If It’s Summer, Statists Must Be Whining About Air Conditioning

Something lighter (and vaguely crank-ish!) for the weekend.

This year it’s some UN bureaucrat writing in TIME that sure, extreme heat kills people around the world, but the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in air conditioning drives global warming in a vicious cycle.  Of course, the New York Times ran a piece just about a year ago noting that “[i]f your air-conditioner is working properly, it won’t release HFCs into the atmosphere.”  The real “pollution” problem of air conditioners is that ol’ devil carbon dioxide.  The UN bureaucrat is really pushing a UN agenda regarding HFCs (which helped solve the ozone hole crisis in the 1980s, btw; funny how solutions become problems).

But this is just the annual round of statists hating on air conditioning, for just about any reason that falls to hand.  While climate change was a theme in last year’s batch (as noted), there was also “I don’t need air conditioning, and neither do you,” a spectacular exercise in progressive preening about how frugal and aesthetically superior doing without A/C is and how it enhances your enjoyment of things like ice cream and showers.

The year before that, it was pieces on how Europeans don’t understand the American fixation with A/C (um, try being further south on the globe or caring more when French seniors die in heat waves).  And how A/C is sexist.

Go back further and you’ll find variations on these themes in the media every summer.

Oddly, you’ll rarely find them focusing on the intensive use of A/C in the urban heat islands where American progressives are concentrated.  Or celebrating how A/C allows Congress to stay in the swamp year-round.  That, imho, is because if you go back far enough, you’ll find that the real, but increasingly unstated, progressive objection to A/C is that it helped birth the modern Republican Party.

The progressive, anti-A/C crowd used to be more open about noting that it helped move people into the suburbs, away from the big Democratically-controlled cities.  And even moreso, helped people move to the South and the West.  For progressives, it’s much easier to believe the Southern Strategy was just about race, and not at all about looking at demographic projections and making inroads in new places where the Democrats had not already established dominance.

This same sort of thinking also helps explain why the Left also tends to hate automobiles.  Technologies that allow people to move form areas of high population density to lower population density stick in their craws — consciously or not — because high population density tends to multiply the opportunities for human conflict and said conflict tends to create a demand for more government.  This dynamic is in tension with the Left’s general enthusiasm for Malthusian population control, but cognitive dissonance is a wonderful thing.

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Weak Trump, Weak GOP

While I still believe people flipped for last week’s Peggy Noonan column on Pres. Trump’s weakness in large part because she’s the one who wrote it, I will add with hindsight that it also had virality because it was perfectly timed to the conventional wisdom coalescing around the idea that Trump is weak.

In addition to Noonan’s column, you had Ross Douthat and the Commentary podcast comparing Trump to Jimmy Carter.  Although I was writing about a possible Carter scenario back in February, I won’t be taking any credit yet.  Too many political obituaries were written for Trump before he became the GOP’s nominee, let alone President, for me to write him off six months into his term.

Nevertheless, the context in which I first raised a possible Carter scenario — and the context for much of the last few days’ criticism — is Trump’s dysfunctional relationship with the Republican Congress.  Quite a bit of it blames Trump for the current failed state of healthcare reform.  Commentary’s Noah C. Rothman argues it is manifest in the degree to which the GOP Congress is standing up to Trump (tho it will never be enough for the Left).

Indeed, some of it may even be manifest in the degree to which the Trump administration ignores Trump, at least on his stray voltage rants.  (I was writing about this problem back in May.)

Today, however, I want to stick with the Congressional piece a bit and defend Trump a little bit.

For example, to argue that the GOP Congress is flailing on healthcare reform due to Trump’s lack of leadership is, imho, an exaggeration.  But assuming the claim is true, the premise of that argument must be that the GOP Congress is weak and unable to exercise its Constitutional function absent assistance from another (arguably inferior) branch of government.

And if you are generous to the GOP Congress by noting that the party has relatively thin margins in both chambers, and that satisfying both moderates and conservatives was always going to be difficult, I’ll agree.  But I will add that this is also evidence of the relative weakness of the the Republican majorities in both chambers.

