Nationalism in These United States

Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru‘s cover essay on nationalism in the latest National Review drew responses from Jonah Goldberg, Ben Shapiro, and Yuval Levin (and a reply from Lowry) that largely survey the waterfront of the issue.  Nevertheless, I have several thoughts around the edges of the debate.

First, as I noted when starting this blog, this sort of debate is the sort of thing that National Review uniquely does well.  It’s one of the reasons NR is an invaluable resource for political discussion.

Second, while I generally side with the cover story’s critics, its important to remember that the debate here is not the binary sort that has largely taken over the internet.  Rather, it’s a discussion over the type and amount of nationalism that can be healthy — or at least not destructive.

Third, given some of the caveats carefully sprinkled in their piece, Lowry and Ponnuru probably would not have received as much critique if it had been structured to explicitly highlight the differences between their concept of nationalism and Pres. Trump’s version, rather than seemingly tacking them onto the end.  They chose not to go that route.  Given that both men are excellent writers, it is not surprising that the approach they took at the time they did was taken by some as an attempt to mend fences with Trump-friendly readers.

Fourth, while the debate at NR covered the “nationalism vs. patriotism/exceptionalism” aspect thoroughly, Levin’s secondary point about “nationalism vs. localism” still has some meat on the bone.

Lowry and Ponnuru write: “The elements of American nationalism that Trump scants are moderating influences on it.  They push in the direction of decentralization and localism rather than an all-powerful central government.  They appropriately situate loyalty to the nation within a set of concentric circles of concern starting with the family and ending with the globe.”

Yet that graf comes well after they declare “[t]he nation is a community writ large, and it is natural for people to love it — to revere its civic rituals, history, landscape, music, art, literature, heroes, and war dead.”

“The nation is a community writ large” smacks a bit of taking a village to raise a child or government just being the name we give to the things we choose to do together.  Given their later distinction, it would be unfair to attribute those more statist sentiments to them — but the fact that so many forms of nationalism are rooted in sentiment makes it easy for less rigorous claims about nationalism to slip through unexamined.

Moreover, as Lowry and Ponnuru note: “During the campaign, Trump policy director Stephen Miller introduced him at events with speeches that were notably communitarian in emphasis.”  We have not had much communitarianism from Trump since the transition-period Carrier deal.

It strikes me as a little odd that there has been relatively little directly revisiting the debates over right-wing communitarianism of the mid-90s, or of 2013, through the lens of Trumpism.  After all, when you read what Trump’s core supporters said during the campaign, it is obvious their concerns about immigration and trade stem from the impact those issues have on their local communities and traditions.

Lastly, it strikes me as odd that the discussion of nationalism in these United States has proceeded without much mention of federalism.  This nation, in addition to having launched with a statement of principles, is also distinguished by having been a voluntary alliance, confederation and ultimately union of sovereign states.

For a fair amount of this country’s history, its citizens were just as likely to think of themselves as citizens of their state or commonwealth.  A Civil War and the transportation technologies of the industrial revolution ultimately moved our vast country to the point where a “national” nationalism could predominate over more local attachments.

Even now, people notice that California, Texas, Maine, Louisiana, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio, etc. all retain distinct flavors of America.  A renewed commitment to federalism (minus the slavery and Jim Crow, obvsly) would be another important check on the unhealthy aspects of nationalism — and one Congressional Republicans have already devoted thought to achieving.

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Tucker’s Tomato Can Television

‘Member when righties laughed at lefties who went nuts for sharing videos of the format “WATCH [Lefty TV personality] DESTROY/EVISCERATE/SLAY [Righty politician or issue]”?  I ‘member.

And yet I see righties giving the same sort of treatment to similar clips from Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight.

The most recent virality involved Carlson taking on USA Today Deputy Editorial Editor David Mastio over an editorial noting that White House counselor Stephen Bannon and the Islamic State’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi share a belief in a “clash of civilizations between Islam and the West.”  That’s not quite right; Bannon stated in 2014 that “we are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism.”  But USAT drew its conclusions (correct or not) based on the totality of Bannon’s comments about Islam, as noted in the editorial.

Carlson led off his segment with Mastio by means of a pop quiz:

Like Mr. Wurtzel, I tend to think “Bannon doesn’t behead journalists” comes across as damning the man with faint praise.

Carlson, however, does behead journalists, figuratively, and he draws quite an audience.  Beyond the social sharing, his ratings are yuge.

