Taoiseach Enda Kenny has picked up a trick or two from US President Donald Trump, and not just in how to wrack up the YouTube hits.
The term gaslighting has come back into popular usage as we’ve observed Trump doing just that with Americans; the dictionary definition of the term meaning to manipulate by psychological means into doubting your own sanity.
I imagine this might be exactly how, for instance, Leo Varadkar might be feeling, or Simon Coveney, as yet another week passes in a leadership contest that has effectively been going on for over a year, and has no definite end in sight yet. At this rate it could end up as a contender for the Guinness Book of Records.
The two men have expressed a desire to go forward for the leadership of Fine Gael, but Mr Kenny has effectively managed to turn this perfectly normal political ambition into something to be somehow ashamed of and almost denied.
The chicanery continued this week when the Taoiseach gave his parliamentary party a date when he would he would still be in situ — the EU Summit on April 29 — but not a date when he would be be gone.
It began in February 2016 after a disastrous general election for Fine Gael — in which the party lost 26 seats — and the party leader was acknowledged to have played a pivotal role in the very poor performance. It continues now, agonisingly, with that same party leader not just refusing to budge, but having engineered a situation where those who wish to succeed him having been effectively turned into political eunuchs.
At this point there are grounds to suspect that he will squeeze and squeeze until their pips squeak. How long more is he going to play it along for? It is quite the masterstroke; Leo Varadkar is particularly hamstrung now, being depicted as crass and somehow non Blue-blood FGish, for wanting the race to finally be called.
As Enda gets more outrageous in his refusal to be shifted, the two boys, particularly Leo, find themselves practically immobilised. It is hardly the best position from which to pitch a leadership bid, or indeed to appear leader-like.
Enda Kenny continues to play on the psychological scars remaining from those involved in the disastrous attempted heave against him in 2010. I heard Carlow/Kilkenny TD John Paul Phelan say recently that he still bore “the stigmata” of that attempted putsch.
Listening earlier this week to Brian Hayes MEP a key mover in that attempted coup, he sounded like he was still on a Lough Derg pilgrimage for his sins of 2010.
There was no plan for “a blood letting” within the party on the leadership issue, he said. “We are a difficult enough shower to lead at the best of times, so fair play to him,” he said deferentially of his party leader. “Everyone wants a smooth transition – he will do it in his own time.”
Mind you Brian Hayes did add that Easter would be a good time to “kickstart” the party’s leadership campaign. We now know there isn’t a hope of that.
There is said to be a group within the parliamentary party that is appalled by any effort to rush Enda out the door after all his years of service. There was a significant number of those TDs and senators at the beginning of all of this idiocy, but surely even that patience is wearing thin as time goes on.
They must be spending a significant amount of time wondering whose head on the poster — Leo’s or Simon’s — gives them a better change of re-election next time.
But they must also be thinking of how to explain to constituents on the doorsteps the utter self-obsession Fine Gael has displayed with this leadership lunacy carrying on over such a long period, when we all know we need to be on the top of our game for dealing with Brexit and Trump.
Those constituents are perfectly entitled to be annoyed over this situation, which despite protests to the contrary, has absolutely had an effect on the operation of government.
Ask FG’ers how likely it is that Enda’s is the face that will be on the next FG general election poster and they will immediately dismiss that as utter nonsense, but this situation has become so weird you know some suspicion of just that lurks in their political hearts.
All of us have been in those situations in life where you only realise how crazy things had got after it’s all over — well this is one of those for Fine Gael. “What the hell was that all about?” they will wonder when Enda finally rides off into the sunset — at the end of 2018, or maybe even later. Hah!
The waters are made more murky in this particular succession by those around Enda Kenny who realise or suspect that once he goes their time at the Cabinet table is over. The chief suspect here is Finance Minister Michael Noonan. Unsurprisingly he too keeps pushing the date forward and extolling Enda Kenny’s virtues as an ace EU negotiator.
Sure didn’t he show us exactly how good he is at international negotiations with his lecture to Donald Trump on immigration last week in Washington. Perfect cue here for reflection on a prophet not being appreciated in his own land and all that.
Without doubt the Taoiseach did a good job in Washington. A good speech was written for him and he delivered it well.
Donald Trump is so utterly erratic it was impossible to tell how he might react to it, as he stood alongside him, so it did takes some guts to do that. Good for Enda that his verbal slapdown of Donald Trump has gotten over 30m views. May the memory comfort him in retirement.
In the midst of all of this Fianna Fáil, those wily political operators, look on in some disbelief at this Fine Gael carry on. It is such a sign of how marooned our national politics is that they do not make any moves to take electoral advantage of their opponents utter disadvantage. But that does not mean there won’t come a time.
It seems to have escaped our minds for now, but just a few weeks ago the political atmosphere surrounding whistleblower Maurice McCabe and “misremembered” conversations with Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, was dangerously febrile.
It could so easily happen that such a situation arises again, catching Fine Gael utterly on the hop, with Enda Kenny’s being the face on those general election posters.
The leadership contest has effectively been going on for over a year