The Sessions Sessions and the Return of Fight Club

I started this blog in part to upload (and thus mentally offload) thoughts on the news of the moment, as such pieces often aren’t amenable to the editorial process for a freelancer.  Nevertheless, the past month of news — and the public reaction to the news — has been illuminating of certain broader themes in our politics.

The latest kerfuffle over Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking to Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the campaign, specifically the accuracy of his comments to the Senate Judiciary Cmte during his confirmation as AG, further illustrates one of the underlying problems with the politics of the Trump era.

This story, largely overhyped in Big Media, is not one of Sessions perjuring himself.  Viewing his comments on his contact with the Russians in context, they seem at worst to be unintentionally misleading, distinguishing his conversations as a Senator from his lack of contact in his capacity as a Trump campaign surrogate.

Based on the known record, if he’s guilty of anything, he’s guilty of the kind of sloppiness that did in fmr national security adviser Mike Flynn, minus the element of publicly embarrassing the Vice President.

All of that said, Sessions is entirely correct to recuse himself from any investigation of people who were part of a campaign for which he served as a surrogate.  This would be true even if his own contacts with Russians were not part of an investigation.

From the standpoint of legal ethics, recusal is a no-brainer.  It should be a no-brainer as a matter of politics and policy to oppose clear conflicts of interest (as the GOP rightly did in criticizing the Justice Dept’s approach to investigating Hillary Clinton).

Yet for many supposed righties on social media, and for some in Trump-friendly media, it is somehow not a no-brainer.  The sentiment from this bloc is: “Does the GOP not understand that their failure to fight is How We Got Trump?”

We’ve seen this before in the bloc of Trump primary voters who could always be found arguing asserting, “But he FIGHTS!”  We’ve seen it in the argumentum ad masculinum that elevates Donald Trump to the position of favored strongman.  It’s just metastasizing now.

The reason it is metastasizing is because the conservative movement, let alone the GOP, has become shallow and risks becoming the mirror image of the postmodern New New Left, right down to its substitution of entertainment for education and its valuation of power above all else.

The GOP’s failure to fight unwinnable battles and its treatment of politics as an exercise in making friends and influencing people — as opposed to an opportunity to punch opponents in the face — is Not How We Got Trump.

The key to Trump’s victory was in persuading people who voted once or twice for Obama.  These are people who are concerned about their financial situations and the health of their communities, not partisan food fights.  Trump won because of fatigue with the incumbent party, sluggish economic growth, concerns over terrorism, Democrats’ lack of concern for the white working class, and an awful opponent under FBI investigation.

As I also noted yesterday (and previously), Trump was was outpolled by most conventional GOP Senate candidates and the average GOP House candidate, most of whom weren’t saying inflammatory and ridiculous things, or picking fights that would disadvantage them against their opponents (most of whom weren’t as frightening to people as Hillary Clinton).

Moreover, the history of the last eight years is of an “in your face” President destroying his own party, while the supposedly cowardly opposition got as strong as it had been in almost a century.

People who don’t like CNN or the NYT were already inclined to vote Republican.  And I doubt anyone voted for Trump because they wanted Jeff Sessions to be a conflicted AG instead of Loretta Lynch being a conflicted AG.

Certainly, there are those who gravitated to Trump because of his pugnacious style and his political incorrectness.  But if GDP had been growing at 3% or better, ISIS had been routed, or Democrats had a better bench, Trump likely would have lost the Electoral College as well as the popular vote.  The narrative then would have been about how the GOP blew a fundamentally winnable race by nominating a toxic blowhard.

BTW, where was the “But he FIGHTS!” bloc after Trump’s address to Congress?  That was a speech aimed at softening his image.  Not very fighty.  Where was the criticism from the Fight Club about that speech?

The answer is that the speech went well, which gets counted as a win.  And the Fight Club is all about winning.  They often don’t much care about what they’re winning, or are reluctant to tell you what they think they’re winning, or can’t defend what they’re winning on the merits.  But contra Trump, they won’t ever tire of all the winning.

The losses, however small or however deserved, will be blamed on others, those who haven’t joined Fight Club.  It is an exercise in the Green Lanternism that infects partisans on both sides.  For those of you who are not comics nerds, the power of a Green Lantern is a manifestation of willpower.  Outside the comics, you usually don’t want to live under a system that is governed by the force of will.

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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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