This should surprise no one.  Carlson knows the formula.  In the long history of cable news morphing into infotainment, when Jon Stewart famously compared CNN’s Crossfire to pro wrestling, Carlson was one of his direct targets.  (Carlson has claimed he never understood Stewart’s point.)

Of course, Tucker Carlson Tonight isn’t as scripted as the WWE.  But it’s not unlike watching a favored heavyweight boxer work his way toward a title belt by sparring with a series of tomato cans.

On Crossfire, Carlson had to tangle with seasoned pros like James Carville or Paul Begala nightly.  On Fox, virtually none of Carlson’s recent foils have nearly his experience in what passes for debate on television.  And as often as not they are: C-list writers for outlets like the Huffington Post, Elite Daily, and Teen Vogue; generally unknown writers like Mastio or Fortune’s Mathew Ingram; writers with, um, colorful histories like Kurt Eichenwald; and the occasional businessman, college student, or random crank.

Even against inexperienced guests with weak-to-outlandish arguments, Carlson resorted to a straw man argument versus Mastio, and guilt-by association with Teen Vogue’s Lauren Duca.

Carlson’s obviously a smart guy and just as obviously talented on camera.  But he risks re-enacting the moment in Gladiator where Maximus, after swiftly dispatching his vastly inferior opponents, bellows to the audience, “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?”  Because they clearly were not.

And even if the crowd remains entertained, you might ask how lefties giggling over the Stewarts, Colberts, Olivers, and Bees worked out for them.  I can tell you from experience that junk food is tasty, but makes you flabby in excess.

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The Obama Autopsy

At Politico, Gabriel Debenedetti reports that fmr. Pres. Obama and Organizing For Action want to be involved in rebuilding the Democratic Party that suffered so mightily during his administration.  Apparently, state and local Dem officials are less than thrilled, including Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb: “OFA had no faith or confidence in the state parties so they created a whole separate organization, they took money away and centralized it in DC.  They gave us a great president for eight years, but we lost everywhere else.”

I have some concentric thoughts about this.

First, there is the easy irony.  The concentration of money and power in DC was terrible for the the Democratic Party, but it’s apparently still their philosophy for governing everyone and everywhere else.

Out of power, Dems suddenly rediscover the benefits of federalism, and this is no exception.  But it’s purely situational, to be forgotten the next time they win Congress or the White House.  (In fairness, it remains to be seen whether the GOP will live up to its federalist rhetoric with control of the legislative and executive branches.)

Second, if they took federalism more seriously, Obama, OFA and the Dems might gain some insight into why the last eight years were good for Obama and not for the Dems.

Fmr. Mich. Gov. Jennifer Granholm thinks OFA should fold into the DNC.  But that didn’t happen after the 2012 election, in part because — as Obama ’08 guru David Plouffe noted — “you can’t just transfer” the Obama campaign machine to another candidate.

Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 in large part because she did not inherit enough of Obama’s successful electoral coalition.  Lacking the characteristics that ballooned Obama’s support with the Emerging Democratic Majority (or Rising American Electorate, or whatever they’re calling it now), she performed more like John Kerry.

During the Dubya administration, the DNC had largely figured out that adapting to state and local conditions could help them maximize their gains, as they did in 2006.  But they forgot it after Obama’s success under even more favorable political fundamentals in 2008.

Third, Republicans ought to consider whether this story holds lessons for them in the Trump era.  After all, Pres. Trump plans to set up his own version of OFA, though — as with all things Trump — this has not been without drama.

As widely noted, the maps of Trump’s victory often diverged from those of traditional GOPers.  Trump appealed disproportionately to whites without college degrees, while other GOP candidates appealed more to college-educated whites.

Most Senate candidates outpolled Trump (or, in the cases of Pat Toomey and Joe Heck, fell slightly short).  The average GOP House candidate also outpolled Trump by a few percentage points.

Since the election, much has been written and said about Trump remaking the GOP.  He will undoubtedly be the face of the franchise during his tenure.  But Republicans might consider the risks in trying to realign themselves to a coalition that may belong more to Trump than the GOP.

Fourth, the GOP should consider, as The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost has, that historically, “[t]he moment a party achieves total control of the government is the moment just before power begins to slip through its fingers.”  Indeed, the recent history has been for the party holding the White House to lose the Congressional majority it enjoyed when its president took office.  Before that, we had eight years of power split between a GOP president and a Democratic Congress.

