The GOP Lost the Battle Over Charlottesville Before It Began

I didn’t think we needed the record scratch meme to examine how the GOP found itself in its current predicament, after Pres. Trump’s initial woefully inadequate response to the deadly clash between white nationalists and the antifa in Charlottesville last weekend.  But based on some of the reaction from the Right, perhaps we do.

In August 2015, The Federalist’s publisher, Ben Domenech, asked: “Are Republicans For Freedom Or White Identity Politics?”  In 2016, Republicans answered him.

The GOP nominated Trump, whose entree to the Right was Birtherism, who built a following with help from Alex Jones (who rails against the Rothschilds and the Jewish mafia), who challenged the citizenship of his rivals, who initially refused to repudiate support from David Duke and the KKK, who accused a judge of bias based on his racial heritage.  Trump and his campaign manager turned “chief strategist” Stephen Bannon now preach a color-blind American nationalism.  But Bannon previously identified the website he ran, Breitbart, as “the platform for the alt-right,” a claim supported by who and what it promoted.

It’s an administration that initially issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that failed to mention Jews, instead using the phrase “innocent people.”

I mention all of the above — a partial resume at that — because a bunch of people on the Right would prefer to stuff it all into the memory hole instead of considering it as the backdrop to the GOP’s post-Charlottesville moment.

During the campaign, I wrote a column detailing how the Left and the establishment media had cried wolf for so many years regarding the supposed racism of George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, John McCain, etc.  My mistake was presuming the GOP would notice the fable of the Boy Who Cried Wolf is also a lesson about what happens to the village when it tunes out the messenger for delivering too much fake news.

Of course, some on the Right, generally those for whom the phrase “That’s How You Got Trump” has become the political version of Tourette Syndrome, saw Trump’s demagoguery as a feature, not a bug.  They understood the wolf was advancing on the village, but decided to elect it Mayor, because “he FIGHTS!”

According to this faction, voters deciding that they stopped caring about being called racist is How You Got Trump.  But they seem very upset at what’s happened to Trump and the GOP over the past few days.  For people who supposedly stopped caring about name-calling, they seem to care a great deal now.

Relatedly (though certainly not identically), there are those on the Right, including Domenech, who see Trump’s belated denunciation of white nationalism as losing a battle, a surrender under pressure from the GOP’s elites.  And the battle is supposedly not one in defense of white nationalism, but one involving the tearing down of Confederate memorials, as opposed by the white nationalists at Charlotteville.  In this view, the larger issue is that the Right is ceding to the Left the power to airbrush American history to its liking, as Stalin once did with Soviet history.

I would humbly suggest that anyone concerned about the taking down of Confederate memorials who thinks their cause is advanced by refusing to condemn white nationalists — who went to Charlottesville to provoke a riot and succeeded with fatal results — should think harder about it.  Recently, a bare majority (51%) of Americans said they see the Confederate flag more as a symbol of southern pride than of racism.  Giving the impression that it’s OK to have neo-Nazis in your camp seems likely to drive that number down bigly, including among college-educated whites who are the weakest Trump supporters already.

Granted, I’ve been wrong before and I’m a Northerner.  But Mary Katharine Ham, a Southerner, was pretty convincing in arguing on The Federalist Radio Hour that when the GOP, which is habitually accused of racism, gets the chance to denounce actual Nazis and thereby distinguish themselves (among people of good will, if not among partisans), they should take it.

But what about the antifa?  And what about the media’s double standard for requiring the GOP to denounce fringe collectivists like the neo-Nazis, while Democrats are never required to ritually condemn the antifa or the Bernie Sanders supporter who shot at GOP Congressmen?

The antifa — and other manifestations of Leftist violence — are a significant and growing problem.  If only the GOP had control over the DHS, the DoJ and other agencies who might focus attention on the issue.  Oh, wait… and this is what the Right did generally with respect to the antifa: waited.  Rather than go on offense and frame the issue to their liking with the President’s singular ability to put issues on the public agenda, everyone waited until after Charlottesville, when raising the issue looks like rationalization and attempted distraction.