In total fairness to the GOP, the state parties have done pretty well on policy in recent years.  Even the Congressional GOP was at least able to check Pres. Obama on a number of fronts (if not all of them) after winning the majority in 2010.  Indeed, by various measures of office-holding, the GOP hasn’t been as strong as it is today since 1928.

Accordingly, it seems strange to claim the GOP is weak.  But the Congressional GOP certainly is weak.  And if you were reading this super-carefully, you may have noticed that its weakness is a function of its strength.

The “strength” of the GOP is a function of becoming the “big tent” it long sought to be.  But as the GOP coalition has expanded, it has lost a degree of focus or consensus.  This is one reason why national political coalitions are difficult to sustain over time.

Moreover, the nature of the GOP itself makes this task more difficult than it is for the Democrats.  Consider that with respect to the central political argument in America since its birth — the proper relationship of the government to its citizens — the Democrats, with very few exceptions, are agreed on the position that the federal government in particular should be taking a larger and more intrusive role in people’s lives.  Even the Dems’ so-called moderates believe this; they mostly disagree over matters of timing.

The GOP, in contrast (and contrary to the Left’s stereotype), does not believe in a lack of government, not even in a lack of federal government.  Indeed, even libertarians will concede some role for government.

Republican conservatives make at least a similar concession, and often believe in a strong role for the federal government regarding certain core functions within its competence (e.g., national defense).  Some of them would like to actively shrink the federal government.  OTOH, the GOP also has plenty of Burkean conservatives and Reagan Democrats who were at least resigned to New Deal progressivism; they have been followed by years of white working class voters who are at least resigned, and often fully invested in, Great Society entitlements.  On the central political argument in America, Republicans are more split than Democrats.

In this regard, Trump’s weakness is not causing the Congressional GOP to be weak.  Rather, Trump is a symptom of the national party’s weakness.  Douthat recognizes that Trump, like Carter, reflects the internal rot of a political party.  He also seems to think that the problem is that the GOP is moribund at the policy level.  The real problem is that the GOP is moribund at the policy level because of the difficulty in gaining consensus in a party with inherent weaknesses in national policy-making.

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The Dems’ “Better Deal” is No Big Deal, Except For This

At this side-blog, I tend to focus on the state of the conservative movement and the GOP, but today I want to write briefly on the Congressional Democrats’ so-called “Better Deal” agenda.

I tend to agree with the conventional wisdom that messaging documents like this tend to not matter in midterm elections, especially 1 1/2 years out.  But that doesn’t mean that the effort isn’t instructive.

The two most notable things about the “Better Deal” are what’s in the document and what is not.

Others have already highlighted that the “Better Deal” is comprised largely of Bernie Sanders-esque “populist” planks, which is to say fairly far left stuff that has the few “moderate” Dems left in Congress sounding nervous.

But the “Better Deal” is also notable for how narrow it is.  For example, Sen. Minority Ldr. Chuck Schumer went on TV right before the unveiling and talked up the possibility of big expansions of Medicare and Medicaid.  But the “Better Deal” refers only to lowering the cost of prescription drugs and to protecting Medicare (and Social Security).  Similarly, on trade — a 2016 hot-button — the “Better Deal” vaguely refers to aggressively cracking down on unfair foreign trade and fighting back against outsourcing, without specifics.  The “Better Deal” also mentions breaking up monopolies, but lacks the traditional Democratic/populist rhetoric about making the wealthy pay their fair share (in this regard the Cong Dems are to the right of Stephen bannon and even the stray comment from Pres. Trump).

Indeed, to underscore how narrow and small-bore the “Better Deal” is by the typical progressive standards, it’s worth remembering that this is a essentially a Congressional product, unloved by outside groups and not endorsed by the DNC (quite unlike the Contract With America in this regard).

The “Better Deal” may be viewed as a marginal victory for the progressives in the Dem caucuses.  If Dems don’t develop their platform and win big in 2018, it could even give them a marginal advantage in actual legislation.  (As the conservatives should have learned from 2016, these intraparty fights can be important.)

However, the omissions from the “Better Deal” may be more interesting.  The document is arguably more an exercise in downplaying the direct socialist/neoliberal conflict that played out in the 2016 primaries between Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Similarly, the exclusion of hot-button issues like immigration, gun control, abortion, and LGBTQ rights avoids the left-wing identity politics that neither Sanders nor Clinton mastered in 2016.  Despite the grumbling from the Dems’ myriad interest groups and concerns that the omission of such issues will demoralize their base voters, it’s not necessarily a bad move.  As I’ve previously noted, the Contract With America avoided social issues.

Of course, the reason the Contract excluded such issues was the perception (and the data) suggesting they were divisive and off-putting to swing voters in 1994.  The “Better Deal” suggests that Congressional Dems have concluded (for now) that Trump’s appeal to white working class voters — including many former Obama voters — was more cultural than economic and that they do not want to compete along that axis in 2018.  It’s quite the role reversal, regardless of whether the Dems’ perception here is correct.

As a corollary, it may also suggest that Cong Dems think they are better off not offering red meat positions that would motivate GOPers to turn out against them.  The gambit may be to bet on the business cycle bringing a recession sooner rather than later, or simply to bet on the Trump-led GOP to continue its current dysfunction.  As bets go, doing the bare minimum may not be a bad wager for Dems in this cycle, even if they made it only as the least bad option.

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Peggy Noonan and the Opposite of Contempt

Peggy Noonan got a lot of response — positive and negative — to her column on Pres. Trump’s weakness as a man and as a president.  The response was more striking to me than the column because she was far from the first person to identify Trump as a crybully, rather than the alpha male he pretends to be.

Accordingly, I suspect the reaction was due largely to the fact that it was Peggy Noonan who wrote it.  And that interests me because it seems to be based on a misunderstanding of Noonan from which we might learn something.

If you review Noonan’s columns on Trump, you generally will not find someone sympathetic to Trump.  She may have found him personally charming on the phone, or hoped after his first major address that he was finally “pivoting” toward being presidential (even if she knew better deep down).  Otherwise, you will not find much enthusiasm for the man.

Noonan is not, and never was, a yuge Trump supporter.  She was, and is, a Trump supporter supporter.

If you want to understand Noonan’s perspective, read her April 21, 2016 column, “That Moment When 2016 Hits You.”  Notably, she declared, “this is all personal, and not column-ish.”

In this piece, Noonan referred to Trump as “Crazy Man.”  She also wrote this:

I was offended that those curiously quick to write essays about who broke the party were usually those who’d backed the policies that broke it. Lately conservative thinkers and journalists had taken to making clear their disdain for the white working class. I had actually not known they looked down on them. I deeply resented it and it pained me. If you’re a writer lucky enough to have thoughts and be paid to express them and there are Americans on the ground struggling, suffering—some of them making mistakes, some unlucky—you don’t owe them your airy, well-put contempt, you owe them your loyalty. They too have given a portion of their love to this great project, and they are in trouble.”

If you harbor any doubt that elitist contempt for the working class is what agitates Noonan, read the first chapter of her memoir, What I Saw At The Revolution.  If you’re really busy, you can skip to pages 15-16.  [Update: If you can’t read those pages on Google, try Amazon.]  Noonan is very clear about the moment when she knew she was not on the left; it had everything to do with this idea of contempt.  In 2016, she was seeing it on the right as well as the left.

Of course, Noonan asserts that the conservative commentariat (of which I am a tiny part) owes the white working class our loyalty, which raises a number of interesting questions.

For example, if Trump’s margin of victory came largely from Obama voters or voters who had a favorable impression of Hillary before Trump came on the scene, what sort of loyalty needs to be shown to them?  Why didn’t we owe them loyalty when these same people were voting for Barack Obama, leader of a Democratic Party filled with the sort of contemptuous social justice warriors who so offended Noonan during the Vietnam era?

Granted, in 2016 these voters sided with the GOP nominee, which would mean more to me if I considered myself more a Republican than a conservative.  But even if I identified primarily as a Republican, I would still ask why I would owe loyalty to Trump over other Republicans,  especially given that my record as a Republican is much longer than Trump’s, let alone some former Obama voter.