This pattern informs the incentives for both parties and for Pres. Trump.  It partially explains why Dems are adopting what they see as the GOP’s successful strategy of obstruction.  It partially explains the impatience of some on the right to move faster on a Trump or GOP agenda.

Ironically, those two incentives may contribute to a self-fulfilling vicious political cycle, among not only public officials, but also voters — who demand change by voting for gridlock.

Update: On Feb. 17, The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng reported on leaked emails detailing the depths of rage among state Democratic activists and leaders.  Does the GOP really want to land in a similar place in a few years?

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Literally, Seriously, Word Salad

Allahpundit noted that when Pres. Trump cast doubt on whether Moscow is backing separatists in eastern Ukraine, he was disagreeing not only with the international consensus, but also with his own UN ambassador.  He asked whether this represents: (a) deliberate strategic ambiguity; or (b) Trump and his cabinet essentially running two distinct foreign policies.

Allow me to propose: (c) Trump opens his mouth and says stuff.

Moreover, enough people have been fine with Trump opening his mouth and saying stuff.  That’s where the notion of “taking Trump literally vs. seriously” comes from.

Most people aren’t policy experts.  They really didn’t care whether Trump knew what he was saying.

The “literally vs seriously” school will assert, for example, that Trump voters didn’t care whether Mexico was going to pay for his border wall.  They cared that Trump was going to be tough on immigration.  And this is probably right.

Trump nevertheless embroiled himself in a conflict with Mexico’s president over paying for the wall.  Trump, not a man to back down, then threatened to raise the money through taxes.

What followed was a confused attempt to explain Trump’s threat by WH spox Sean Spicer.  He seemingly embraced the House-proposed border adjustment tax, which Trump dissed days earlier as “too complicated.”  Spicer claimed the tax would be targeted; it can’t be.  He ultimately claimed border adjustment was just “one way” to achieve Trump’s goal.

Some blamed the press for misreporting this story.  But how do you correctly report Spicer vamping in an attempt to reconcile Trump’s statement with what’s actually happening?

Senior administration officials now claim Trump has warmed to the House plan…but who knows what Trump would say in another interview?

Trump also has claimed his healthcare proposal would insure “everybody” and “the government’s gonna pay for it,” as he did during the campaign.  Congressional Republicans aren’t taking it literally or seriously.  But I wouldn’t rule out Trump saying it again.

On foreign policy, Trump voters probably surmised that Trump sounded tough on terrorism, but less interventionist than the Bush administration (perhaps easier said than done).  They want to believe it for the same reason they didn’t care about Trump’s claim that Mexico would pay for the border wall; cost-free choices always feel good.

Thus, on Russia, he will absolutely avoid any perceived conflict with Putin.  So Trump doesn’t care whether he sounds worse than Howard Zinn in defending Putin, claiming the same moral equivalence between Russia and the US he asserted in the campaign.  He’ll do so even though his cabinet takes a tougher line on Russia.  It’s ambiguity, but it’s not deliberate or strategic.

The problem is that further accommodation of Russia may embolden Putin.  Moreover, Trump’s seemingly hard line toward Iran conflicts with his personal softness on Russia.  This is the problem with a President given a pass by voters on speaking literally, i.e., having to have thought through what he says.

Trump will probably continue to schmooze Putin until he is seen as being the beta male to Vlad’s alpha.  If that moment comes, some rash decisions could be made.  So we are left wishing that Putin takes Trump’s cabinet literally and seriously, in the hope that moment does not arrive.

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Is That How We Got Trump?

For many, “That’s How You Got Trump” has become the standard reply to dismiss criticism of the President from the left or the anti-Trump right.  Indeed, any skepticism of the idea that harsh criticism of Trump is How You Got Trump is also deemed How You Got Trump.

But was a revulsion against condescension from the elites in the MSM, DC or Hollywood or wherever really How We Got Trump?  Is a failure to listen to Trump supporters How We Got Trump?

Salena Zito, noted chronicler of Trump supporters, spoke to thousands on the campaign trail.  But in her dispatches from places like Brooke County, WV, or Charleroi or Youngstown or Moon Township in PA, Trump supporters are rarely quoted as referring to the MSM or elites in DC or Hollywood (a political scientist took issue with National Review’s Kevin Williamson).  Rather, they seem concerned about the economy and jobs (particularly ‘brown energy’ jobs), trade, immigration, and the preservation of their local communities.