(I’m already on record as warning that the Right’s failure to organize creates vacuums that get filled by provocateurs, including the alt-right, to everyone’s detriment.)

As for the media’s double-standard, I agree that it’s egregious, as it always has been.  But I’m old enough to remember when Republicans understood that life isn’t always fair.

Indeed, the Trump era has had many people re-examining the legacies of people like Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley.  One of their common legacies, one that tends to get overlooked, is that they understood that these double-standards existed and Republicans had to be better and smarter to overcome them.

Today’s GOP — or the Trumpian faction, at least — instead prefers to adopt the Left’s culture of complaint, responsibility-shifting, and victimhood.  Those who are the first to demand that others put on their “big boy pants” are having difficulty dealing with the fallout from an entirely foreseeable political debacle.

One might debate whether it is fair for people to conflate Trump’s affinity for white identity politics and nationalism into an affinity for white nationalism.  One cannot seriously debate that Trump’s opponents would make the effort.  Trump’s obstinate and incendiary politics were like a jerrycan full of napalm, awaiting only the touch of a tiki torch from a handful of racists for the mix to explode in everyone’s faces.  The fire rises.

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Live by The Trump Show, Die by The Trump Show

Below the toplines, recent polling suggests The Trump Show is at the heart of Pres. Trump’s current political problems.

In this regard, since the transition period, we have gone from 55% of adults saying Trump’s statements and actions made them more optimistic about him to 56% now saying the opposite.  While Trump’s overall numbers on being a “strong leader” have generally held, many of his ratings on various leadership qualities have dropped significantly.

Such is the often self-generated drama of The Trump Show: only 30% of Trump voters say his administration is doing more to solve than create problems for themselves; only 54% say it is doing more to solve than create problems for the nation.  A majority of adults describe the Trump administration as “chaos.”

While 43% of adults think Trump “takes on the people who deserve it,” 80% wish he would tweet less, 73% wish he would fight with the mainstream media less, 73% wish he would make Democrats mad less, and 65% wish he would call out people he thinks are disloyal less (this last number being lower than those for the Dems/MSM sheds more light on the “Trumpers vs NeverTrumpers” grudge match, though only 11% of adults think GOP disloyalty is why Trump hasn’t gotten what he wants).

Those who are “believers” in Trump (largely those who prioritize Trump’s cultural politics over economic issues) love, love, love Trump’s combativeness.  Everyone else loves it significantly less.

Trump’s “conditional” supporters (those supporting him contingent on his results) are becoming less likely to call him effective and more likely to call him distracted.  More neutral, “curious” people are growing impatient and have significantly more negative personal views of Trump than the conditional supporters.

Moreover, the share of believers has shrunk from 22% to 18% since February, while the share of outright “resisters” has increased from 35% to 41%.

(Note also how consistent all of the above polling is with the SurveyMonkey poll I wrote about last Friday.)

These trends all point to The Trump Show as a problem for the Trump administration and a version of the trick bag I hypothesized last Tuesday.

Trump’s problems have almost nothing to do with Trump skeptics on the Right.  Trump’s problems have only a bit more to do with the establishment media’s coverage of the Russia investigations.

Rather, the coverage of the Russia investigations (on which people don’t think much of either Trump or special counsel Robert Mueller) is just one facet of a much larger narrative.  More casual observers of politics appear to be turned off by a steady stream of stories suggesting the Trump White House is in disarray and that Trump spends much of his time picking unnecessary fights at the expense of the public interest.

As I noted Friday, Trump’s supporters may feel that this focus on Trump’s unpresidential behavior elevates style over substance.

However, it is a narrative mostly fueled by Trump himself, not only through his unfiltered tweets, but also through comments that often suggest he is not on the same page as everyone else in his cabinet.  It’s a narrative bolstered by his leaky, competing factions of staffers, a Thunderdome White House that is a direct product of Trump’s preferred theory of personnel management.  It’s a narrative reinforced by his strained relationship with a dysfunctional GOP Congress.

