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Ryan and the Old School of Republicanism Bow Out

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced Wednesday that he won’t be running for re-election, so for now his vituperative critics on both the left and right won’t have him to kick around anymore. These days we’re not sure where we land on the political spectrum, but from our current position here on the sidelines we’re going to mostly miss the guy.
Not so long ago when we and our readers considered us rock-ribbed conservative Republicans, Ryan was our guy. He not only talked the necessary talk about averting America’s quickly accruing national debt and eventual bankruptcy, but walked the necessary walk along the perilous path of the painful entitlement reforms and budget cuts that are required to keep America solvent without even more painful tax increases. Such sensible if unappetizing prescriptions naturally outraged the left, which produced widely-seen advertisements depicting Ryan throwing your beloved grandma off a cliff, and he politely but quite resolutely endured the slanders to stand his ground.
Such civil defiance of the Democratic left naturally endeared Ryan to the tax-cutting and budget-balancing “tea party” Republican right of the time, and thus he wound up way back in 2012 as the vice-presidential nominee on the Republican ticket with presidential nominee Mitt Romney to reassure the party’s conservative base that Romney was all right. Romney on his own seemed a sound enough Republican to us at the time, and we still think he’d have been a far better president than incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama, but he’d somehow once been governor of the loony left state of Massachusetts, and had wound up signing into law something that looked an awful lot like the hated-by-Republicans Obamacare act that Obama had signed, and his pick of the steadfastly anti-Obamacare Ryan as a running mate and potentially heartbeat-away-from-the-resident was reassuring to the those of us on the right as it was appalling to those of you on the left.
Both Romney and Ryan wound up enduring the slings and arrows of the left with the civility and calmly convincing arguments we’d come to expect from the best of the Republican party, but they also wound up losing to the hated Obama, and since then the Grand Old Party hasn’t been quite it as it once was. It turns out that a lot of those “tea party” types we once rallied with like their Medicare and Social Security more than they hate the welfare payments that account for a far smaller share of that once-scary national debt, and by 2016 a decisive plurality of the Republican party had concluded that civility and calmly convincing arguments were no longer a match for the slanderous slings and arrows of the left.
Which wound up with putatively Republican President Donald Trump. Trump ran on promises that he wouldn’t mess with any tea partier’s Medicaid or Social Security, somehow balance the budget without any tax increases, build a “big, beautiful” wall too keep Mexicans away and somehow force the Mexicans to pay for it, and he outdid even the right-wing talk radio hosts in talking tough about all those damned Democrats and left-wingers, and he didn’t bother with any of those dull but calmly convincing arguments. Trump wound up losing the popular election by a few million votes, so he eked out enough ballots in a few states Romney narrowly lost, including Ryan’s own Wisconsin, that the former casino mogul and reality show star wound up winning the electoral vote.
Since then it’s been a different American political landscape in general and a wholly different Republican party in particular, and at the moment neither Ryan nor ourselves seem to know where we fit in all of it. Like us Ryan took a principled Republican stand against Trump early in the Republican primary process, and even after Trump had secured his party’s nomination he gallantly declined to defend Trump’s outrageous statements on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape about grabbing women by their where-evers, but since Trump’s election he’s been more conciliatory.
Aside from the occasional criticisms of Trump’s crudity, he successfully guided a Republican tax-cut bill through the House which also passed the Senate and wound up with Trump claiming all the credit when signed it. He made good on a promise to get the House of Representatives to repeal the hated Obamacare law, although a slimmer Republican majority in the Senate couldn’t do the same and Trump never got to sign it, and he dutifully endured the opprobrium that the right heaped on the GOP ‘establishment” and never questioned the new party’s religious faith in Trump’s divine deal-making abilities. The one-time champion of fiscal sobriety also spared Trump the political problems of a government shutdown by helping passage of a deficit-funded and worse-than-Obama budget busting spending bill that didn’t address any of the nation’s looming fiscal woes or those ginned-up immigration problems Trump is always railing about, and willingly accepted the slanderous slings and arrows of the right.
None of this will placate the newly-fangled right that regards Trump as the epitome of au courant conservatism, and the stubbornly old-fashioned left will still revile him as the son of a bitch who threw your beloved grandmother off the cliff, but from our view on the sidelines we take a more sympathetic view of Ryan’s career.
Our lazy asses don’t have to worry about reelection, however, as we never stood a chance of getting elected to anything in the first place, so we’ll not sit in judgment of a poor politician such as Ryan. Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee in the last presidential election, after all, and despite everything we’ll readily forgive any Republicans who went ahead and voted for Trump. It was Trump’s populist campaign that made meaningful entitlement reform impossible, so we’ll generously assume that Ryan intended to keep the government operating just long enough to confront fiscal reality, and he generously allowed Trump to take credit for the big defense spending increase, and despite the rants of the right wing talk radio hosts he did persuade a majority of the House to repeal that damned Obamacare.
None of which will squelch the left’s glee at Ryan’s departure. Even as the recent Republicans decry Ryan as a “Republican in Name only” and “establishment” “deep state” “globalist” sell-out, the current Democrats still regard him as the guy who who pushed your beloved grandmother over the cliff. The more high-brow leftists still give Ryan credit for his civility and calmly stated arguments, but that’s all the more reason that Trump-loving Republicans will regarding him as a squishy sort of beta-male.
That scant plurality of remaining Trump-loving Republicans should note, though, that Ryan is just the most prominent of an unprecedented number establishment Republicans who no longer know where they fit on the political landscape and have decided not to seek reelection. At this relatively early point in the Trump era of the Republican party several GOP House seats in suburban districts and even a Senate seat in usually reliable Alabama have flipped to the Democrats, even the Speaker of the House and erstwhile conservative hero was in danger of losing his own race, and no matter what uncivil taunts Trump might “tweet” that political landscape seems fraught for both the best and worst sorts of Republican candidate.
Ryan insists that he’s stepping down to spend more time his children, who have thus far known him as a “weekend dad,” and his more generous critics on both the left and right agree that he’s the decent sort of family man fellow who would take that into account. We’re sure it’s at least partially true, and we’ll wish him and the rest of his family well. Still, his temporary departure from the pubic stage doesn’t augur well for either the Republican Party or the rest of the political landscape, and the national debt is bigger than ever, and we expect an acrimonious outcome.