Moreover, I wonder whether Noonan has considered a question raised by Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, i.e., the degree to which the current suffering of the white working class is a product of declining morals among this demographic since the 1960s.  What will any politician, let alone one with the morals of Donald J. Trump, do to solve that problem?  Indeed, after identifying the failures of the elites, has Trump done anything but offer the white working class mirages and non sequiturs as solutions to their problems?

I imagine that Noonan would respond that the duty we owe the white working class is one of assistance that transcends ideology.  If so, I might agree that nationalism might extend that far… but that is inherently much different than loyalty to a particular candidate or agenda, and a principle not uniquely applicable to the white working class.

Noonan is entirely right to recoil against the contempt expressed for many Trump voters in the white working class (though perhaps this is a smaller sub-group than Noonan may believe).  But the opposite of contempt is not loyalty.

The antonyms of contempt include not only approval and flattery, but also respect and sympathy.  All of us, including the white working class, will be better served with the latter instead of the former.  Contempt can be an ugly thing, but flattery based on demographics seems much more like pandering.

Respect would be a more solid and worthwhile basis for a relationship.  But respecting others as fellow citizens and human beings does not require agreement with their political judgments and rationalizations, for the reasons already mentioned.  Respect means engaging in honest discussion and debate, in which either side may be wrong (in whole or in part) though both sides may not believe themselves to be in error.  Respect means not treating those with whom you differ like children, neither condescending nor patronizing.

Indeed, when I hear the defenses of Trump offered by his supporters, they sound eerily to me like the defenses once offered by supporters of Sarah Palin.  Once upon a time, Peggy Noonan offered an eloquent rebuttal to all of them, though she did not address whether Palin supporters had given a portion of their love to this great project.

Of course, she wasn’t necessarily 100% right then; she may not be 100% wrong now.  America is a complex place, one in which there are risks in pledging loyalty based on stereotypes, regardless of whether those stereotypes are positive or negative.

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The Failer Faster Thesis

The Trump administration’s whirlwind of news cycles has had me thinking about the Feiler Faster Thesis.  Named for Bruce Feiler but popularized by Mickey Kaus, the FFT posits that the acceleration of the news cycles softens the crush of the compression of actual news events and allows voters to get the information they need to make informed decisions.

What my Failer Faster Thesis presupposes is… maybe it doesn’t?

In fairness, Kaus himself allowed for this possibility: “Of course, voters may not entirely be keeping pace with Trends 1 and 2. Are they really as well-informed and conscientious as before–swooning, having second thoughts, rebelling, coming ‘back home,’ and so forth, just as they used to, only more rapidly? Can you keep dividing time into smaller and smaller bits without bumping up against the limitations of the human brain?

In one sense, there is a case to be made that humans living in the internet age have increased their ability to process information, particularly visual information.  It’s a trend that has been observable for decades before the internet, in the decreasing length of television soundbites, the popularity of the original, jump-cut laden MTV, etc.

In another sense, Kaus referred to James Gleick’s book Faster, which suggests at points that what we lose in an accelerated society is the chance to reflect, analyze, and render considered judgments.  And this theme has continued to resonate as recently as Andrew Sullivan‘s much-discussed column/essay on what he’d later call “distraction sickness.”  Peggy Noonan explored a related idea in “The Politics of The Shallows.”

To be sure, it’s easy to look around any public space and see people — especially younger people — lost in their smartphones.

But Kaus and Sullivan and Noonan are discussing the phenomenon in relation to a very particular class of people, those obsessed with political news.  Social media, particularly Twitter, rewards us with an endless stream of news nuggets like lab rats pressing the bar for their reward pellets.  Indeed, odds are it deposited you here.  As glad as I am of that, let’s be a little self-aware.

What we lab rats forget is that vast swaths of the general public do not care nearly so much about politics and would consider plugging into Twitter like we do as the equivalent of being a lab rat that gets an electrical shock for pressing the bar.

These people are getting up, maybe catching some news headlines on TV or the radio, managing the kids (if any), going to work, coming home, having a meal, perhaps spending some family time, watching some non-news on TV, and turning in for the night.

