In the Comey crisis, Trump needs more than his loyal-to-the-death fans

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(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

The firing of FBI Director James Comey is unlikely to put even a dent in Donald Trump’s support among his coalition of supporters.

And what a diverse coalition it is: Wealthy golf cart jockeys with warm-weather homes along America’s greenest fairways; high-school-dropout meth dealers in Appalachia; middle-aged white women who appreciate an occasional slap on the butt from their bosses; guys who wear cammo and cowboy hats and stockpile assault rifles in their suburban cul-de-sacs; Internet trolls with Wehrmacht haircuts; people who think “The Apprentice” was a documentary; Gary Busey, Ted Nugent, Sarah Palin and other third-tier celebrities — and so many more.

These real Americans will completely understand why Trump had to get rid of the FBI chief, or at least they will have a murky notion that Hillary Clinton was involved, so it must have been bad. They will also be instantly swayed by the best line of counterattack from the White House — that all the Democrats who are now outraged about the firing were ready to lynch Comey after he bumped Clinton’s campaign into the ditch in the very last days of the 2016 presidential campaign.


And the standard dose of gratuitous media bashing will confirm for Trump loyalists that only inside-the-Beltway elitists care about any of this. Mike Huckabee’s daughter — the sweet-and-sour Trump spokesperson, Sarah Huckabee Sanders — told the smug vipers in the White House press corps that Comey’s firing should have been no shock; her boss had been ready to dismiss the director back in January. Sure, Trump and his main mouthpiece, Sean Spicer, had expressed complete support for Comey several times in the administration’s first 100 days, but those were mere words. Everyone knows, as Kellyanne Conway has reminded us, that we need to decipher what is in our Dear Leader’s heart.

Well, Trump knows in his heart he “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” as he once said. He probably also knows his fans would not flinch, even if they saw him French kissing Vladimir Putin in Gorky Park. Instead, they’d get teary-eyed at the expression of manly affection between the two saviors of white, Christian civilization.

Unfortunately for Trump, his rock-solid base is significantly less than 40% of the electorate. And that cohort does not include all that many Republican senators or members of Congress. Trump’s messengers are trying to convince skeptics that Comey’s dismissal was unrelated to the FBI investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russian intelligence agents, even though Trump has gone ballistic whenever Comey appeared on television to talk about that investigation. But, no matter how Huckabee’s daughter spins the tale, no one but die-hard Trump lovers believe Kremlingate did not lead to Comeygate.

Trump desperately needs to convince restive Capitol Hill Republicans that his colossally chaotic presidency won’t lead to disastrous results for them in the 2018 election. The first step Trump must take to calm fears among party elected officials is naming a new FBI director who is universally acceptable — and that will leave out all the featured speakers at last summer’s alt-right-tinged GOP national convention. Trump buddies, such as Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie and Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, should not be on the shortlist because, if the nominee is seen as a Trump stooge, the Senate confirmation hearing will become a celebrity roast gone nuclear and nobody will be laughing but the Democrats.

This puts Trump in a quandary. He needs to pick a new FBI chief who is trusted, even by his tweet target, “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer.” Yet Trump’s gut instinct is always to go for the person whose loyalty to the Trump brand is certain. There is no one more personally trustworthy than his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the thought of making him director of the FBI may have already buzzed like a Zika-tainted mosquito at the president’s ear. Unfortunately, Kushner is too busy running the rest of the government while Trump spends his day screaming at the TV and posing with Russians in the Oval Office.

Sadly for him, the president may be forced to name an FBI leader who is truly independent, which means the investigation that so infuriates him will go on … and on and on. This will force him to find solace in another round of “campaign” rallies out in the hinterlands — the one place Trump can feel the love of the unquestioning crowd.


Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter