Can This Marriage Be Saved?

Amid tumult at the White House, the Washington Examiner’s April Ponnuru notes: “If this is the honeymoon, prospects for the marriage between President Trump and congressional Republicans are bleak.  We’re not even a month in and many Republicans are looking nervously for the nearest exit.”  For that matter, it wasn’t much of a honeymoon from the outset.

The reality is probably less dramatic.  Oddly, the best recent historical precedents for the Trump/GOP relationship Administration may come from the Democrats.

One possibility for the GOP can be called The Bill Clinton scenario.  Bill ran for President as a heterodox, more centrist figure in his party.  He won despite the way he treated women.  Nicknamed “Slick Willie” as far back as 1980, his relationship with the truth was as casual as his relationship with the opposite sex.  He lied about things large and small; parsing his lawyerly evasions became a cottage industry for his critics.

Bill Clinton, his Administration, and his associates became mired in a swamp of scandals of varying import.  He was impeached (though not convicted) and disbarred from practicing law in Arkansas and in front of the Supreme Court over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Despite the scandals, triangulations and losing control of Congress to the GOP for the first time in 40 years (indeed, perhaps in part because of the latter), Democrats ultimately stood by their man like Tammy Wynette.

Democrats debated whether Clinton’s success was due to his more centrist positions on welfare and crime or his support for the party’s legacy achievements.  It was probably some of both.  Equally important or more so, the Information Revolution unleashed an economic boom.  Plus, Bill rallied the party faithful by expertly playing the victim of what Hillary Clinton would infamously dub as a vast right-wing conspiracy.

Bill Clinton, aside from changing the norms for a President in ways that paved the way for Trump, also provides a model by which Trump might succeed in keeping most Republicans and conservatives sufficiently onboard with his presidency.  If Trump can balance traditional GOP policy priorities with some key Trumpian proposals — and continue to drive all the right enemies crazy — he can probably maintain a successful political operation, even if he runs into scandals.

Of course, for the Clinton scenario to work, the economic and foreign policy fundamentals will have to also go well for Trump – or appear to, at a minimum.

A worse-case scenario might be called the Jimmy Carter scenario.  Here was an earlier heterodox figure in the modern Democratic Party.  Far more centrist than the Dems’ 1972 nominee, Sen. George McGovern, he also won in part because he lacked the sort of moral flaws so evident in Richard Nixon.

Yet the Carter Administration failed in part because he did not work or play well with a Congress of his own party.  The obvious collapse of old school Keynesian economics and Carter’s foreign policy humiliations were almost certainly bigger factors, but the lack of support for Carter in Congress and the Democratic Party more broadly – culminating in Sen. Ted Kennedy’s 1980 primary challenge – was highly damaging to his prospects for reelection.

Wherever Trump and the GOP wind up on this spectrum, note that Clinton and Carter are still considered heterodox.  The Democratic Party and progressivism more generally have continued their leftward trajectory despite them.  Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election in part because she went from being perceived as one of the more left-wing influences in her husband’s administration to a retrograde figure by large segment of her party today.

The heterodox Trump administration — or some of it — seems interested in trying to remake the GOP into a more nationalist or populist party.  But trying to change your spouse after the wedding ceremony seems….tricky, at best.  Of course, that also might be instructive to anyone in the GOP still hoping that Trump is going to make that long-rumored pivot someday.

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Deep Concern About the Deep State

Blogging my ambivalence about the ouster of Mike Flynn as Pres. Trump’s national security adviser, I noted that one of the benefits of this little side blog is that I don’t have to have an immediate and firm conclusion about such things.

Accordingly, I read with great interest the pieces by Eli Lake and Damon Linker making the case that we should be deeply worried about the “Deep State” politically assassinating a public official in this manner.  These pieces were shared widely on social media by conservatives.  They make a forceful case, albeit one lacking in context.

At the outset, I should note my comments are not addressed to Lake or Linker, but to those in their audiences who seized on their arguments to declare that the leaks are the only “real” issue here.

Candidate Trump campaigned as a consistent critic of the intelligence community.  So much so, in fact, that political junkies openly joked about the likely blowback to Trump.  “The last POTUS to wage war against the IC was Nixon and we all know how that turned out.”  Ha ha ha.  The jokes were based on people knowing the Deep State will retaliate when attacked.

In this political moment, this observation — obvious to anyone interested months ago — is now taken by some as legitimizing politically motivated leaks.  This is, to put it mildly, hogwash.  When Pres. Trump notes the uptick in the homicide rate in major American cities, he’s not endorsing murder.  Political leaking isn’t necessarily right; it is foreseeable.