To these people, the micro-cycles of the news are largely the trees falling in the forest, well out of earshot, or perhaps explained by some late night show joke (though many may have given up on these shows as too political).  To these people, politicians should be interested in them and their lives, not the other way around.  Crazy, right?

Ironically, this may be part of why America is increasingly partisan.  People who don’t want to obsess over the political news of the day may tend to rely more on political party identification as a quick signifier as to what they ought to think about the issues of the day.  I don’t even mean that in a (completely) harsh way; that is supposed to be one of the functions of political parties.

Perhaps what we are seeing more these days is less a disconnect between “globalists” and “populists” than a disconnect between the class of political obsessives and everyone else.  And that the people who are historically “influencers” on politics among their family and friends are those most at risk of the sickness, of the diminished judgment.  We become more likely to shout, to go ALLCAPS, to marinate in conspiracy theories and palace intrigue, while more normal people begin to suspect our sanity, pat themselves on the back for not caring about politics, and drift into whatever positions party leadership takes.

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No Skinny Repeal for Flabby Republicans

The morning after the late-night failure of the Senate’s attemped “skinny repeal” of Obamacare, the finger-pointing and wondering what comes next is in full gear.  On the latter score, you could do worse than the final grafs from Ben Shapiro about the future of the issue in general.  My main quibble would be that if history is any guide, the GOP’s control of two branches of government almost certainly thrust ownership of the issue upon them.  Republicans will get the lion’s share of the blame for the state of the health insurance markets whether they pass legislation or not.

Let’s move on to the issue of blame, as that’s what gets everyone’s juices flowing as we head into the weekend.

There’s certainly plenty of blame to go around:  dishonest GOP legislators and a disengaged President seem to top the list.  But the biggest culprits are largely escaping the pundits’ scorn today.

I refer of course to Republican voters in general and Trump voters in particular.

When it comes to healthcare reform, Republicans are largely the sort of people who look in the mirror and decide they will get serious about that diet…next week, or month, or year.

Trump personifies the cognitive dissonance of the GOP on this issue.  Trump would consistently and vehemently denounce Obamacare and call for its repeal and replacement (though he generally could not put a coherent sentence together to say how this would be accomplished).  OTOH, when cornered, Trump would lash out at his GOP rivals and accuse them of wanting people to die in the street.  He would make unscripted comments about how everyone was going to be covered and the government was going to pay for it.

In short, Trump was (and is) the representative of the shallow, small-c conservatism of Fox News, tribune of those whose idea of conservatism is keeping the government’s hands off their Medicare.  What this large bloc of GOP voters really wants is at odds with their self-image.  They will spend the coming days attacking GOP candidates as dishonest when they have not been honest with themselves.

This diagnosis may sound harsh, especially on a day when the Right is feeling the sting of failure.  But a party that is not committed to traditional conservative principles loses the ability to argue for the millions who were harmed by Obamacare.  It is a party too timid or uninformed overall to relentlessly pound home that Medicaid provides no better health outcomes than the uninsured receive.

It is a party that could not honestly address the population with pre-existing health conditions because Republicans tell themselves they oppose welfare.  It is also a party that fights on the Democrats’ ground of projected coverage statistics instead of making the moral argument that the government should not be able to force people to buy products they do not want.

In sum, it is a party that started this year’s debate by signaling to Democrats that the GOP would never undo Medicare-for-all, should the Dems ever pass it.

The GOP is not a particularly conservative party when it comes to specifics.  Moreover, as noted yesterday, it is much more an anti-Democrat party than it is a populist or nationalist party.  But a Republican party that does not know what it stands for cannot stand against the Democrats, who at least have a shared goal of making government larger and more intrusive.

Republicans want to have their cake and eat it too.  You don’t get skinny that way.

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The Unpopulist

Two trial balloons floated across the mediascape yesterday: (1) Pres. Trump’s Twitter “announcement” of a ban on transgender people serving in the military, sprung with even less warning than the so-called “travel ban” regarding certain Middle Eastern nations; and (2) White House adviser Steve Bannon’s idea for tax reform to include a new 44% top marginal tax rate on people making over $5 million annually.