As such, it’s a highly marketable narrative that causes people to conclude Trump is distracted and ineffective, unable to work and play well with others, whether it’s foreign leaders, Congressional leaders, or his own cabinet and staff.

The current sniping between Trump and Sen. Maj. Ldr. Mitch McConnell is a decent example of how The Trump Show is slowly eroding Trump’s support.  At the outset, let me note that Trump’s criticisms of McConnell’s recent performance are not entirely without merit (and that McConnell poked the bear in this case).  Trump’s believers will overwhelmingly love it; it will likely play among most of his conditional supporters.

But the Righties who will cheer Trump dragging McConnell generally back Trump already.  If the narrative of yet another drama costs Trump some conditional supporters or Trump-curious at the margin, winning a fight with McConnell is still losing.

And if it’s not the spat with McConnell turning someone off, maybe it will be Trump blurting out that we have a “military option” regarding the unrest in Venezuela.  Trump is probably talking about a contingency plan in the event that Venezuela descends into a full-scale civil war and refugee crisis.  But it’s the sort of thing our government doesn’t usually discuss because it could be used as propaganda by the Maduro regime, and complicate keeping other Latin American nations onboard with US policy, which is why the DoD is busy denying that we have an invasion plan (a non-denial denial of sorts).

The casual viewer may not catch these nuances, which won’t be highlighted by a media generally hostile to Trump.  Instead, they’ll see Trump making a reckless comment (which it sorta was) and others scrambling to clean up the mess (which they sorta are).  The pattern here is similar to Trump’s “fire and fury” comments about North Korea, which suggested we might an attack “the likes of which nobody’s seen before,” based on a North Korean threat, rather than a missile deployment or launch, which had to be “clarified” by SecDef Mattis.

It’s a steady drip, drip, drip of these incidents.  Trump believers may think Trump is sounding “tough” and that his critics are snowflakes.  In fairness, the media reaction is often overblown (and expectedly so to anyone who hasn’t just tumbled off a turnip truck).  But at the margins, the drip, drip, drip likely erodes Trump’s conditional support and keeps away the curious.

Trump has never had the level of public support to consider any supporter or potential supporter a luxury.  And yet The Trump Show continues to play almost exclusively to its niche audience.

Update:  I wrote this post before Trump’s woefully inadequate response to the deadly clash between white nationalists and the antifa in Charlottesville this weekend.  In purely political terms, this was an opportunity for Trump to rise to the occasion and improve his image as both head of state and head of government.  But Trump seemingly never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Also, while this post is directed more toward analyzing the general public, I note that in the “Trumpers vs NeverTrumpers” fight, the former are probable going to have a tough time convincing the latter to throw their unreserved support behind a man who could not bring himself to specifically condemn white nationalism.  Not that the Trumpers will make the effort; for all their swagger, most of them disappear from social media when Trump is self-immolating, returning only when they can attack the media or the Democrats for overreaching.  And then they’ll pretend Trump doesn’t have these problems and feign ignorance as to why NeverTrumpers haven’t been swayed by his judicial picks or his regulatory rollback.

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Why Can’t Trumpers Quit Never Trumpers? We Have Data.

There’s been quite a bit on the merits of the (oversimplified) “Trumpers vs. NeverTumpers fight” beat this week.  The most recent Commentary podcast touched on the armchair psych question of why the supposed NT crowd, simultaneously irrelevant and all-powerful, keeps getting targeted by Trump supporters.  A new poll sheds a little more light on this question in ways that confirm my biases, I mean hypothesis, about the subject.

Granted, it’s a SurveyMonkey poll, so you may have issues with the methodology.  But the poll’s numbers on Trump’s job approval are pretty much the current average and if the poll is anywhere in the ballpark, it suffices for this discussion.

This poll, after asking about Trump’s job approval or disapproval, asked “Why?” as a follow-up, then grouped the responses from Republicans thematically.  The poll then further analyzed why Trump supporters approve of his performance.

The results suggest that Republicans who approve of Trump’s job performance do so because he is: keeping promises; putting America first; trying to get things done; and reversing the past eight years.  In contrast, Republicans tend to disapprove of Trump because he is: childish, unpresidential, using bad tactics; and disappointing.

