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Trump, losing his grip on GOP, wields less influence as crises mount

Eli Stokols and Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Less than three months before Election Day, evidence is mounting that President Donald Trump is losing political influence in Washington and facing the early onset of "lame duck" status as Republican leaders in Congress increasingly appear willing to defy or rebuff him.

In recent days, GOP lawmakers who once saluted -- or at least didn't publicly oppose -- Trump initiatives have thrown cold water on some of his ideas and proposals -- rejecting his suggestion to delay the Nov. 3 election, repudiating his unsubstantiated claims that mail-in voting leads to mass fraud, eliminating funds for a new FBI headquarters across from his hotel, and snubbing his calls for a payroll tax cut.

Although the nation is in a deep economic slump, with more than 31 million Americans seeking jobless benefits, Trump has shown little interest in twisting arms in Congress to negotiate another coronavirus financial relief package that would extend unemployment benefits and help school districts struggling during the pandemic.

In caustic tweets and comments, Trump has mostly blamed Democrats, although Republican senators are divided about whether more federal aid is necessary.

Trump is "not really a player in these negotiations," said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist. "He does not have much political capital to spend on (Capitol Hill).

"Congressional Republicans don't want to cross Trump, but they also don't want to carry his water," Conant said.

 

Trump's disengagement from the nitty-gritty of governing is not new. Nor is his penchant for contradicting his own administration on matters large and small.

But after nearly four years of daily presidential mistruths, polls show a strong majority of Americans don't trust what Trump says about the pandemic, or his bizarre claims of success in fighting it -- a distinct liability as he faces reelection with nearly 160,000 Americans dead from COVID-19 and an economy in tatters.

Now as he enters the twilight of his first term with dimming prospects for a second, the president is finding that Republicans are notably less willing to indulge his inclinations, ideas and persistent magical thinking amid a seemingly never-ending national crisis.

"He has lost a great deal of his personal power," said David Gergen, a counselor to four presidents. "He still has his constitutional powers, and, if anything, he's pushing more against the limits of those. But he's lost the ability to rally people behind him and there's no one thing he can do as president to turn this around.

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