The juxtaposing of these two items reminded me that I had yet to ask here: is Trump ever going to get around to proposing something broadly popular?

To be sure, Trump got his administration off to a good start with Republicans, signing the sorts of executive orders you would expect from a GOPer.  There has been some regulatory rollback.  And there was of course Justice Gorsuch (aside: Hugh Hewitt complained again yesterday about the pace of judicial nominations and confirmations).  All to the good, for Republicans.

Conversely, Bannon’s tax idea might appeal to Democrats, but would be anathema to Republicans, which is probably why one senior administration official told the Weekly Standard that the White House was “beyond that” the last time this balloon was floated a few weeks ago.

Although I disagree with Bannon’s proposal, both as policy and politics (Trump is already doing enough to split his nominal party), it does at least have the notion of trying to do something populist going for it.  That it is unlikely to go anywhere underscores what Rush Limbaugh noted last week — that the GOP is not really so much a nationalist or populist party as it is the anti-Democrat party.

And this is a missed opportunity — or might have been, for a slightly smarter version of Trump.  Of course, true populism would have been a gamble for a man who ran an essentially cultural campaign that virtually guaranteed the Democratic Party’s activist base would intimidate its officials into rigid opposition.  OTOH, there are plenty of Dem officials who know the activists aren’t the entire base and that they may need an agenda beyond attacking Trump (depending on the economy and so forth).

So one wonders (as I’ve heard Michael B. Dougherty and John Podhoretz do on the National Review Editors’ podcast and the Commentary podcast, respectively) what might have happened if Trump had led with infrastructure.  Again, it wouldn’t have been my cup of tea, but I could’ve seen him getting away with it and putting pressure on Dems in the process.

I also tend to think back to the Contract With America, which contained a bunch of arguably populist items and intentionally excluded ambitious tax reform and hot-button social issues.  The effort that went into crafting it — polls, focus groups, surveys of candidates and interest groups — was probably something worth duplicating, either by the Trump admin or the GOP Congress.

Instead, Trump’s first six months have been marked by a steady diet of polarizing base politics.  That’s much easier to get away with if you’re Barack Obama and just won handily with a large Congressional margin.  But Trump squeaked out an Electoral College victory and has much less of a Congressional majority.

Trump’s situation is much closer to that of George W. Bush, who by temperament and political calculation was inclined to pass a bipartisan education bill and an expansion of Medicare.  As it turned out, even in the first post-9/11 presidential contest, Bush probably needed the goodwill generated by his more big-government impulses to win re-election.

Trump, despite being far less conservative by nature than Dubya, seems to have missed the lesson.  Perhaps it’s because he ran against the Bush dynasty.  Perhaps it’s because he’s convinced himself that he’s more popular than Obama.

Whatever the reason, Trump may have missed the window to govern as a populist and will be left to govern as an anti-Democrat.  Not exactly the ideal position for a man who needs to expand his support instead of contracting it.

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Tucker Calrissian Tonight

Tucker Carlson has called Pres. Trump “nuts” for his repeated humiliations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump would like to resign (ostensibly over his failure to prosecute Hillary Clinton, but really over his recusal from the Russia investigation, as Trump himself told the NYT).  Carlson wasn’t alone in his criticism; many of the more populist-nationalist members of the commentariat rushed to support the man Trump has yet to nickname “Beleaguered Beauregard” (but give him a day or two to think of it).  Even Rush Limbaugh , King of the Entertainment Wing of the Right, praised Sessions yesterday.

But I don’t think the source of the panic here is that Trump firing his own AG would again toss a jerrycan of gasoline on the Russia investigation story, do you?  Nah.

Rather, a bunch of people who used the endorsement from then-Sen. Sessions as their rationalization for jumping on the Trump Train in 2016 fear that losing him as AG would stall their agenda on immigration.  Not coincidentally, it would also tend to suggest they fooled themselves into thinking Trump prioritized their heavy investment in the immigration issue.  Instead, Sessions may be gone soon while 10 states are having to threaten to sue Trump over his continuation of Pres. Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Of course, despite his general inclinations, Trump may yet decide not to fire Sessions.  But the underlying issue for many of his supporters in the media has been exposed.

