It's one of the most common questions in American politics: how in the world does EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt still have his job? There's no shortage of possible explanations, but the Oklahoma Republican has clearly benefited from the right's steadfast support.
So long as the EPA chief's critics are limited to the American mainstream, Donald Trump finds it easier to shrug off criticisms of his scandal-plagued cabinet secretary.
But there's fresh evidence that conservatives' support is not unconditional. In the wake of new revelations about Pruitt using his office to help his family, National Review published a piece yesterday calling for the EPA chief's resignation.
[W]e are now at a point where a good week for Pruitt sees only one report of behavior that is bizarre or venal. He seems to have used government employees to secure a job for his wife and to get a discount on a mattress. His top aides got hefty raises, and Pruitt first told Fox News he did not know about those raises and then told a House committee that he did. He reportedly told aides to find reasons for him to take official trips to countries he wanted to see, and had security aides run errands such as searching for his favorite lotion. And that's just the start.This is no way for any public official to treat taxpayers.
Also yesterday, conservative commentator Laura Ingraham -- one of a very small number of people whom Trump follows on Twitter -- said Pruitt's "bad judgment" is hurting the president, which means he's "gotta go."
This week, the American Future Fund, a conservative non-profit group, also launched an ad campaign urging Pruitt to resign, with commercials describing him as a "swamp monster" who is "embarrassing President Trump."
Even Republican Sen. James Inhofe, a longtime Pruitt ally and a fellow far-right Oklahoman, said yesterday, "Every day, something new comes out. So I've kind of taken the position that if that doesn't stop, I'm going to be forced to be in a position where I'm going to say 'Well, Scott, you're not doing your job.'"
Granted, that's not an especially tough line. Inhofe made it sound as if he's willing to tolerate the evidence of Pruitt's flamboyant corruption that's already come out, but not much more.
That said, under the circumstances, all conservative criticism of Pruitt represents a shift that puts his political future in jeopardy.
And if the EPA administrator shrugs this off and the White House stands by him anyway? Impeachment is always a possibility.