Commentary: Trump and the war he can’t win

By John Krull 

INDIANAPOLIS – Soon, Donald Trump is going to emerge from a fight with the one person he can’t possibly beat.


John Krull, publisher,

The longer Trump lingers in the Oval Office, the more his contradictions and self-destructive statements pile up, like discarded and unwashed laundry tossed into a corner until the untidy and unstable mess collapses in a heap.

Consider the hurried and breathless disarray of just a few days.

On a Monday, he delivers a muted address on his policy regarding the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan. On the campaign trail, he’d promised a bold departure and said he’d yank U.S. troops out, but, confronted with both the counsel of his military advisers and the reality of the situation, Trump vows, basically, to continue the approach of former President Barack Obama, albeit with a bit more bluster. He also calls on all Americans to join hands, to meet shared challenges with one resolve.

His somber, slightly more presidential tone draws plaudits from his critics, but supporters in the white nationalist sphere bemoan this rare display of relative maturity as a betrayal.

The next day in Phoenix, Arizona, Trump is back to unleashed or unhinged form. He attacks the state’s two Republican U.S. senators – one of them, John McCain, a decorated war hero who now is battling brain cancer – and unloads on the media and everyone else who has the temerity to disagree with or even question him. He rambles for so long that even the faithful begin to walk out on him.

Then, in Reno, Nevada, he’s back to calling for national unity, seemingly unaware of what he said in Arizona.

Along the way, he announces that his much-criticized response to the horrors in Charlottesville, Virginia was “perfect” (that makes one person who thinks so), that, absent any supporting evidence, North Korea is learning to “respect”  the United States and that he’s considering shutting down the U.S. government if Congress doesn’t appropriate money to build the wall he wants along the Mexican border – the wall he promised, again and again and again, that the Mexican government would pay for.

All in all, it’s a series of performances so disjointed and so disconnected from reality that one GOP U.S. senator – Bob Corker of Tennessee – does publicly what many Republican members of Congress have been doing privately for months. He questions both the mental health and basic competence of the president of the United States. Other observers toss around terms like “schizophrenic” and “delusional.”

Most of Trump’s hard-core supporters seem unbothered, for the moment, by all this. The bulk of them aren’t discouraged by the president’s failures of governance and leadership because they remain thrilled by the fact that he uses Twitter by typing exclusively with his middle finger.

Even so, for the first time, the polls reveal signs of erosion in that dedicated support – perhaps because the discerning Trump voters are beginning to realize some things.

The first is that they’re unlikely to get from him what they voted for – particularly if he continues angering the members of Congress whose votes he needs if he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act or enact tax reform.

The second is that he’s not adverse to selling them out. His line-in-the-sand statement about forcing Congress to pay for the wall means that he wants U.S. taxpayers, including those who voted for him, to pay for it. It’s not enough that he took them for a ride. He also wants them to pay for the gas.

Perhaps the fact that the earth once secure beneath his feet has begun to crack accounts, at least in part, for the president’s freneticism, his incoherent and unbridled lurches back and forth, his abrupt and incomprehensible about-faces.

Donald Trump seems to be fighting as much with himself as he is with others. He acts as if he not only doesn’t know what he wants, but even who he wants to be – one moment, the great unifier, the next great divider.

When men – even presidents – go to war with themselves, there are no victors.

Only casualties.

That’s the fight President Trump is waging right now, a fight with himself and all the contradictory promises he’s made to himself and others.

That’s a fight he can’t win.

And he won’t.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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