In normal times ― that is, any time before the arrival of the Trump administration ― Attorney General Jeff Sessions would have handed in his resignation to the White House by now.
But these are not normal times; this is not a normal administration; and Sessions so far has smilingly ignored the direct threat to his job made by the president in an extraordinary, flailing interview with The New York Times.
Why? And why, for that matter, are other hard-right types sticking with Trump despite his rude, bullying personality, administrative incompetence and penchant for hiring former big shots from Goldman Sachs?
From the hard-right point of view, the answer is simple: Trump’s regime, no matter how chaotic or personality-based, is the best chance they have ever had to push their fiercely tribal and anti-government agenda.
Political chaos is the perfect environment in which they can “deconstruct the administrative state."
Even if Trump is unable to pass signature legislation, even if he never enunciates a famous “doctrine,” they have unprecedented room to maneuver in the executive and judicial branches. Indeed, political chaos is the perfect environment in which they can “deconstruct the administrative state,” as White House alt-right maester Steve Bannon puts it.
As Sessions himself explained, his Department of Justice is busy doing “the kind of work we intend to continue,” even in the face of personal threats.
In larger terms, that means hard-right forces in and out of the administration will press ahead, without interference, on:
― nominating young, aggressively conservative judges who can serve extraordinarily long tenures, most of them vetted and put forward by the Federalist Society, a self-described conservative and libertarian law group with thousands of members, including judges.
― dismantling the structures of business regulation as much as they can (without the need for legislation). Structures, which in many cases, were first erected or designed by Republicans in the era of Republican Theodore Roosevelt.
― removing civil rights-based procedural protections built up over the years to guard against racism, overzealous prosecution and incarceration.
― undermining the role of science and environmental concerns in the oversight of the energy, manufacturing and transportation industries.
― clamping down administratively on immigration and, to the extent possible without legislation, abolishing the idea that immigrants have any kind of moral purchase on the American conscience.
― restricting, if not strangling, hard-won protections for voting rights enacted since the 1960s (the hard-right’s most foundational goal).
“In traditional terms, Trump’s presidency has done next to nothing for conservatives,” said Craig Shirley, a leading biographer of Ronald Reagan who is about to release a new book on former GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich. “What serious legislation has he signed? None. What vision does he have? It’s a pudding without a theme.”
“But is the Federalist Society happy? Yes. They are getting the people they wanted,” he added.
In fact, Trump has all but offloaded the judge-picking duties to the group, and they have responded not only by suggesting now-Justice Neil Gorsuch, but dozens of other nominees for federal district and appellate courts.
Trump is on pace to more than double the number of federal judges nominated by any president in his first year. Ron Klain, Washington Post columnist and former White House aide
“Trump is on pace to more than double the number of federal judges nominated by any president in his first year,” writes Washington Post columnist Ron Klain, who served as an adviser on the judiciary in both the Clinton and Obama administrations.
The new judges are the key in good part because they will be called on to accept ― or reject ― the wholesale dismantling of government regulation or to consider legal challenges from the outside.
This is the unglamorous and largely unseen part of what the hard right sees as a war for the soul of America. Trump has little interest in the details, and in any case is otherwise occupied with the theatrics of his presidency.
But people such as Sessions care. They cared before Trump arrived and will care after he is gone: about ripping whatever wire they can out of the dashboard.
This is their time, and they are not going to let a little thing like a president bother them.