Among Trump supporters, the reasons for approval tend to vary by education.  College grads approve because he is: reducing regulations; draining the swamp; and is getting blocked by others (both Democrats and Republicans).  Those without college degrees approve because Trump is: putting America first; making America great again; doing his best; and tells it like it is.  Both groups believe Trump has good positions, despite his flawed personality.

At first blush, Trump supporters may look at these results and conclude that they have correctly pegged so-called NeverTrumpers as people who are elevating style over substance.  Indeed, insofar as Trump supporters in the commentariat are likely more educated and focused on policy, it is perhaps not surprising that they are irked in particular by those (again, likely more educated) pundits who are not evaluating Trump’s performance by their formula.

Moreover, while the poll does not speak to this, it is rational for Trump approvers to believe that Trump is being blocked primarily by a dysfunctional GOP Congress, insofar as the Congressional Democrats have been a largely ineffectual minority, except for slowing confirmation of nominees. (Perceived liberal judges would also be a factor here.)  Trump’s fraught relationship with Congress probably reinforces the beliefs of Trump’s approvers and may prime them to lash out at Trump skeptics on the Right.

Nevertheless, I would caution Trump supporters against taking this data as a strong confirmation of their priors.  Unlike the discussion among Republicans in general, the relatively elite level at which the “Trumpers vs. NeverTumpers fight” occurs, the NTers are likely to have policy reasons for their criticism of Trump in addition to their issues with Trump’s character and temperament (which is in part why I confined my analysis to policy earlier this week).

Conversely, Trump disapprovers can rightly ask why the character and temperament issues do not concern the approvers as much as they do the disapprovers.  In the aggregate, Republicans certainly cared about character when Bill Clinton was President.  And I suspect that if Hillary had won in 2016, Republicans in the aggregate likely would be far more concerned with character and temperament issues (albeit different ones) than they are with respect to Trump.

In addition, one need not look far to find examples where Trump’s temperament gets him into trouble.  Also, people with character issues tend to attract scandals.  Plus, the President is both head of government and head of state; if Queen Elizabeth II acted like Trump, people would think she was doing a lousy job as head of state.  So it may not be enough to dismiss these issues with comparisons to King David.

Lastly, another reason to be cautious about reading too much into these poll results is the chicken-egg nature of the partisan political environment.  The reasons proffered by Trump supporters tend to mirror the basic messages Trump puts out on his Twitter feed.  This raises the question (for me, anyway) of whether Trump knows (instinctively or based on internal polling) what drives the more and less educated parts of his base, or whether the base has assimilated those messages and regurgitates them when questioned in a poll.

Conversely, we might ask whether the disapprovers are confirming a prior, visceral dislike of Trump by placing more weight on character and temperament in the face of policy results which, in some cases, might be better than they expected prior to Inauguration Day. (This is in turn complicated because character is likely part of any pre-existing dislike.)

Regardless of these chicken-egg issues, the basic contours of the poll suggest that character and temperament issues play a significant role in whether Republicans approve or disapprove of his job performance.  The poll may also suggest that the strength of the idea of Trump being blocked by both Democrats and Republicans will be key to whether Trump continues to lose support among Republicans.  Those who continue to believe he is being blocked may continue to believe in the other common themes for supporting him.  Those who do not are likely to slide into the disappointed category.

And it may be ironic that the continuing skepticism of Trump from some conservatives itself partially fuels and reinforces support for Trump from those who believe he is being blocked, occasionally erupting in this seemingly cyclical Trumpers vs. NeverTumpers fight.

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Trump’s Real Problem: Libertarians

You know it’s true.  If you don’t, just consider what they write about Pres. Trump and his administration at Reason magazine.

They say Trump has destroyed the credibility of the presidency and is consumed by pettiness. During the height of the Russia probe hysteria in May, Reason — despite generally criticizing the anti-Trump hysteria pushing impeachment — ran a piece arguing we don’t impeach enough presidents.

They call AG Jeff Sessions “an unreformed drug warrior and sinister elf“; they attack his honesty and argue he is turning the clock back 30 years.

