Michael Cohen: There will never be a peaceful transition of power if Trump loses

Former personal attorney to President Trump Michael Cohen and CNN’s Don Lemon discuss President Trump’s unwillingness to say he would accept the election results and the peaceful transfer of power should Joe Biden win the presidency in November.

Trump Is Beating Trump

Biden wants to make the race a referendum. The president needs to make it a choice.

In theory, President Trump is in a pitched battle with Joe Biden for the presidency. In reality, Mr. Trump is in a battle with Mr. Trump.

That’s one way to look at the recent round of sliding Trump poll numbers, which the media and Democrats are prematurely hailing as an obituary for the administration, but which also have Republicans nervous. Mr. Trump’s path to re-election rests in painting a sharp contrast between his policies of economic restoration, a transformed judiciary and limited government with those of Mr. Biden’s promise of (at best) a return to the slow growth of the Obama years or (at worst) an embrace of progressive nirvana. Instead, he’s helping Democrats and the media make the race a referendum on his Twitter feed.

Let Trump be Trump!” cry the president’s supporters. They argue it worked before. But this isn’t 2016. The U.S. is emerging from an unprecedented pandemic lockdown that left millions unemployed or bankrupt, children without education, the social order in shambles. The fury that followed George Floyd’s death has put Americans on the edge. They need calm leadership and a positive vision for the future.

Mr. Trump offers glimpses. His May 30 speech following the historic manned SpaceX launch—which addressed the Floyd killing—was a call for justice and peace as well as a tribute to American aspiration. In a subsequent Rose Garden speech, he deplored Floyd’s “brutal death” and reminded viewers that “America needs creation, not destruction.” A week later, his Rose Garden remarks celebrated a jobs report that defied gloomy predictions, and it showcased the American desire to get back to work.

But these highlights were quickly eclipsed by the many openings Mr. Trump provided the media and Democrats to focus not on American revival, but on Mr. Trump.
  • His complaints about Defense Secretary Mark Esper; his
  • bitterness toward former Secretary Jim Mattis. The
  • walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he flashed the Bible; the
  • arguments over why he visited the White House bunker.
  • His tweeted suggestion that the 75-year-old protester in Buffalo pushed to the ground by police might have been a “set up.”

What happened in Minneapolis—a city run by Democrats in a state run by Democrats—was no fault of the White House. But the president’s need to be at the center of everything has allowed a hostile press to present him as the source of racial tension.

The Trump campaign makes a compelling case that it is nonsensical to claim Democrats are running away with the race. Democratic pollster Doug Schoen wrote that the recent CNN survey showing Mr. Biden up 14 points nationally was skewed—it underrepresented Republicans and counted registered voters rather than likely ones. Match-ups still look tight in swing states.

Mr. Biden is also grappling with an enthusiasm problem. Mr. Trump this year has set records in primary after primary in voter turnout—even though he is uncontested. A recent ABC poll showed only 34% of Biden supporters were “very enthusiastic” about their nominee, compared with 69% of those backing Mr. Trump. Officials also note that the race—at least the mano-a-mano part of it—has yet to begin.

But there’s no question Mr. Trump’s numbers have eroded, both overall and among key voter subgroups. The latest Gallup poll finds only 47% approval of his handling of the economy, down from 63% in January. Those numbers are bleeding into congressional races, putting Republican control of the Senate at risk and raising the possibility of a rout in the House. If the Trump campaign can’t turn things around, the country could be looking at total Democratic control for the first time since 2010—and a liberal Senate majority that may well eliminate the filibuster for legislation and pack the courts. The stakes are high.

The prospect of a turnaround rests on Mr. Trump’s ability to do more than taunt his competitor as “Sleepy Joe” and rail against the “RADICAL LEFT!!” With an economy in tatters, Mr. Trump has an opening to redefine the election as a choice. Americans can vote again for the policies that revived the economy after the moribund Obama-Biden years and continue transforming the judiciary. Or they can take a chance on a Democrat who has promised to raise taxes on 90% of Americans, kill blue-collar fossil-fuel jobs and ban guns, and a party that is considering demands to “defund the police.”

Democrats want this election to be a simple question of whether Americans want four more years of a chaotic White House. The country has had its fill of chaos, so that could prove a powerful message for Mr. Biden. Mr. Trump has to decide just how much he wants to help him.

