements of Trump administration appointees. The latter confirm that Trump and his inner circle knew what they were doing had to be covered up.

This is not, as Trump’s spokesperson would have it, “a coordinated smear campaign by far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war in the Constitution” with “selective leaks” from “secretive meetings”  based on “triple hearsay”. 

Serious Republicans pols know these talking points are a sham. They were appalled when Trump on Tuesday tweeted that he was being lynched, as if he were an African-American being strung from a tree by the Ku Klux Klan.

The cracks are starting to show. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who more than anything else cares about maintaining a Republican majority in the upper chamber next year, unloaded in the Washington Post on Trump’s between-golf-rounds decision to abandon the Syrian Kurds. On Tuesday, he declined to defend Trump in a lie.

More importantly, he is indicating that if and when the House of Representatives does impeach Trump, he will not seek a Senate vote to dismiss the matter, as he could, but is ready to put the president on trial. And if he’s ready for a trial, I’d wager he’s ready for a conviction.

Why? Because, love him or loathe him, he is a politician and he has to know that Trump means disaster for his party. The hardcore Trump base is not a winning coalition. 2016 was a fluke decided by 70 000 votes in three states. The quicker Trump is gone, the more chance the Republicans have of finding and fielding a credible alternative to the Democrat, who, as of today, looks to be Warren, a genuine populist terrifying to Republican donors.

Downfall?

One had a sense this week that Donald Trump was retreating into some sort of cocoon of unreality following the shellacking his Republicans received  in the midterm elections he vaingloriously billed as a referendum on himself.

It would have been hard otherwise to maintain the pretence that the loss of up to 40 seats in the House of Representatives was a triumphal vindication of his presidency. Even on a good day, that should have taxed this master of mendacious spin.

True, the Republicans picked up a couple of seats in the Senate, at any rate at this writing with the results in Florida and Mississippi still be determined. These wins confirmed that the party of the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, was now the party of George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama whose appeal was principally to rural blue collar whites without much education — and to the sharks, like Trump, out to monetize their prejudices, fears and false consciousness.

Never in a non-presidential election year have voters turned out in such numbers.  By a margin of close to 8 percent they voted against the Trumpublicans, giving the Democrats subpoena power to make life hell for Trump and his family, both in the genetic and the Mafia sense.

There was a deranged quality to Trump’s post-election press conference. It brought to mind the movie “Downfall” and its depiction of a dictator who, cornered, had emigrated to a parallel universe.

Perhaps, though, there was a method to Trump’s apparent madness — a desperate theatrical turn for an audience he was sure would thrill to his denouncing as “racist” the African-American correspondent of a highbrow news programme when she asked what he meant by calling himself a “nationalist” and whether he meant it as a racist dog whistle.

Which, without doubt, is precisely how he had meant it — and precisely how it was taken not only by the committed Ku Kluxers and neo-Nazis who heard it but also by the larger mass of citizens open to the suggestion that black people, immigrants from Latin America, and George Soros are the cause of their distemper.

Cut next to Paris where Trump came, nominally, to mark the centenary of the armistice ending the war that many would call the beginning of the world we  live in now. Would he join a score of other world leaders in showing respect for the millions butchered in the service of their predecessors’ leaders’ pride and folly? No. He would not even come out on the birthday of the US Marines to honour the heroes of Belleau Wood, the corps’ signature World War I immolation. He blamed the weather and, several days later, the Secret Service.

For any of the others, of either party, who might have been elected president in 2016, November 11, 2018, would have been the moment for a big speech about the lessons of the Great War and the botched peace that ended it, sowing the seeds of a second and, in the cold one, a third. But Trump, knowing little and caring less about history, scarpered home to brood and tweet about his electoral wounds.

He strikes me as cognitively challenged. When he speaks his vocabulary is increasingly limited. More and more, his nastiness on twitter seems instinctive rather than tactical or strategic. You can tell by the spelling and grammar when his staff has been tweeting for him.

That he has difficulty expressing himself more articulately than Tony Soprano does not mean his lizard brain is not fully functioning. He knows the Democratic majority in Congress next year will have access to the tax returns he has long sought to conceal. He knows that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is about to indict his son, Donald Jr, who makes the Godfather’s Sonny look like a stable genius.

God knows what lies ahead. Whatever else, it will be riveting.