Breitbart’s Matthew Boyle, defending Sessions, wrote:

What Trump could do here is seek out a diplomatic solution with Sessions and try to salvage the relationship for the good of the country, the movement, and Trump’s core populist voters. Otherwise, it could mean a bloody mess of a nightmare in the conservative media and among Trump’s base. Sure, some would follow the president no matter what. Others, though, quite clearly would veer away from him after making such a move. He can’t afford to lose his own voters at this point, nor can he afford to lose anyone in the conservative media who’s on his side.

Boyle, despite his attempt to frame it as a warning to Trump (probably bad psychology, btw) could not help but reveal his real fear — that firing Sessions would be a “nightmare in the conservative media.”  His real fear should be that more Breitbart readers (and Fox News viewers) would ultimately side with Trump over Sessions, because that is almost certainly what would happen.

The rich irony would be that the people most upset over the possibility of losing Sessions generally cheered Trump rolling over various other “disloyal” Republicans and thereby primed their audience to accept it happening to Sessions.

And seriously, what is Fox News going to do?  Suddenly become an honest broker of Trump’s behavior during its primetime lineup?  Anyone think that wouldn’t wreck their ratings?  Anyone think Breitbart wants to hemorrhage clicks, or lose the support they receive from people close to Trump?

Sessions didn’t even need to be fired to expose the weakness of the nationalist-populist media; it took only the humiliation and the threat to accomplish it.  It is more real-time proof (if needed) that when push comes to shove, loyalty to Trump will prevail over anyone else’s agenda items.

The entertainers who love Sessions are in danger of learning they have no more influence among the rank-and-file than last year’s shocked NeverTrumpers.  The pundits who rationalized their transactional embrace of Trump through Sessions are finding out that the transaction resembles Darth Vader’s deal with Lando Calrissian.  They are left praying Trump doesn’t alter the deal any further.

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The Meaning of the Mooch

There has been a ton of chatter about the meaning of Pres. Trump hiring Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director, complete with the rumor that he is expected to replace Reince Priebus as chief of staff.  Along with Trump’s disparagement of his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, the speculation has focused on how Trump may move to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing any ties between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.

People seem to be focusing on the court intrigue and scandal, when there may be bigger issues to consider.  I would argue that hiring the Mooch signals Trump’s desire to “Let Trump Be Trump,” which will have ramifications beyond the Russia probe.

Mooch reporting directly to Trump does more than emasculate Priebus and suggest him as an heir apparent; it reflects the degree to which Trump still views the presidency as a comms job.  By inference, a Let Trump Be Trump vibe will reinforce Trump’s general lack of interest in policy.  It therefore also suggests that policymaking in the Trump White House may continue to be a less-than-coherent populist hodge-podge.

For example, Trump yesterday publicly warned Senators to vote to move forward on the GOP’s health care bill.  Unlike others, having just noted the limits of the bully pulpit, I don’t fault Trump as much as many do for not having tried to sell this effort more.  Moreover, as a conservative, I would prefer that Congress take more responsibility for its constitutional role and don’t care much for the GOP’s health care bills.

Nevertheless, I also cannot blame GOPers in Congress for noticing that he celebrated the passage of the House bill, only to call it “mean” in the days that followed.  Or that he has previously endorsed the idea of simply letting Obamacare fail before castigating the Senate for possibly taking that path.

Letting Trump Be Trump means that he will continue to be an unreliable partner in passing a GOP agenda and that the dysfunctional relationship between the White House and Congress will continue and perhaps deteriorate further (making Priebus that much more expendable, ironically).  Other executive branch efforts like regulatory reform may continue in their low-profile way, primarily because Trump cares little about them.  But his inattentiveness may also affect other functions important to his political success:

(In fairness, liberal Ron Klain remains alarmed by the pace of judicial nominations.)

Letting Trump Be Trump will also affect foreign policymaking.  We read about NSA McMaster becoming estranged from SecDef Mattis and SecState Tillerson, apparently over Afghanistan policy in particular.