Indeed, we need not harken back to the bell-bottomed days of yore for an example.  On the eve of the 2016 election, there was a rather large flurry of politically-motivated leaks, primarily from Trump-friendly FBI agents upset that FBI director Comey declined to recommend espionage charges against Hillary Clinton, and that Justice Dept. officials allegedly stiff-armed their probe of the Clinton Foundation.  Fox News went so far as to report — and retract — a story that an indictment was likely to result from the FBI’s investigation.

The Right’s response to these leaks was not to express deep concern about the Deep State.  The reaction ranged between crickets and barely restrained glee.  Republicans generally were far more interested in whether the leaks were correct than whether they were proper.

I could suggest that this reaction on the Right helped legitimize political leaking far more than noting such leaks happen.  I could suggest that righties who have taken to dismissing any anti-Trump news based on anonymous sources largely seem to have been fine with news based on anonymous sources who were anti-Clinton.  I could note that righties didn’t torch Fox for that rather big piece of “fake news.”

OTOH, at the same time, I had an argument with a liberal journalist.  I contended that the progressives’ deep concern with the FBI leaks was largely a function of whose ox was being gored.  Those who know me should be able to look up that exchange without much difficulty.  This is not a new position for me.

I am concerned with political leaks, especially where national security concerns are involved.  I wrestle with where the lines should be drawn, in part because of the risk that my political priors will unduly influence my opinion on an issue that ideally should be beyond ideology or partisanship.

But given that such leaks are easily foreseeable, my question is why a candidate who didn’t pass up chances to bash the IC seems to have had no plan to reform the IC.  Was hiring Mike Flynn the plan?  If so, I can’t help but notice the Deep State got him ushered out of the White House in record time.  Literally.

If this sounds like blaming the victim to you, please note that Trump sits behind the Resolute desk.  He is not powerless.  Those truly and deeply concerned about the Deep State should demand action and reform instead of using their often newfound concerns to excuse the most powerful man in the world whining about how unfairly Mike Flynn was treated.

Or, to put it in the argumentum ad masculinum often favored by Trump’s biggest supporters, they should put on their big boy pants.

UpdateAccording to the NYT, Pres. Trump “plans to assign a New York billionaire to lead a broad review of American intelligence agencies, according to administration officials, an effort that members of the intelligence community fear could curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview.”  Trump picks a Friend of Stephen Bannon who has virtually zero natsec experience instead of his DNI-designate, Dan Coats.  I wonder how many people who had concerns about the Deep State yesterday will applaud this bold new stroke? (Yes, that’s partially sarcasm.)

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Stephen Bannon Should Visit CPAC

White House counselor Stephen Bannon has appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference before.  Now that the intelligence community (with an assist from the media and likely Obama alumni) has easily dispatched Mike Flynn, the man who was supposed to tame the deep state, Bannon should make a return visit, if he can avoid going to Paramus.

With Flynn’s quick departure, many are saying Bannon is next on the target list of foes outside the administration and rivals within it.  Writers like John Fund and Steve Berman are already concerned about another character assassination in progress.

Some of their critiques are more valid than others.  Bannon has landed a top political job with little in the way of a track record; it’s natural that he would be the subject of media investigations.  Some of the resulting non-stories seem sillier than “Mitt Romney hazed a kid several decades ago,” but I don’t fault the exercise per se.

In contrast, the fact that Bannon referred to obscure Italian philosopher Julius Evola during a 2014 conference held by the Human Dignity Institute is highly interesting, even if the NYT (and some on the alt-right) might be misreading Bannon’s comments regarding Evola as supportive of fascism.  It’s true that Bannon is an eclectic reader, but given the entirety of his comments regarding nationalism at the conference, his reference to and apparent study of Evola — a leading proponent of Traditionalism — was hardly accidental.

Bannon notes that one of Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin’s advisers is a devotee of Traditionalism and opines that this is one of the bases of Putin’s support.  He then notes that Traditionalists “don’t believe in this kind of pan-European Union or they don’t believe in the centralized government in the United States.  They’d rather see more of a states-based entity that the founders originally set up where freedoms were controlled at the local level.”

[Here — although this is just my take — as far as Americans go, Bannon seems to be referring to a particular class of paleoconservatives, though one could argue that the lines between them and the alt-right or neoreactionaries are fairly blurry.]

Bannon quickly added that he’s “not justifying Vladimir Putin and the kleptocracy that he represents,” but concluded that “where you’re facing a potential new caliphate that is very aggressive that is really a situation — I’m not saying we can put it on a back burner — but I think we have to deal with first things first.”

In these comments, Bannon didn’t endorse fascism or Putin, though he did reveal something about his global priorities circa 2014.  Bannon didn’t really endorse Traditionalism, either, though it would be fascinating to probe further into whether it influences his thinking and if so, how it differs from Evola’s conception or Putin’s deployment.

These questions scratch the surface of topics on which Bannon’s reading might illuminate his thinking.  He’s also recommending David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest as a warning against hubris.  The book is highly critical of the elites who served (or disserved) JFK and DC’s compliant press corps.  It’s easy to see how those themes fit into a Trumpian world view.

It’s less clear how Halberstam’s elevation of experience over theory plays out in Trumpworld.  The administration has nominated its share of military officers, for example — but Bannon himself seems more a theorist than practitioner.  And the insular groupthink condemned in the book perhaps should have been considered before hastily rolling out a major executive order on immigration with little input from people with relevant experience.

So why should Bannon visit CPAC?  Because Bannon has thought a great deal about the direction in which Trump may lead America and the underpinnings of that thinking are poorly understood by the media and the public.  Indeed, close to half of the country has never heard of Bannon or has no opinion about him.

CPAC would be an ideal venue for Bannon to sit down for an expansive Q&A on his philosophies of politics and governance — a live event that protects him from the selective editing of a suspect media.  Bannon’s 2014 comments suggest he can be a confident advocate for his views.  Remaining opaque will only make his critics more suspicious.

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The Flynn-ale?

Sure, that’s a terrible title.  But I wasn’t going to be the millionth “Flynn-ished” or the billionth “Out Like Flynn.”

So Pres. Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned late Monday night, following reports that he had misled VPOTUS Mike Pence and other officials about his contacts with Russia, specifically whether he had discussed the issue of newly-imposed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.

I won’t pretend to know all of the ins and outs of this story.  The one thing that is clear is that Flynn told Pence something that was not true bout a fairly significant topic.  Some may want to argue whether the phone calls, as reported, were really a big deal.  But Flynn’s resignation suggests that top White House officials were not buying that Flynn could not recall whether sanctions were discussed, and the possible explanations for that apparent disbelief are not good.

Aside from that, there are many “maybes” on the table.

Maybe not all of the reporting on Flynn should have been dismissed by some as “fake news,” even if some of it was.

Maybe the leaks were not entirely a vendetta pursued by former Obama officials and people in the intelligence community, even if some of them were.  Maybe there were reasons Flynn ended up with a bad reputation in the intelligence community, even if some of it was politics.

Maybe I should be more concerned about the number of officials apparently illegally leaking dirt on Flynn, even if I’m already pretty concerned about the politicization of the intelligence community.  Maybe I should be more concerned that there was something about Flynn that caused him to receive this rather unusual treatment.

Maybe not all of the leaks from administration officials and staffers were motivated by palace intrigue and internecine turf battles, even if some of them were.  Maybe the stories about his administrative style in the Trump White House were similar to those that resulted in his firing from the Obama administration for reasons other than a frame job.

Maybe there was a reason why Flynn ended up with enemies inside the White House as well as outside it that wasn’t all about bad motives.

Maybe some people should have watched Flynn’s performance at the GOP convention and wondered whether he was a good choice for national security adviser.  Maybe being a paid analyst for RT shouldn’t be considered a resume-sweetener for the job.

Maybe a man who seemed soft on Russia and tough on Iran would only have been destined to be a bigger headache for the administration later.

Maybe there was a reason Flynn’s son — who was in business with Flynn — got booted from the transition.  Maybe there was a reason one of Flynn’s top aides was denied a security clearance.

Maybe Trump, who values loyalty, thought he owed Flynn a job based on his early support of Trump’s campaign.  Maybe there were reasons why other candidates didn’t seem to pursue Flynn’s endorsement.

Maybe there were reasons Flynn was named to a position that did not require Senate confirmation.  Maybe he’s not the only member of the administration like that.  Maybe that will end up being more important than the side issues regarding the administration’s antagonists, even if those side issues are valid.

Maybe the best part of this little side blog is that I don’t have to have a fierce, concrete opinion this very minute on most of these “maybes.”  I’m inclined to score Flynn’s crossing Pence  — and Trump’s hiring of Flynn — as unforced errors, because the public record suggested Flynn would be a problem and a target well before he phoned the Russian ambassador.  But maybe I’m wrong.  Certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

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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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