They criticize Trump’s policies on Cuba, Afghanistan, Syria, the Philippines, and North Korea.  They criticized his Warsaw speech about “The West.”  They call his supposed “travel ban” legal, but dumb.

They attack Trump’s positions on his signature populist issues, like immigration (including The Wall), NAFTA, tariffs, and his “Hire American, Buy American” policy.

They gripe about Trump’s approach to the opioid crisis.  They call Trumpcare worse than Obamacare.  They scorn his budget and its corporate welfare.  They carp about his tax plan, calling it more Bush than Reagan.  Even though they generally praise Trump’s deregulatory push, they complain that he doesn’t really believe in free markets.

They attack Trump’s loyal supporters (Great Americans all), especially Steve King.  They celebrate treacherous Republicans like Jeff Flake, Justin Amash, and the self-interested Rand Paul.

Worse, they hype the idea that Trump wants to suppress the media, the sworn enemies of everything good and decent.  Indeed, even when they criticize the media, they also criticize Fox News, Trump and other GOPers for cynically profiting from We The People’s righteous loathing of the establishment press.

They even downplay the mortal threat of leaks about the administration.  Do they not understand that the New York Times is much more of a danger to our freedoms than Vladmir Putin?

And perhaps worst of all, they promote the heresy that the GOP does not deserve your absolute loyalty.  Do they not realize that we are in a civil war, that we face an existential crisis from the Left, that the terrorists are still grappling for the controls of Flight 93?

Clearly, they do not.  They only criticize the Democrats on occasion, and even then usually include the GOP in their critiques.  I can’t remember the last time they covered the Clinton Foundation’s uranium deal, or the Clinton-Lynch tarmac summit.

Sure, Hillary lost the election.  Sure, the Democrats are in the their weakest position since the 1920s.  Sure, they’re in disarray.  Sure, conservatives frequently claim that the Dems (including the MSM) are behaving in a way sure to re-elect Trump.  But why do the libertarians not realize that Hillary Clinton has merely retreated to Mount Doom as a tactical measure, that she may yet rise again and exterminate the Shire?

It is almost as if the libertarians, with their obsessive focus on people who hold actual power and make actual news, are in a secret conspiracy against conservatives.  Or maybe it’s the weed.

After all, if this handful of libertarian writers and pundits would just bend the knee, Trump’s job approval rating wouldn’t be 19-20 points under water, and there would be peace throughout the Seven Kingdoms.

Is it unreasonable for me to demand that Reason make me their EIC, for the greater good of America?  I think not.

OTOH, maybe scapegoating a handful of writers who don’t care for Trump and disagree on principle with some of his policies is mostly a way of allowing me to pretend that Trump’s agenda may fall short not only with libertarians, but also conservatives who prioritize national defense, foreign policy, and fiscal responsibility.  Could it be?

Am I so out of touch?

No, it’s the libertarians who are wrong.

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The Google Manifesto and the Next Civil Rights Movement

All sorts of people have weighed in on Google’s firing of software engineer James Damore after he published and internal memo criticizing the internet giant’s culture of political correctness, arguing that the way in which the company seeks diversity is flawed, and contending that the gender gap in tech employment is not based solely on discrimination and may be partially due to biological differences.

Rather than rehash those arguments I want to focus on a less-discussed aspect to the story: Damore almost certainly anticipated his dismissal and taking legal action against Google over it.

As the NYT reports:

Mr. Damore, who worked on infrastructure for Google’s search product, said he believed that the company’s actions were illegal and that he would “likely be pursuing legal action.”

“I have a legal right to express my concerns about the terms and conditions of my working environment and to bring up potentially illegal behavior, which is what my document does,” Mr. Damore said.


Before being fired, Mr. Damore said, he had submitted a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board claiming that Google’s upper management was “misrepresenting and shaming me in order to silence my complaints.” He added that it was ‘illegal to retaliate’ against an N.L.R.B. charge.”