During the campaign, an open-ended Pew poll of Trump supporters found the main reasons people backed him were: (a) he wasn’t Hillary Clinton; (b) he was a change agent; (c) his policy positions; (d) his “tell it like it is” personality; and (e) his support for the American people and their values.

And for all the talk about the MSM not seeking out the opinions of Trump supporters, outlets like The Atlantic (more than once), the Washington Post, The Guardian, the BBC, and the New York Times did.  The NYT also solicited comments from Trump supporters on a few occasions after the election.  And the portrait of Trump voters and their reasons remains pretty consistent.

To be sure, some of Trump’s supporters booed the press at his rallies when he encouraged them to do so.  But in general, they seem more interested in the fate of the local metal fabrication shop, the burden of filling out paperwork to operate their small businesses, or a general sense of stagnation than they care about what Katy Tur, Don Lemon or Joss Whedon are saying about them.

When you consider How We Got Trump, consider that he flipped a swath of voters who previously voted for Obama once or twice.  That’s a voter profile which is not particularly ideological and thus not particularly motivated by a revulsion for Glenn Thrush or Meryl Streep.

These crucial Trump voters seem far more concerned with the perceived (lack of) performance of elites than the condescension of elites.

Of course, there are Trump voters who are bothered by the bias of Acela media and Hollywood blather.  But most of them are likely conservatives who would have voted for the GOP nominee in any event.

And herein lies a risk for conservatives.  Many on the right were blindsided by the Trump phenomenon because they did not understand that the core Trump supporter is really not like them in a number of ways.  They projected their own strong ideological bent onto rank-and-file Republicans beyond what years of data supported. (I say “they” here because it’s been depressingly clear to me for some time.)

Now that Trump is President, the danger is that conservatives seeking common ground to support him will again project their biases onto core Trump supporters, while ironically lecturing his skeptics and critics about being in a bubble.  They also ironically feed the stereotype that Trump supporters whine and wallow in victimhood at the hands of Ben Smith and Samantha Bee.

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PPS: On Feb. 13, Margaret Sullivan of the WaPo visited Trump-friendly Luzerne County in PA.  During the campaign, Trump led supporters in razzing the media in Wilkes-Barre.  It does not seem to have affected the media consumption habits of the locals.  Moreover, the middle-aged folks interviewed seem to have the same basic media habits as Gen Xers and Boomers generally.

Upsets Happen. No, Really.

Before we get too far away from the SuperBowl, let’s revisit ESPN’s win probability chart:

We all laughed. We all made jokes comparing the Biggest SuperBowl Comeback to the 2016 election.

What we didn’t do was conclude that Tom Brady repealed the laws of probability.  People who have watched pro football over the course of their lives didn’t need a chart to tell them that when a team is ahead by 28-3 (as the Falcons were at one point), the odds of the opponent winning are slim indeed.  We also didn’t need a chart to remember that sometimes big comebacks do happen.

Yet there are a lot of people who seem to believe that the 2016 election proved that polls are worthless and polling models doubly so.  Before the election, Nate Silver wrote about why FiveThirtyEight’s model gave Trump better odds than others and why Hillary Clinton was in a weaker position than Barack Obama had been.  But people just wanted to treat the topline numbers as Gospel.

Nate Cohn, despite the NYT giving Trump worse odds, wrote just before Election Day that he was within striking distance of winning because of his huge lead with white voters without a college degree.  The NYT concluded that Clinton’s chance of losing was about the same as the probability that an NFL kicker misses a 37-yard field goal.

You don’t have to have been a longtime NFL fan to at least vaguely recall that the Vikings’ Blair Walsh missed a 37-yard FG attempt in 2016.  Or that the Bears’ Connor Barth missed a 31-yarder.  Or that the Bucs’ Roberto Aguayo missed a 32-yard attempt in 2015.

Of course, if a kicker is consistently bad, he’ll get cut; just ask the Mighty Bengals.  Then again, if you never campaign in Wisconsin, maybe you’ll lose to Donald Trump.

When we see unlikely things happen in football, we seem to have more rational reactions than when we see them happen in politics.  After all, if you’re not a fan of data journalism (and to be fair, it’s far from perfect), it’s an easy slam.  And if you’re invested in pushing a narrative of Trump as the Colossus who remakes the GOP and American politics generally, it’s a useful slam and a way to dismiss unfavorable data as “fake news.”