— Bud Norman

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The Tillerson Exit

There’s no way of predicting what President Donald Trump will do next, except that he’ll “tweet” something controversial, but we’ll go along with all the reports in all the big papers and networks in assuming that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is soon headed to administration’s exits. There’s also no way of predicting if this will eventually prove a good thing or a bad thing, but there’s no denying that it doesn’t speak well of the way things are going right now.
According to the consensus of respectable opinion Tillerson’s failure to fully staff the State Department and his efforts to make deep cuts to its budget have seriously undermined foreign policy aground the globe, but on the other hand he’s been one of the much-needed moderating influences in Trump’s administration. The consensus of conservative opinion holds that Tillerson has been insufficiently loyal to Trump with his efforts to seek a diplomatic resolution to North Korea’s nuclear provocations, his failure to endorse some of Trump’s more controversial “tweets,” and his overheard gripe that Trump is a gerund-form-of-a-certaincurse-word “moron,” and they give him no credit for his willingness to drain the Foggy Bottom swamp of all those “deep state” “globalist” “establishment” types. At this point we’re feeling a certain a sympathy for the poor fellow, but he doesn’t seem to have much support from anybody who matters.
By now we’re well outside both the consensus of either respectable or conservative opinion, but we will have our own gripes about Tillerson, so we don’t what to make of it.
When Trump announced his appointment of Tillerson, lathering on the usual Trumpian superlatives about his successful career as the chief executive officer of ExxonMobil, we were impressed by his corporate expertise but leery of someone who’s only foreign policy experience was negotiating a multi-billion dollar oil deal with the dictatorial Russian government and winning it’s official friendship medal, but in an administration full of surprises he surprised us by proving one of the hard-liners against Russia. Trump seemed surprised by it, too, and was clearly displeased, and after the “moron” commented was in the papers he challenged his Secretary of State to an “IQ test,” so that made us rather like Tillerson.
On the other hand, we have to agree with all those “deep state” “globalist” “establishment” types that the State Department seems rather skinny after almost a year of Tillerson’s stewardship. Trump has told interviewers that most of the unfilled positions are irrelevant and the only person that matters is himself, but one of those positions is an ambassador to South Korea, which sits on the same tense Korean peninsula as North Korea, and expect that many others could offer some expertise that might be useful to the business executives who are now running America’s running foreign policy.
All the reports in all the papers and all the networks suggest that Tillerson will soon be replaced by current Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo, and that also seems a relatively safe bet. Pompeo used to be our congressman here in the good old Fourth District of Kansas, and he’s a formidable fellow we enthusiastically voted for him in each of his congressional campaigns. He was top of his class at West Point, editor of the Harvard Law Review, founder of a successful high-aviation business, quite charming in our couple of encounters with him, and somehow managed to ride the Tea Party wave of anti-establishment fervor without splashing any water on the establishment. As CIA director he defied Trump by affirming the intelligence community’s consensus of opinion that the Russians had entered with the the past presidential election, then said it didn’t affect the outcome and later walked that back to the consensus of opinion that there’s no telling, and we’re not at all surprised he’s reportedly won the trust and affection of Trump.
There’s no telling how it will work out, though. As impressive as Pompeo’s resume is it doesn’t have anything on it regarding foreign policy experience, except for his brief tenure as CIA director, which had its highs and lows, and although we wish our fellow Wichitan well we expect he’ll be more interested in pleasing Trump. Pompeo has nothing to do with that “Russia thing,” at least, and we can hold out hope he’ll be a moderating influence. even if his business instincts continue the downsizing at the State Department.

— Bud Norman

Prophetic Words From a Burning Bush

Something deep in our old-fashioned Republican souls feels a certain nostalgia for the administration of President George W. Bush, and lately even our most newfangled Democrat friends will admit to some degree of the same feeling. Bush was an imperfect president, as we freely admit and our Democrat friends and our Democrat friends often remind us, but on Thursday he gave a rare and remarkable speech that reminded us all he could have been a whole lot worse.
With characteristic classiness Bush has mostly retreated from the public stage since leaving office, preferring to spend his time with family and paint some surprisingly fine portraits of the servicemen and servicewomen who carried out his controversial foreign policy, and otherwise devote himself to the happily apolitical good works of his family’s foundations, which has eventually endeared him to most of the American public at large. He re-entered the political fray on Thursday with that remarkable speech, though, and it heartened us as well as our Democrat friends.
Bush’s oration at the George W. Bush Institute welcomed a Latino amigo who had served in his administration’s military, as well as several foreign visitors in the audience, along with Secretaries of State from both his and President Bill Clinton’s administrations, then launched into a an eloquent defense of such cherished American values of liberty and democracy. He lauded the post-World War II order of free markets and free trade, decried the current Chinese and Russian threats to that order, and lamented that too many Americans now fail to appreciate its benefits. Bush further denounced the recent degradation of America’s political discourse, warned against rising nativist sentiments, unequivocally denounced white supremacy, and called for a new civility in America’s public square.
Such anodyne sentiments wouldn’t be at all remarkable in ordinary times, but these days it’s the stuff of controversy. With characteristic classiness Bush didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name, but no matter how old-fashioned a Republican or newfangled a Democrat you might be there’s no denying it implied a severe criticism of the current and putatively Republican president, so there was an unavoidable flap.
Bush’s assertion — completely correct as far our old-fashioned Republican souls are concerned — that “free trade helped make America into a global power” is an obvious response to Trump’s claims that the rest of the world has been stealing America’s wealth. When Bush griped that now “bigotry seems emboldened” and “Our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication” the metaphorical shoe fit Trump well enough that he has to wear it. “we have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” Bush said, and although he might have been talking about all the talk radio hosts that used to defend him, but everyone knows he was talking about a president who has mocked a reporter’s physical handicap and his political opponents’s heights and the plainness of their wives. His warnings about the cyber-attacks on American democracy by foreign adversaries were just as clearly aimed at Trump, who continues to deny against mounting evidence that it’s a problem.
All of the casually cruel talk radio hosts who used to defend Bush were properly appalled, of course. By now they’re all obliged to rally ’round the current putatively Republican president, so they all denounced Bush as an “elitist” and “globalist” and worse yet “establishment” voice. None of them could articulate a persuasive point-by-point refutation of what Bush said, but these days such meaningless calumnies as “elitist” and “globalist” and “establishment” will suffice for their audience. Although we’re not at all elite nor globalist, and in fact are barely getting by these days, we’re still nostalgic for the good old days when they were defending to the death even Bush’s worst moves.
These days even our most newfangled Democrat friends are giving Bush some long overdue respect, and we’ll hold out hope it provides some common ground on which to find a way out of our current difficulties. Some of our most newfangled Democrat friends share Trump’s aversion to free trade and traditional role in sustaining world order, and are every bit as un-civil as Trump in their discourse, but we appreciate Bush’s help in any case.

— Bud Norman

This Week, On As The White House Turns

At the risk of damning with faint praise, we have to admit that President Donald Trump’s administration is a lot more intriguing than his last reality show. All the characters are more complicated than those B-list celebrities Trump used to fire, the infighting is more vicious, and we prefer the new format of constantly leaked news stories better than carefully edited one-hour-a-week television episodes.
Lately all the subplots seem to be about Steve Bannon, who makes Dennis Rodman and Gary Busey and all those other flamboyantly crazed celebrity apprentices seem bland by comparison. If you haven’t been following the show, Bannon is an ex-Navy officer turned Goldman Sachs investment banker turned publisher of an internet publication he described as a “platform for the alt-right,” and after that he turned into the “chief executive” of Trump’s campaign and then “White House chief strategist.” Until recently he was also a member of the National Security Council, but he’s been rather unceremoniously removed that position and suddenly there’s a great deal of suspense about whether he’ll be around in any capacity for future episodes.
After weeks of leaks about Bannon’s feud with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus the stories are now mostly about his feud with Jared Kushner, whose White House responsibilities include being an envoy to China and bringing peace to the Middle East and getting the Mexicans to pay for a border wall and solving the opioids crisis and reinventing federal government. The very busy 36-year-old Kushner is also the husband of Trump’s beloved daughter Ivanka, another key character in this convoluted plot who has also reportedly feuding with Bannon, and for now he seems to enjoy the advantage that blood proverbially has over water. Trump told the friendly folks at The New York Post that “I like Steve, but you have to remember that he was not involved in the campaign until very late. I had already beaten the all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change my strategy because I was facing crooked Hillary.”
In the past Trump had frequently spoken of his years-long friendship with Bannon, and often cited him as one of those very best people he promised to surround himself, but if you’ve been following the show you know that Trump’s past pronouncements don’t mean much. Despite Trump’s past boasts about his loyalty he’s fired two wives along with all those other B-list celebrities, as well as two campaign managers, both of whom were described by Trump spokespeople as someone Trump barely knew, and a National Security Advisor, and at this point such an old media hand as Bannon can surely read the writing on The New York Post. Should he find himself on the receiving end of Trump’s “you’re fired” catchphrase, though, it would make for a messy divorce even by Trump standards.
Bannon’s complicated role in this even more complicated plot has been the keeper of the “nationalist populist” and “America First” and “anti-establishment” and vaguely “alt-right” flame that Trump ran on, and as the guy who was fending off all those nasty “globalists” and “neocons” and “establishment” types who suddenly were trying to lure Trump away from the one true faith. According to leaks that probably came from Bannon he was credited with that “American carnage” inaugural speech that fired up the faithful and those travel restrictions that sure seemed to keep the campaign promises Trump had made, as well as the immediate efforts to bring the promised Mexican border wall and all that it implied. All of that played well enough wit the hard-core of Trump’s supporters that there was plenty of credit to go around, but it didn’t play nearly so well elsewhere.
The inaugural speech drew mostly negative reviews and a dismal crowd that Trump embarrassingly lied about at great length, the travel restrictions were halted by a couple of federal courts that thought they sure sounded like a Muslim ban and were therefor a violation of the religious establishment clause in the First Amendment, and all the polls show that despite mixed feelings about illegal immigration most Americans now regard a gazillion-dollar wall across the entire Mexican border as an obviously stupid idea. Whatever value those “nationalist populists” brought to the campaign season they’re currently dragging the new season’s ratings down to a 40 percent or so approval rating, so new characters have been brought in. There’s also Chief of Staff Preibus, who used to be the chairman of the Republican National Committee and the guy whose name all the right-wing talk radio hosts used to pit out to describe that hated GOP establishment, so naturally Bannon had several leaked episodes of feuding with them.
Not to mention Jared and Ivanka, who by this point have at least enough combined political clout to deserve a collective tabloid nickname like “Javanka” or something, and have reportedly persuaded Trump to embrace such hairy-legged feminist nonsense as paid maternity leave and apologizing for talking about grabbing women by the wherever and to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Libyan air base that launched a horrific attack against a nearby village wound up killing scores of men and women and children and some “beautiful babies.” There’s talk they also have something to do with Trump pulling back on his out-dated promises to declare China a currency manipulator and starting slapping 45 percent tariffs on their imports, and serving its dictator steak and au-gratin at his still wholly-owned Mar-a-Lago instead of the Big Mac and fries he promised on the campaign trail, and of course all the true-blue “nationalist populists” are by now feeling betrayed, and the right-wing talk radio hosts are still trying to make sense of it, but Bannon should worry about the overall poll number and those recent Trump remarks to the press.
Should Brannon wound up another one of the very best people that Trump has been forced to defenestrate that would be fine with such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves. That “alt-right” of his strikes us as the same sort of racist trash that conservatives have long been distancing themselves from, that Mexican border and all it implies seems an overreaction to the admittedly serious but declining-even-before-Trump problem of illegal immigration, that talk of China’s currency manipulation was outdated and the part about 24 percent tariffs was always crazy, the “America First” slogan makes no more sense than it did when used to oppose resistance to the Axis, and except for the undeniable yet recently denied crucial role he played in keeping crooked Hillary from becoming president we don’t see how Bannon has ever done the country much good.
Still, there’s no telling how this story might turn out without Bannon. By the time of the feud with Javanka he had reportedly made peace with Priebus and the rest of the GOP establishment, who were allied against the influence of a couple with no political paper trail except for a long history of generously donating to Democratic candidates and espousing such liberal causes as mandated paid maternity leave for all employees. One of Trump’s sons told the British press that his sister had persuaded his father to launch those 59 Tomahawk missiles against that Syrian air base, which pleased the less constitutionally-minded sorts of “neocons,” and that yet might prove wise, but for all the bleeding-heart reasons that Trump himself outlined and were pretty much the same reasons that President Barack Obama cited when seeking congressional approval for such a strike after a similar chemical attack that killed similarly beautiful babies, which the Republicans in congress and of course Bannon and even the then-unregistered reality star Trump himself found wanting at that time.
We’re pleased by the recent reasonableness of Trump’s China policy, skeptical but open-minded about the Syrian strike, delighted by Trump’s complete retreat from that campaign-season nonsense about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization being “obsolete, and still following all the twists and turns in that ongoing Russkie subplot, but we’re mostly worried that there’s no underlying logic to any of it. Past pronouncements are of course of no use, ¬†except that “unpredictable” remains a goal, and what happens seems to depend largely on what the president saw just on television. The Republican establishment hasn’t done much for Trump lately, that “alt-right” has clearly become burdensome, and we have even less faith in the Javanka faction, and of course theres no telling what those damned outright Democrats might do.. The ratings seem to be driving this plot so far, and that never leads to a satisfactory conclusion.

— Bud Norman