Those quotes almost certainly reflect someone who consulted an attorney, if the filing of an NLRB complaint before his dismissal to add a count for retaliation wasn’t a giveaway.  Those versed in labor law offer more skeptical and less skeptical opinions regarding his odds of success.

It’s possible that Damore didn’t consult counsel before publishing his memo, insofar as he might have drafted it in a manner to bring it more obviously within the ambit of federal labor law, which brings me to my larger point.

I have argued that the Right would do well to organize the next civil rights movement.  Litigation would be a part of this movement.  To be sure, there are some right-leaning public-interest litigation groups doing important work regarding the civil rights of college students and such, but (afaik) there’s no broad effort or grand strategy in place to address the institutional problems of higher education, the Fortune 500, and so on.

An organized movement might have worked with the Lincoln Network in Silicon Valley to look for just the right plaintiff(s) and might well have debated whether to bring an initial test case against Google, instead of a less wealthy and powerful company with the same Orwellian attitudes.

That said, if Damore’s legal action survives to a discovery stage, the allegation that some Google managers maintain blacklists of fellow employees will probably be of interest.  And if Breitbart is to be believed (an open question), there are more conservatives at Google Damore could have claimed to represent, which would greatly strengthen his case.  Indeed, the Breitbart report also refers to a pending NLRB complaint alleging Google actively sought to silence employees who questioned the company’s diversity and social justice initiatives (which have been costly and mostly ineffective, btw).

If there was an organized civil rights movement, I wouldn’t have to be wondering whether I should trust Breitbart about these allegations.  Organizers — or the attorneys hired to pursue test cases – would have already given a heads-up and background material to more trusted media (esp. friendly media) to help drive the media narrative, or at least blunt the biased coverage one would otherwise expect.

And an organized movement would be thinking beyond litigation.  As Walter Olson noted on Twitter, hostile-environment law favors the claims of the Left.  It could be reformed in ways that distinguish between true harassment and the type of situation we have at Google.  And to mount my hobby-horse once more, a movement would think about the educational system that educates STEM students to behave like cultural commissars in the workplace.

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Cracks in the Trump Coalition?

As I noted in June, it is tough for any president to forge and maintain a national political coalition, and perhaps particularly tough for Pres. Trump to maintain his.  At the 200-day mark, I don’t know whether we’re already seeing cracks in his coalition… but we may be seeing where those cracks could come.

To paraphrase and expand on what Chris Stirewalt (political editor at Fox News) recently told Mary Katharine Ham in the final segment of a Federalist Radio Hour, it might be useful to look at Trump’s coalition in terms of the degree to which that support is transactional.

At the surface level, we are considering people who are more interested in policy versus those who are less interested.  The most “interested in policy” level is where the non-tedious part of the ongoing gripe session between Trump supporters and so-called (former) NeverTrumpers takes place.

But this spectrum continues, even within the pool of Trump supporters.  There are conservatives who seem to be pulling the whistle chain on the Trump Train with enthusiasm… until it looks like Trump might fire AG Jeff Sessions, or even NSA H.R. McMaster.  When their pet agenda items seem threatened, they ring the alarm bell instead.  Many on the Trump Train will say it’s enough to annoy liberals, until it isn’t.

Then you reach the Trump Democrats.  If Stanley Greenberg‘s focus groups are any indication, they still loathe GOP Congressional leaders like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell — but not for the reasons other Trump supporters and many “true conservatives” in the prior category do.

Trump Democrats are disaffected voters who like Trump’s third-party quality and thus may be far more resistant to being assimilated into the Republican party than Reagan Democrats were.  They may be less interested in policy, beyond Trump’s core messages on immigration and trade, but arguably they are no less transactional than any other part of Trump’s coalition.

Trump’s dilemma is that his brand is all about winning — and yet many of his potential wins strain his coalition.  One version of this dilemma is that the major agenda items in the GOP Congress could turn off Trump Democrats.  Another version is that Trump’s populist agenda on trade risks alienating rural voters regardless of whether he keeps his promises or breaks them.

The conventional wisdom is that there is a “core” Trump vote that will never abandon him.  But what if his margin of victory was supplied mostly by people whose default attitude is disappointment in and resentment of politicians?  If they see Trump as becoming the establishment or (worse still) beaten by it, the floor could turn out to be lower than people are thinking on Day 200.

