Donald Trump has found his scapegoat for the failure of Ronny Jackson's nomination for VA Secretary, and it's not Roony Jackson (or Donald Trump, who of course didn't bother vetting Jackson.) No, the villain is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Montana's Jon Tester, who has now been targeted by Trump for complete annihilation
because nobody is allowed to oppose Dear Leader, and examples must be made.
President Trump called on Saturday for the resignation of Senator Jon Tester, the Montana Democrat who helped thwart his effort to install the White House physician in the cabinet, suggesting that the president may try to exact retribution in the fall congressional elections in a state that he won by a wide margin.
Two days after the doctor, Ronny L. Jackson, withdrew from consideration for secretary of veterans affairs amid a flurry of reports about his conduct on the job, Mr. Trump made clear he did not intend to let the matter go. In a pair of early morning messages on Twitter, the president said the accusations raised by Mr. Tester against Dr. Jackson were fabricated.
“Allegations made by Senator Jon Tester against Admiral/Doctor Ron Jackson are proving false,” Mr. Trump wrote. “The Secret Service is unable to confirm (in fact they deny) any of the phony Democrat charges which have absolutely devastated the wonderful Jackson family. Tester should resign.”
He added: “The great people of Montana will not stand for this kind of slander when talking of a great human being. Admiral Jackson is the kind of man that those in Montana would most respect and admire, and now, for no reason whatsoever, his reputation has been shattered. Not fair, Tester!”
Mr. Tester fired back a few hours later with a statement noting that Mr. Trump had signed eight of the senator’s bills to make the Department of Veterans Affairs more accountable and responsive to veterans. “It’s my duty to make sure Montana veterans get what they need and have earned, and I’ll never stop fighting for them as their senator,” he said.
The president has been sharply criticizing Mr. Tester for days, singling out the Democrat while ignoring Republican opposition that had built to Dr. Jackson’s nomination. Mr. Tester, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, took the lead in publicly questioning Dr. Jackson’s record, but he had the support of Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, the Republican chairman of the committee, who signed a joint statement with him saying the issues should be investigated.
But Mr. Tester is from a conservative state that in 2016 supported Mr. Trump strongly, giving him 55.6 percent of its votes to 35.4 percent for Hillary Clinton. Even before the flap over Dr. Jackson, Mr. Trump and the Republicans had hoped to use the power of that 20-point margin to defeat Mr. Tester for re-election this fall and defend their narrow 51-seat majority in the Senate.
Mr. Tester released a list of accusations this week against Dr. Jackson alleging loose distribution of prescription drugs, a hostile work environment and drunkenness.
The allegations, Mr. Tester said, were raised by more than 20 current and former military personnel who had worked with Dr. Jackson, whose White House medical unit is run by the military.
Several of those military officials also described their experiences and concerns about Dr. Jackson to reporters, although they spoke on the condition of anonymity because of their status as members of the military.
Expect this to be Trump's modus operandi
over the next several months. Republicans may not want his endorsement in November
, but they'll settle for him relentlessly attacking key Democrats in Trump states and there's a damn good chance it's going to work.
Let’s be honest here, if I’m Trump’s strategist (or whatever dark corner of Trump’s brain passes as such) I’m attacking red state Dem senators as much as possible. I treat them like I treated Hillary Clinton. I hold rallies in those states and start “Lock them up!” chants. I blame everything that has gone wrong in my first 18 months on the fact the GOP doesn’t have 60 seats in the Senate.
What’s our press going to do, call him out on it? Like they “did” in 2016? Please. They’re just as terrified of this bully as the Dems are, because Trump and his goons have outsized power that we give them and refuse to take from them.
Now Tester has to either keep trying to placate Trump, or stand his ground in a state where Clinton lost by 25 points. Either path is fraught with instant peril.
And then Trump will move on to his next Democratic prey, maybe Claire McCaskill, maybe Joe Donnelly, maybe Joe Manchin or Heidi Heitkamp. Yes, I know I said earlier today and it will be easy to bring Trump into any race as Republicans with primary challengers will, but it doesn’t mean that’s a winning strategy fo Dems in a state where Trump is at 55 or 60% approval.
Remember that these are the same Dems that had to balance on a tightrope in 2012 and won for various reasons, and yes, sometimes those reasons were outright running as a check against Barack Obama. I didn’t like it then, but your alternate choice was someone like Todd Akin or another lunatic Republican and I’ll take the Democrat every time rather than somebody I know who will be proud to vote with Trump 96% of the time.
Does that make me a pragmatic son of a bitch? It does. But that pragmatism is the only way we get to 51 senators and kicking Mitch McConnell out of the Senate majority leader’s office.
Like it or not, the Senate system massively favors small red states just like the House massively favors large blue ones. We have to play both to win both. And that means backing Senate Dems, even the Manchins and Heitkamps and Testers.