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A Who-Wrote-It Mystery

The most popular parlor game in political circles lately is speculating about the identify of the senior administration  official who penned an op-ed in The New York Times that was scathingly critical of President Donald Trump.
The piece cited Trump’s “amorality,” described him as uninformed and impulsive, claimed that several high-ranking officials routinely hide documents and do other things to prevent the president from endangering national security, and generally confirmed the reporting in a soon-to-be-released Bob Woodward book that the White House is “crazy town.” Trump is reportedly furious about it and eager to find and the fire the author, and during a recent rally he described he called the author an “anenimonous” coward who should be tried for treason. By now even Trump isn’t claiming that The New York Times just made it up, and naturally everyone else is also wondering who the senior White House official might be.
There was some speculation that he’s Vice President Mike Pence, because the relatively rarely used word “lodestar” is in the piece and Pence frequently uses the term, and chief of staff John Kelly has been suspected because some of his favorite phrases also appear, but both possibilities strike us a quite remote. More likely is that the author was shrewd enough to add these details as a diversion, and subject both men to Trump’s inevitable questions.
Pretty much everyone at a senior level in the administration is still a suspect, but most of the attention seems to be focused on national security advisor Dan Coats and part-time “senior adviser” and full-time presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The case against Coats strikes us especially strong, for several reasons. Coats found out about Trump’s decision to invite Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to the White House while being interviewed on national television, and was clearly both surprised and displeased, and the op-ed stresses the danger of Trump’s tendency to make impulsive decisions without consulting any of the experts he’s hired. The piece also defends some of the more traditionally Republican aspects of Trump’s domestic policy, and back when Coats was in the House of Representatives and then the Senate he very much a traditional Republican. He’s now nearing retirement age, too, and at this point might well care more about what the country thinks of his party than what his party thinks of him.
Kushner seems a less likely suspect, but we’d love to believe it just as much the next Never Trumper, and there are reasons to do so. Both Kushner and First Daughter Ivanka Trump Kushner were social-climbing Manhattanites and fashionable Democrats when they took their “senior advisor” positions in the White House, and both promised their appalled friends that they were only there to be a moderating influence on Trump’s more populist impulses. Kushner and his wife and pretty all of his in-laws have their own expensive legal troubles, too, and it was widely speculated even before the op-ed that both Kushners would be heading back to New York at any moment, and whenever they eventually do we’re sure they’ll want to reassure the fashionably Democratic socialites of Gotham that they did their part for the resistance.
Whoever it was wrote the op-ed shouldn’t expect a hero’s welcome anywhere, however, as almost everyone thinks the author has been cowardly. According to Trump and his die-hard fans the “aneniminous” writer should forthwith face a traitor’s fate on that gallows, while Trump’s critics on both the left and right would have preferred a principled resignation and an on-the-record account to corroborate all the recent reliable reporting on the “crazy town” inside the White House. We’re more inclined to the latter view, and find the former downright scary, but we’ll judge not lest we be judged, as we’re not sure what we’d do if we found ourselves in the writer’s unusual situation.
If it turns out to be Coats we’ll take stock of his long congressional career as a traditional Republican and distinguished diplomat from the old school, and assume his cowardly efforts had the best intentions and might of done some good. If it turns out to be Kushner, we’ll go right ahead and and indulge in some sinful schadenfreude, and let him find his apologists somewhere in New York City’s high society.
In any case, even Trump seems to agree that there is indeed at least one high-rankking senior official in the White House who worries about the president’s moral and intellectual and temperamental qualifications for the office. According to that soon–to-be-released book by a veteran reporter with a far better truth-telling record than Trump there are several other senior officials in the White House with the same qualms, which pretty much accords with a book by a less reputable author and then one of Trump’s former reality show co-stars, and based on what we’re seeing of Trump’s televised and “tweeted” statements we don’t doubt that at least a few senior White House officials are similarly alarmed.
We’d like to think so, at least, and we hate to speculate how this might all turn out.

— Bud Norman

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Gaining From a Bad Deal

Good policy is good politics, according to an old saying, and like most old sayings it is often but not always true. The congressional Republican’s cowardly capitulation to a “clean” debt ceiling deal on Wednesday might prove one of the frequent exceptions to the rule.
No real Republican would argue that the deal isn’t disastrously bad policy. The legislation basically hands a blank check to the most profligate president in history, guaranteeing the nation’s debt will rise to a staggering $17.2 trillion just after November’s mid-term elections, and achieves nothing in the way of much needed spending cuts or any other curbs on a government rapidly and clumsily expanding into every niche of American life. Although the party leadership and the minority of Republican congressman who followed them argue will that the deal guarantees the full faith and credit of the federal government, an increasingly restive conservative base will not be convinced that adding yet another $512 billion dollars of debt over the next few months is the most fiscally responsible course of action.
Nor can the Republicans point to any immediate political advantages gained from the deal. Indeed, the more prominent media are gleefully quoting the Democrats’ gloating that the deal represents a total defeat for the Republicans in general and their more rock-ribbed Tea Party constituents in particular. House Speaker John Boehner, whose hold on the house speakership grows more tenuous with each passing offense to the party’s most essential voters, couldn’t even win the inclusion of an amendment to rescind some previous unpopular budget cuts to veterans’ benefits that the Democrats probably could have been shamed into accepting. As the most outspoken opponent of the deal and the only Republican to attempt a filibuster Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was rewarded for his noble efforts by some of the most sneeringly disdainful press coverage of his already controversial career, and if the party leadership and its timid followers expected to be lauded by the pundits for their non-partisan willingness to compromise they have been sorely disappointed.
On the other hand, at least the Republicans aren’t being pilloried for their strident partisanship and stubborn refusal to compromise. That’s what happened every other time the Republicans tried to use the debt ceiling as leverage for sensible reforms and essential spending restraint, with the damage done to the party’s popularity evident in all the subsequent opinion polls, and we will generously assume that the Republican leadership was merely trying to avoid yet another hit. Those talk radio hosts shrieking “damn the opinion polls, full steam ahead” are quite right to argue the public should be grateful for the Republicans’ efforts, that government shutdowns are a minor inconvenience at worst and a welcome break from bureaucratic meddling at best, that a federal default would not occur in any case, and that the eventual consequences of all that debt far outweigh any damage done by a protracted political squabble, but they are wrong to assume that an electoral majority of the country can be made to understand any of it.
A crucial percentage of voters pay too little attention to politics to hear these arguments, and even if the arguments were to somehow sneak into the news accounts that occasionally interrupt the average uninformed American’s day he would likely be unmoved. Government shutdowns always sound scary when the news anchors say it, the laws and constitutional requirements precluding default are as a confounding as the economic concepts involved, and the public has become inured to warnings about it since the Democrats started squawking about it back in the Reagan days. When the debt it called due and the inevitable economic calamity occurs it will be big news, but at the moment the weather is a far more pressing matter for the average American.
Unless the bottom falls out before November, the Republicans’ cowardly capitulation could provide them with a slight advantage in the mid-term elections. By that time the deal will be largely forgotten even by the talk radio hosts, who are already shrieking less loudly than after other Republican leadership outrages, and the majority of Republican congressman who opposed the deal will be able to remind their conservative voters that they at least voted “no.” The Democrats won’t have another unpopular showdown to blame on the Republicans, and they’ll still be remembered as the party that promised you could keep your health care plan if you liked it and then cancelled the policy and forced you to pay more money for one covering things you don’t want or need. To the extent that America’s dire fiscal situation is an election issue, even the most cowardly capitulators in the party can claim that they were forced to bankrupt the country by the Democrats.

— Bud Norman