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Could Donald Trump Do Anything to Win the NeverTrumpers?

That’s the title of Roger Kimball‘s entry into the tedious genre of “Let’s complain about a handful of pundits by pure coincidence when the the Trump administration has a bad week or two.”  Kimball’s piece, however, does at least one salutary thing that most of the genre does not.

Kimball provided his criteria for judging the success or failure of Pres. Trump.  Moreover, he lists them as questions in the present tense, which at least concedes that the answers are not settled.  I will work through my answers, which may not match yours, but in a way I hope would be useful to Trump supporters and skeptics alike.

Judicial appointments. Is he keeping his promise to nominate judges and justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia?

The question is phrased around the issue of quality and on that basis I would say he is.  But I would also consider the issue of quantity, on which there are two perspectives.  Liberal Ron Klain finds Trump is making an alarming number of nominations compared to past presidents.  Trump-friendly GOP radio talker Hugh Hewitt finds the pace alarmingly slow compared to the number of vacancies.  Given that this item tops Kimball’s list and was one of Hewitt’s main selling points for Trump during the campaign, I would suggest no one on the Right will want to look back on Trump’s tenure and find scores of judgeships unfilled.

Regulation. Is he keeping his promise to roll back burdensome and counterproductive regulation?

In general, yes. There are exceptions, e.g., the endangerment finding — that greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, pose a threat to human health and must be regulated under the Clean Air Act — will likely stand, setting a bad precedent and likely trading one set of future legal battles for another.  And given the administration’s early rhetoric about dismantling the administrative state, one might ask why Trump has been MIA during the fight over the REINS Act.  Nevertheless, under Kimball’s criteria, the administration may be doing best on this front.

Immigration. Is he keeping his promise to get a handle on illegal immigration?

Border crossings are down, which may be a function of migrants being deterred by the new climate of the Trump administration.  Arrests are up, but deportations are down, which means the systemic backlog is increasing.  The DoJ wants to add 125 immigration judges over the next two years, but the number of pending cases already exceeds 610,000.

Trump has ended Pres. Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program (already enjoined by the federal courts), but has not stopped the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for so-called “Dreamers” who arrived in the U.S. as children.  Should 10 states be forced to sue Trump over one of his signature issues?

Will Trump shut down the government to secure substantial funding for The Wall?  We’ll see.  Is he going to exert himself to support the RAISE Act?  We’ll see.

The military. Is he keeping his promise to upgrade the U.S. military and give it greater flexibility in responding to threats to our national security?

In general, no.  Trump has requested a 3% increase over Obama’s budget, far less than what hawks want.  Moreover, Trump has not budgeted for the increases in infrastructure (e.g., shipyards) and training of personnel that would be necessary to build a 350-ship Navy anytime soon.

Energy. Is he reversing the Obama administration’s various strictures on America’s ability to harvest its own energy resources?

In general, yes, even if much of this was low-hanging fruit and among the easiest of Kimball’s criteria to fulfill.  That said, the Gary Cohn who said coal “doesn’t even make that much sense anymore as a feedstock” is probably more correct than the Gary Cohn who suddenly thinks coal will be competitive going forward.  Automation is also going to account for job losses in mining.  So I might give Trump higher marks on this than some of the future ex-coal miners who voted for him.

(BTW, Trump has a similar but arguably worse problem regarding trade, which doesn’t make Kimball’s list, despite being Trump’s longest-held position and a signature 2016 position.  Trump kept his promise to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but if ends up costing him votes in the rural Midwest, how should I score that? )

Jobs. Is he working to create an environment that is job-friendly for American workers?

So far, job growth in the first six months of the Trump era are about the same as job growth during Pres. Obama’s last six months in office.  And future job growth will depend on the business cycle and factors outside Trump.

Trump can help create a healthier environment mainly by reducing regulation and reforming taxes, so this seems like a largely redundant category.  BTW, insofar as jobs and the economy are usually the most important issue to voters (and were a big part of Trump’s MAGA theme), it seems odd, or possibly telling, that this is so far down on Kimball’s list.