But the laws of probability have not been repealed.  And while the polling industry faces big challenges, it’s not dead.  People will ignore data at their peril.

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The Overload

People agree our political circuits are overloaded.  They disagree over who is responsible and how the Trump administration should move forward.

Matthew Continetti, who previously called for a Trump “blitzkrieg,” finds DC’s circuits overloaded with the “negative energy” of the media, the entrenched liberal bureaucracy, and Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike.  He sees a do-nothing GOP leadership as possibly complicit in a scheme to tame Trump.

Peggy Noonan, who has been as friendly to Trump as someone who once dubbed him “Crazy Man” can be, believes the administration is responsible and that “[t]he overcharged circuits are leaving them singed, too.”

On Congress, Noonan adds with respect to the EO on Immigration from the Middle East: “You have to help your allies in the agencies and on the Hill know, understand and be able to defend what you’re doing. Instead, they were ignored, especially lawmakers. The Congress of the United States is not composed of meek and modest human beings. They were not amused to spend the days after the order taking phone calls from frightened, angry constituents and donors. (A senator, on its suddenness and the anguish at the airports: ‘They couldn’t do a three-day grace period?’)”

What Noonan understands is that blitzkrieg is a method of combined arms.  You can’t get air support for your ground assault if you don’t notify the aviators of your plans.

The manner in which the immigration EO rolled out didn’t just result in bad PR and losses in courts (both of which may be mitigated by the overreaching of the Left).  It helped decrease confidence in Trump by Congress, particularly his hiring Hill staffers behind Congress’s back with non-disclosure agreements.

If there is to be any sort of Trump blitzkrieg, he will need to have some trust in his field generals.  Continetti asks, “Why is Mitch McConnell not playing hardball with Chuck Schumer on executive branch appointments and Judge Gorsuch?”  He then offers the straw man answer that “Things take time” — time Trump purportedly does not have.

But maybe the real answer is that rushing Jeff Sessions into office as Attorney General could have doomed the nominations of Betsy DeVos at Education and Mick Mulvaney at OMB.  As with the immigration EO, rushing forward can be a good way to step on a rake, or two or three or four.

To his credit, Trump now seems to realize that some of his looser cannons need to be reined in.  The smooth rollout of the Gorsuch nomination suggests he may also be recognizing the value of outreach.  His supporters shouldn’t mind a more deliberate, less insular Trump, if it makes him more successful.

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Between These Lines

This year’s most interesting Super Bowl ad may not have been run by a traditional business but by the NFL.  I refer to the “Inside These Lines” spot, which interweaves images of diversity, unity despite differences, and hard work, ending on a football field painted within the outlines of the United States of America.

Careful viewers will note that the phrase “…when you’re fighting to move forward” is accompanied by a very brief shot of the Seattle Seahawks staging one of their “unity protests” during the national anthem.  Casual viewers may miss it, as it was undoubtedly carefully chosen over of a shot of players taking a knee or raising a fist during the anthem to protest police brutality.

Before the big game, FDRLST publisher Ben Domenech wrote a column for the NYT arguing that when sports events (and sports media) get political, they get in the way of healthy apolitical bonding and ironically “limit[] the space free from the culture wars Mr. Trump exploited to great effect.”  Despite the fact that his lead target was the pregame interview of Pres. Trump, most of the response that he received from the left, afaik, tended to be ad hominem.

The marginally smarter lefty response to Ben’s line of argument, occasionally heard on sports radio, is that the NFL went political well before the anthem protests by wrapping itself in the American flag and embracing our military.  The argument isn’t entirely wrong, but given that the military and the police are two of the top three trusted institutions in America, it speaks volumes about the political judgment of those making it.

The same lefty sports media dismisses the idea that injecting New New Left politics into pro football is harming the NFL’s all-important television ratings.  Indeed, they will argue it is due to just about anything and everything else.

They will argue the league’s decline this season was about cord-cutting, the ratings-stealing election, poor matchups, the dilution of the product after a few seasons of Thursday Night Football, concerns about concussions and domestic violence, the decline of fantasy sports sites, the popularity of the RedZone, vague rules, and the breathtakingly awful color commentary of Phil Simms.

Again, this argument has a kernel of truth.  Simms is terrible.

