...my Trump commentary over to the new forum after this post. See you there...
Another uber-conservitive media publication gives Trump the thumbs down, and count itself among those who are working to remove him from power. That it should come to this:
Playing Defense | The Weekly Standard
Two days after the 2016 election, we had this to say about Donald Trump’s stunning victory:
“We opposed him early and often, and we didn’t think he’d win. We lamented his ignorance, criticized his crudity, and catalogued his untruthfulness. We were troubled by his foreign policy noninterventionism, his antitrade demagoguery, by his lack of discipline and judgment, and also by the likelihood that he would disappoint far too many of his enthusiastic followers, especially those whose policy views we shared.
“We don’t regret having fully aired all of our many differences. Our concerns about his character and some of his policies don’t disappear because he won an election. But he did win an election. The Republican majority in Congress was sustained, arguably because of, rather than despite, his efforts. And more than all of that, he is the president-elect—he is America’s president-elect. We want him to succeed.”
We went on to list the number of ways a Trump presidency would be better than four years of Hillary Clinton in the White House and ended by hoping that just as we had been wrong about Trump’s electoral prospects, we would turn out to be even more mistaken about the kind of president he would be.
It is a little more than six months into the Trump administration, and there have been things to praise. The president has begun rolling back the aggressive regulatory state that grew up under Barack Obama; enforced his predecessor’s red line in Syria; abandoned the failed North Korea strategy of the last three administrations; and appointed strong conservatives to the lower courts along with, of course, Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
These stand out because they are exceptions to the daily turmoil and dysfunction of the Trump White House. As president, Donald Trump has not risen to the occasion. There was no pivot to normalcy after his turbulent campaign. No hidden statesman has emerged from inside Trump, and he has not, as he recently suggested he might, become “more presidential” than anyone other than “the late, great Abraham Lincoln.”
So far, the president is the picture of a failed leader. His administration is a disaster.
In just the past two weeks, Trump only reluctantly signed a Russia sanctions bill that passed overwhelmingly in both houses of Congress (98-2 in the Senate, 419-3 in the House). He tweeted a policy reversal on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military that neither the Joint Chiefs of Staff nor the secretary of defense knew was coming. He allowed his communications director falsely to accuse his chief of staff of committing a felony by supposedly leaking a document that was already officially public—and then, after the fallout consumed his administration, dismissed them both. He repeatedly attacked his attorney general for his necessary decision to recuse himself from the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He gave a highly inappropriate speech to 40,000 boys participating in the Boy Scouts’ 20th National Jamboree—a speech for which the organization felt compelled to apologize. He followed that up with a speech to law enforcement officials in which he suggested it was okay to rough up accused criminals. Police departments across the country and the acting director of the Drug Enforcement Administration publicly rebuked the president.
These sorts of fiascos and misadventures began the moment this presidency began, with the new president’s bizarre insistence that his inaugural crowds were larger than Barack Obama’s. Despite majorities in both houses of Congress, his policy agenda is at a standstill. Hundreds of high-level positions throughout the administration remain unfilled. Members of Congress report to us that the president can’t hold a conversation at even a rudimentary level about issues supposedly high on the president’s agenda—tax reform, for instance, and health care. He lies about matters both large and small and is obsessed with perceived slights in the news media.
And then there is the unceasing stream of developments on Trump and Russia. The saga has grown too complex to easily recount, but some highlights include Trump’s disparaging of the U.S. intelligence community and its leaders in an Oval Office meeting with Russian diplomats; his abrupt dismissal of FBI director James Comey; the G20 summit in Hamburg where Trump proposed (and then quickly dropped) a joint cybersecurity task force with the very government U.S. intelligence officials believe tried to interfere in last year’s elections; Jared Kushner’s attempt to create a backchannel between the White House and Putin using the Russian embassy; and Donald Trump Jr.’s enthusiastic interest in opposition research seemingly offered by a hostile foreign power. This last has been characterized by Don Jr.’s shifting accounts of his meeting with purported representatives of the Russian government.
Then, last week, the Washington Post reported that the president himself dictated on Air Force One the deceptive statement his son originally issued to explain away his inappropriate meeting. This came after repeated and emphatic denials of any presidential involvement. NPR also reported that senior White House officials, possibly including the president himself, worked with conspiracy theorists to push to Fox News a fake-news story about murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich with the goal of deflecting attention from the Trump-Russia scandal. It was also reported that special counsel Robert Mueller had impaneled a grand jury, a sure sign that his investigation into interference in the 2016 election and the possibility the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia was growing in scope and intensity.
It’s tedious to summarize. And easy to overlook how dangerous it’s becoming.
These are almost certainly the good old days, unfortunately. Trump’s problems so far have been of Trump’s own making. They will not remain so. While America’s enemies are testing and probing the new administration, we haven’t yet seen the kind of crisis that requires leadership at home and statesmanship abroad. Every president eventually faces such a crisis.
Recent weeks saw aggressive provocations from the Chinese (their fighter jets buzzed a U.S. spy plane in the East China Sea), the Iranians (they threaten to retaliate for unnamed U.S. violations of the 2015 nuclear deal), and the North Koreans (they tested a missile that they claim can reach the West Coast). The Russians are in a hurry to reconstitute the old Soviet empire. Al Qaeda and ISIS continue to target Americans and American interests. Trump is escalating his attacks on federal law enforcement and once again publicly dismissing the findings of the U.S. intelligence community. He is also reported to be considering firing Robert Mueller.
The Associated Press reported last week that two of Trump’s top advisers, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, have long understood the risks of the Trump presidency. “Mattis and Kelly also agreed in the earliest weeks of Trump’s presidency that one of them should remain in the United States at all times to keep tabs on the orders rapidly emerging from the White House, according to a person familiar with the discussions.”
This is a profound commentary on the man who serves as de facto leader of the free world. Kelly is now Trump’s chief of staff, which has some weary Republicans once again hoping for change. But Trump is still president. So the Mattis-Kelly plan strikes us as a good model for all Republicans. Play defense.
Trump’s inability to lead means the likelihood of a conservative agenda’s emerging during this administration is low. And the likelihood of catastrophic decision-making seems higher every day. If there is a chance at comprehensive tax reform, seize it. But Republicans’ overriding concern ought to be limiting the long-term damage Trump can do. Day to day, this means speaking truthfully and forcefully about the administration and its decisions.
Short-term political incentives have pushed many Republicans to a full and unqualified embrace of Trump. And as Trump’s failures become impossible even for diehard Trump supporters to explain away, Republican voters have mostly stuck with him.
But Republican legislators have recently shown some inclination to put the interests of the country above political calculations. The House and Senate passed the Russia sanctions bill despite furious lobbying by the White House. There has been public criticism of Trump’s backpedaling on the Iran deal. Rep. Trey Gowdy unloaded on the Trump administration for its repeated misrepresentations on Russia, saying, “this drip, drip, drip is undermining the credibility of this administration.” Several GOP senators offered public warnings to Trump not to fire Mueller or Jeff Sessions. Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley said that he wouldn’t even consider a replacement for Sessions if the attorney general were cashiered. And Senator Tim Scott said last week, “we don’t work for the president.”
Short-lived White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci was an utterly forgettable political hack. But he said one thing before he was dismissed that’s worth reflecting on: “There are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president. Okay?” Scaramucci was right about that. We know these people, and we admire them. We wish them every success.
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