The dizzying pace of Trump administration flare-ups, as more than one pundit has opined, has sometimes made context a casualty as news organizations race to keep up. In that regard, PBS’ Frontline continues to provide a welcome service with take-a-deep-breath dives into the headlines, the latest being “Trump’s Takeover,” a methodical tick-tock of the president’s uneasy relationship with the Republican Party establishment.
Admittedly, even this latest report from producer Michael Kirk somewhat runs afoul of the current news cycle, including as it does an interview with Trump associate Roger Stone, the subject of new revelations regarding his possible role in the probe of Russian meddling in the U.S. election. There’s also scant mention of tariffs and trade wars, a new point of friction between the president and fellow Republicans.
Still, the larger takeaway, from both Trump allies and opponents, is that despite the vocal “Never Trump” contingent prominently featured on cable news, the GOP’s fractious relationship with the president has largely turned in his favor, with the party having been “Trumpified,” as political commentator Charlie Sykes puts it.
It’s Stone, among the supporters interviewed, who observes that Donald Trump securing the nomination represented “the hostile takeover of the Republican Party.”
Much of the one-hour documentary unfolds through the experience of Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, whose early reservations about Trump stemmed from his support of the “birther” movement, a campaign to undermine President Obama that Flake deemed “unseemly.”
“Trump’s Takeover” proceeds through several defining moments in the first year of Trump’s presidency, from the failure to pass an overhaul of the healthcare system – and the president’s subsequent criticism of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – to his response to the march by white supremacists in Charlottesville, a situation that Flake characterizes as “a layup,” politically speaking, which Trump blew.
The Trump supporters interviewed, including Corey Lewandowski and Kellyanne Conway, can’t resist a bit of gloating about the current state of play, with the latter noting that Trump had to “beat the establishment of two parties” in order to become president. Yet part of Republican frustration with the president has stemmed from his apparent indifference to policy, with journalist Robert Draper citing sources who were struck by “how little Trump understood or really cared to understand” details of the healthcare proposal.
Frontline will continue the conversation, in part, the following week with “McCain,” a look at the life and career of John McCain, which will also explore the veteran senator’s relationship with Trump.
According to Sykes, a “Never Trump” voice, those within the GOP who have embraced the president have made “a Faustian bargain,” one that will ultimately exact a price.
Whether that happens, Frontline has again established its credentials as a primary forum to contemplate such matters – a relatively sedate venue intended to cut through the cacophony of that fast-moving history.
Frontline’s “Trump’s Takeover” and “McCain” premiere April 10 and April 17, respectively, at 10 p.m. on PBS.