Obamacare. Is he working to repeal and replace Obamacare?

He’s mentioning it on occasion…now, after the Senate bill failed.  The White House offered little to no guidance to Congress on how to approach the issue.  He didn’t work to sell either the House or Senate bill (neither of which really repealed and replaced Obamacare in the opinion of many) to the public.  His administration’s ham-fisted attempts to squeeze votes out of people was mostly counter-productive.  Celebrating passage of the House bill then calling it too “mean” is emblematic of the way Trump sows distrust among people who should be his allies. (None of the above is to exculpate Congress, but Kimball asks about Trump’s effort or lack thereof.)

Taxes. Is he working to cut taxes?

Not too much yet.  I hope he would learn from the Obamacare repeal debacle, but so far he’s made some of the same mistakes, starting with the administration’s early sowing of confusion over whether they would accept a border adjustment tax (which now seems off the table and thus likely to reduce the scale of the legislation).  And now his late efforts on Obamacare repeal will drain attention away from taxes.

Making American Great Again. This is more amorphous but not therefore indiscernible. What has Trump done about the virus of political correctness and the ideology of identity politics? What’s the mood of the country?

Again, it’s a little odd that Kimball makes this his final criterion, given how much of Trump’s political appeal is wrapped up in his lack of political correctness.  I would have thought the author of Tenured Radicals would have taken the opportunity to tout Trump’s moves to curb the abuse of Title IX on college campuses and to investigate a complaint that a university (reportedly Harvard) has discriminated against Asian-Americans in its affirmative action program.

OTOH, looking at the mood of the country, we see 60% still think our country is on the wrong track.  Economic confidence, which shot up when Trump was inaugurated, is headed back to the water line.  Trump’s job approval numbers are at a low, and declining even among his base.

In sum, Trump’s record on these issues to date is mixed, as I would expect six months into an administration.  But given the weight voters currently put on the economy and healthcare as issues, the lack of progress by Trump (and Congress, but Trump must accept his share of blame) on these issues is troubling and likely accounts for a significant part of that “wrong track” number remaining so high.

Kimball concedes there are other criteria he doesn’t mention, which is quite an understatement.  The omission of trade, mentioned above, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Kimball’s list essentially ignores foreign policy (including terrorism, where Trump can at least point to progress against ISIS in Iraq, if not Syria).  Kimball claims to be baffled why Max Boot is not on the Trump Train; perhaps he might start here.  After all, it’s just one of the core Constitutional powers/duties of the executive.

I could double the length of this posting to address the issues with Trump’s foreign policy (positive and negative), but I will merely note that one does not have to be a disappointed neoconservative to wonder whether Trump has a foreign policy and to be dismayed at the disconnect between Trump’s own comments and tweets and the policies being pursued by his cabinet.

Kimball’s list also ignores fiscal conservatism, though in fairness so does Trump, who is quite content to ignore the ticking time bomb of our unfunded liabilities and to submit a laughable “skinny” budget.  Granted, entitlement reform isn’t popular, but neither were the GOP healthcare bills Trump nominally supported.

If you consider that the modern conservative movement was built around the fusion of economic, social, and foreign policy/defense conservatives, it might occur to Trump supporters that the first six months gives economic and foreign policy/defense conservatives plenty of room for skepticism (excepting deregulation), though Trump could improve on some major issues.  Indeed, if we include libertarians in the economic conservative bloc, you could add the Trump DoJ’s moves against marijuana and in favor of civil asset forfeiture as examples of how the administration is pursuing cultural conservatism at the expense of every other faction on the Right.

Perhaps I have given the skeptics some reasons to view Trump’s record more favorably, and his supporters some perspective on the skepticism.  I tend to doubt the latter.  Writers like Stephen Hayes can present detailed accountings of likes and dislikes regarding Trump’s record and agenda; the Kimballs and Dennis Pragers will continue to play dumb about them, because its far easier to ignore criticism and blame others for Trump’s bad coalition management.

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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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