But the NFL is worth at least $74.8 billion.  You can bet the league has put some effort into researching their situation.  The fact that the NFL decided to use extremely expensive airtime during its most-watched, marquee event to air “Inside These Lines” — as opposed to an image ad with a different message — may tell you what they found…between the lines.

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Why Steve Bannon is on the NSC

When Stephen Bannon, assistant and chief strategist to Pres. Trump, was named a “regular attendee” of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, co-equal to members of the NSC who must be Senate confirmed, the defenses from Trump-friendly pundits tended to fall within two categories.

First, defenders noted that Bannon’s status as as an “invitee” of the NSC and a a “regular attendee” of the Principals Committee does not legally require Senate confirmation.  This is correct, although this will not change Bannon’s influence over the NSC’s process and outcomes.

Second, Bannon was compared to Obama political advisor David Axelrod, though the Axe claims he merely observed the Principals Committee debate over U.S. strategy in the war with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  According to Axelrod, he and other political types did not attend regular meetings of the Principals Committee or their deputies and were not invited to weekly meetings on terrorist threats.

Trump aides have suggested Bannon is qualified for these roles based on his former Naval service or his experience at Breitbart, but I don’t think anyone else is taking those claims seriously.

So why have Bannon on the NSC?  The answer may rest in inverting the second concern regarding people like Axelrod.

Trump ran and won on a nationalistic “America First” worldview that elevates certain domestic political interests over supposedly more “globalist” concerns (and other domestic concerns that go unmentioned).  This was apparent not only regarding issues like immigration and trade, but also in a foreign policy motivated by a less interventionist impulse than other recent administrations.

Given the degree to which the administration’s skepticism of internationalism represents a break with the status quo, perhaps we should not be surprised that Trump wants Bannon representing this perspective during the NSC’s deliberations.

NSC decisions may be life-or-death for our troops.  Past administrations always sought to signal that those decisions would not be tainted by politics.  The administration has not argued that the politicization of the NSC is a feature, not a bug.  That’s probably because it sounds bad.  But it seems to be the real argument for having Bannon on the NSC.

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Had This Been President Clinton… (Likely a Continuing Series)

The WaPo’s Josh Rogin reported that during the tumultuous rollout of Pres. Trump’s EO on immigration for the Middle East, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly planned to issue a waiver for lawful permanent residents, and refused a counter-instruction from White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

Rogin, however, failed to seek comment from the White House.  According to an appended “Editor’s Note,” WH spox Sean Spicer stated that “Stephen Bannon did not travel to see Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on the evening of Jan. 28.”

Plenty of folks on the right then swarmed onto social media to claim that the story was false, just like Rogin’s earlier piece overhyping resignations at the State Dept. — a story that even Vox’s Zach Beauchamp called “very misleading.” Ouch.

However, the problem with comparing the two stories should be obvious to anyone who remembers the Clinton Administration.  Spicer’s response is precisely the sort of lawyerly quasi-denial the Clinton White House would issue whenever controversy arose.

Indeed, had a Clinton White House issued a response like Spicer’s, folks on the right would be noting that he did not deny the key facts in the story: (a) Kelly planned to issue the waiver; (b) Bannon instructed him to not issue the waiver; (c) Kelly rebuffed Bannon and issued the waiver; and (d) Bannon and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller lost the ensuing debate about excluding key Cabinet officials from the EO process.

Had this been the Clinton White House, righties would have noted that an Administration waging #WAR on the media certainly would have denied those reported facts if they thought they could get away with it.

Had this been the Clinton White House, righties also would have observed that the denial extended only to the question of whether Bannon traveled to see Kelly, as opposed to telephoning, for example.  And they would have joked — in their best voice impressions of Bubba himself — that “it depends on what the meaning of ‘evening‘ is.”

As HotAir’s Allahpundit observed: “American politics increasingly feels like a novel whose events are retold by two unreliable narrators, Trump being one and the media being the other. ”  Those who focus on the media’s manifest failures (and they are myriad) while accepting Clintonian verbiage from the Trump White House may be setting themselves up for a fall later.

Update: On Feb. 7, Politico reported that Kelly called the WaPo piece “a fantasy story”; The L.A. Times quotes him as claiming “Every paragraph, every sentence … was wrong.”  He also told Rep Kathleen Rice, “I work for one man.  His name is Donald Trump, obviously.”  A skeptic might take that as a dig at Bannon.  And in context, Kelly is clearly playing a good soldier falling on his sword.  He’s a man taking the blame for something in which he played no part.

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