Walter Brueggemann The Prophetic Imagination

You said somewhere in another interview — I’m always a little bit careful about quoting other interviews because they don’t always get written down correctly. But I wanted to ask you about this because it’s very intriguing — that some of these sexual issues that are so galvanizing and so polarizing in our time in churches and outside them — you said that you really don’t think that’s about particularities of guilt or sin, but about a sense of impending chaos, which goes back to that first prophetic text you read. Are you saying that people have a sense of impending chaos, and for some reason, maybe because these things are so intimate, this is what they latch onto?

Mr. Brueggemann:That’s exactly what I think. I’ve asked myself why, in the church, does the question of gays and lesbians have such adrenaline. I’ve decided for myself that that means most of what we’re arguing about with gays and lesbians has nothing to do with gays and lesbians. It is rather that the world is not the way we thought it was going to be. I think what has happened is that we’ve taken all of our anxiety about the old world disappearing, and we’ve dumped it all on that issue. I have concluded that it’s almost futile to have the theological argument about gays and lesbians anymore because that’s not what the argument’s about. It is an amorphous anxiety that we are in freefall as a society. I think we kind of are in freefall as a society, but I don’t think it has anything to do with gays and lesbians particularly.

Trump Has Made Us All Stupid

The decline of discourse in the anti-Trump echo chamber.

Donald Trump is impulse-driven, ignorant, narcissistic and intellectually dishonest. So you’d think that those of us in the anti-Trump camp would go out of our way to show we’re not like him — that we are judicious, informed, mature and reasonable.

But the events of the past week have shown that the anti-Trump echo chamber is becoming a mirror image of Trump himself — overwrought, uncalibrated and incapable of having an intelligent conversation about any complex policy problem.

For example, there’s a complex policy problem at the heart of this week’s Iran episode. Iran is not powerful because it has a strong economy or military. It is powerful because it sponsors militias across the Middle East, destabilizing regimes and spreading genocide and sectarian cleansing. Over the past few years those militias, orchestrated by Qassim Suleimani, have felt free to operate more in the open with greater destructive effect.

We’re not going to go in and destroy the militias. So how can we keep them in check so they don’t destabilize the region? That’s the hard problem — one that stymied past administrations.

In the Middle East, and wherever there are protracted conflicts, nations have a way to address this problem. They use violence as a form of communication. A nation trying to maintain order will assassinate a terrorism leader or destroy a terrorism facility. The attack says: “Hey, we know we’re in a long-term conflict, but let’s not let it get out of hand. That’s not in either of our interests.”

The attack is a way to seize control of the escalation process and set a boundary marker.

These sorts of operations have risks and rewards. A risk is that it won’t cease the escalation, just accelerate it. The radicals on the other side will get enraged and take to the streets. Their leaders will have to appease that rage.

A reward is that maybe you do halt the escalation. The other side implicitly says: “Message received. We’ll do some face-saving things to appease the streets, but we don’t want this to get out of hand, either.” Another reward is that you’ve managed to eliminate an effective terrorist like Soleimani. Talent doesn’t grow on trees.

The decision to undertake this sort of operation is a matter of weighing risk and reward. And after the Soleimani killing, you saw American security professionals talk in the language of balancing risk and reward. Stanley McChrystal, a retired general, and Michael Mullen, a retired admiral, thought it was worth the risk. Susan Rice, a former national security adviser, thought it wasn’t.

But in the anti-Trump echo chamber, that’s not how most people were thinking. Led by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, they avoided the hard, complex problem of how to set boundaries around militias. Instead, they pontificated on the easy question not actually on the table: Should we have a massive invasion of Iran?

A great cry went up from the echo chamber. We’re on the brink of war! Trump is leading us to more endless wars in the Middle East! We’re on the precipice of total chaos! This was not the calibrated language of risk and reward. It was fear-stoking apocalyptic language. By being so overwrought and exaggerated, the echo chamber drowned out any practical conversation about how to stabilize the Middle East so we could have another righteous chorus of “Donald Trump is a monster!”

This is Trump’s ultimate victory. Every argument on every topic is now all about him. Hating Trump together has become the ultimate bonding, attention-grabbing and profit-maximization mechanism for those of us in anti-Trump world. So you get a series of exaggerated fervors

  • the Mueller report!
  • Impeachment!
  • The Steele dossier!

that lead ultimately nowhere.