On the merits of Afghanistan, it’s more than fair for Trump to “want to find out why we’ve been there for 17 years.”  But that impulse, combined with Trump’s shift to defer to Russian influence in Syria, and his (admittedly reluctant) recertification of the Iran nuclear deal, might make one question the seriousness of the “clash of civilizations” rhetoric in his Warsaw speech.  And one might ask how any or all of this fits with his Riyadh speech (which is why I didn’t think the Warsaw speech meant all that much).

Granted, I never expected a Trump doctrine.  And it may even occasionally be to our benefit if our global rivals and opponents cannot always predict what Trump might do in a given situation.  But more often, our friends — and our rivals — depend on a certain level of stability on our part.  Indeed, Letting Trump Be Trump may even cause a certain level of queasiness in a GOP Congress, beyond the issue of U.S./Russia relations (on which the pending sanctions bill may be just an opening skirmish).

Relatedly, while many see hiring the Mooch as a move to building a war cabinet, the kerfuffle over Scaramucci deleting various anti-Trump, pro-Hillary, and other RINOish tweets also suggests a concern on the Right that Letting Trump Be Trump will eventually push him back toward the Democratic donor Trump was about 15 minutes before he went Birther.  A comms director, like a lawyer, can make an argument for a client without agreeing.  The discomfort here seems to be that people suspect New Trump would still be receptive to the views of Old Mooch.

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This is Just Enough About Kid Rock to Put Him in the Title

Were I OG blogging, I’d be much more careful to frame this around the story of Kid Rock’s prospective Senate campaign.  The truth is that I’ve been thinking about the following since last Monday’s Commentary podcast, in which John Podhoretz was discussing whether the Obama presidency ever got boring.

To wit, of all the various theories of How You Got Trump (and possibly Sen. Rock), the nature of Obama’s celebrity presidency has been underplayed.

Obama was attacked by Republicans for blurring the line of celebrity and politics in both of his presidential campaigns.  Yet after he won, the GOP never really made it a theme for criticizing his presidency.

Sure, when he did celebrity stuff it got criticized: slow-jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon, making an annual production of his March Madness brackets, getting interviewed by Zach Galifianakis on Between Two Ferns, getting interviewed by YouTube celebrities like GloZell, inserting himself into most every White House commemoration of historical events, the FLOTUS turning up at the Oscars (and the President commenting on Academy politics), etc. etc.

But it never became a thematic criticism of the Obama administration; at most, these events tended to get viewed through the frame of Obama’s narcissism.  In retrospect, very little attention was paid at the time to how intentional this all was.

Indeed, when Podhoretz revisited some of these events (in a different context), it occurred to me that this aspect of the Obama presidency must have featured in the analyses of How We Got Trump.  But Google suggests that Ken Walsh of USN&WR was about the only person to focus heavily on how Obama helped pave the way for Trump in this particular manner (as opposed to say, reactions against Obama’s political behavior).

I found this particularly striking because — as Walsh notes — Obama (like Andrew Breitbart) was acutely aware of the phenomenon and specifically noted the role culture plays in shaping politics.  OK, I’m not really shocked that this hasn’t been a focus, insofar as it’s an embarrassment for everyone involved to contemplate how shallow our society has become.

The blurring of the line between celebrity and politics may be considered a problem in itself.  Obama expressly saw it as many of his critics did (without connecting the dots) — as a question of his ubiquity.  The billions in free time the media devoted to candidate Donald Trump (and on his podium, even when he was absent) was perhaps the next iteration of a phenomenon actively encouraged by Obama, as Obama himself recognized.

Obama apparently rationalized his celebrity-seeking as a necessary response to a fragmented information environment.  And in theory, I suppose I understand the impulse of politicians to seek people out where they are.

In reality, the power of the bully pulpit has long been overstated.  Name ID is a huge advantage to getting a political nomination, perhaps even winning an election.  But commanding attention, even if necessary, is not sufficient to govern.  Obama never really learned this lesson and it seems the GOP won’t either.

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