Most of this week’s argument about the Middle East wasn’t really about the Middle East. It was all narcissistically about ourselves! Democrats defend terrorists! Republicans are warmongers! Actual Iranians are just bit players in our imperialistic soap opera, the passive recipients of our greatness or perfidy.

The world is more complicated than this cartoon. Love or hate him, Trump has used military force less than any other president since Jimmy Carter. When it comes to foreign policy, he is not like recent Republicans. He is, as my colleague Ross Douthat put it, a Jacksonian figure, wanting to get America out of foreign entanglements while lobbing a few long-distance attacks to ensure the crazy foreigners stick to killing one another and not us.

And this is the final paradox. For all the Sturm und Drang that surrounds Trump, populist Republicans and Democrats are gravitating toward the same foreign policy: We’re in the middle of a clash of civilizations; the Middle East is so screwed up, we should just get out; we’re too stupid/ineffective/racist/imperialistic to do any good there anyway.

We fight viciously about Trump, but underneath, a populist left-right curtain is descending around America, separating us from the Mideast, China, even Europe. The real high-risk move is the one both parties are making together: that if we ignore the world it will ignore us. (It won’t.)

Maybe once the Inflammatory One is finally gone from the scene we can have an intelligent conversation about that.

Yes, Trump’s nominees are treated ‘harshly’ and ‘unfairly’ — by Trump

The position of director of national intelligence was created after the 9/11 terror attacks to prevent another such assault on the American homeland. The DNI, as the director is known, must oversee 17 intelligence agencies with a total budget of about $60 billion. There are few jobs more important in the federal government — or the entire country. Yet President Trump treated the selection of a DNI with less care and forethought than he would give to picking an interior designer for Mar-a-Lago.

When Dan Coats decided last month that he had suffered enough as Trump’s DNI, Trump reportedly called Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to ask what he thought about Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) as a replacement. “Burr responded that he didn’t know much about the lawmaker but would consult with a few people,” Politico reported. “But less than a half hour later, Trump tweeted that Ratcliffe was his choice.”

Trump picked Ratcliffe, it seems, because he liked the congressman’s obnoxious questioning of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in July hearings and his role in spreading cuckoo conspiracy theories about a nonexistent “secret society” of FBI agents supposedly out to get the president. But it soon emerged that Trump didn’t know much about his new nominee.

In the days after Trump impetuously announced Ratcliffe’s nomination on July 28, The Post and other news organizations discovered that the three-term congressman from Texas had greatly embellished his résumé. He had boasted that he had “arrested over 300 illegal immigrants in a single day” and had “firsthand experience combating terrorism. When serving by special appointment in U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation, he convicted individuals who were funneling money to Hamas behind the front of a charitable organization.” Turns out that Ratcliffe had played only a small role in a sweep of undocumented immigrants and an even smaller role in the Holy Land case; an aide told the New York Times that Ratcliffe only “investigated side issues related to an initial mistrial.”

With Senate opposition growing, Trump withdrew Ratcliffe’s nomination on Friday just five days after putting him forward. He had lasted less than half a Scaramucci. In pulling the plug, Trump both credited and blamed the media, saying, “You are part of the vetting process. I give out a name to the press and you vet for me, we save a lot of money that way. But in the case of John [Ratcliffe], I really believe that he was being treated very harshly and very unfairly.”

Ratcliffe was treated “very harshly and very unfairly” — but by Trump, not the news media. There’s a reason presidents normally vet nominees before, not after, they’re announced. It’s better both for the prospective appointee and for the president to have any skeletons uncovered before swinging the closet door wide open.

By ignoring the traditional way of doing things, Trump subjected his personal physician, Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, to considerable embarrassment in 2018 by nominating him to become secretary of veterans affairs and then having to withdraw the nomination after stories emerged accusing Jackson of “freely dispensing medication, drinking on the job and creating a hostile workplace.” The Defense Department inspector general even launched an investigation of Jackson. Learning nothing, Trump repeated the same mistake this year when he nominated Herman Cain and Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors — posts for which they were utterly unqualified. Facing Senate resistance, Trump had to withdraw their names — but not before unflattering details of Moore’s divorce became public.

And those are the good-news stories: the nominees who never took office. Much more common for Trump has been his discovery, after the fact, that his appointments were terrible mistakes. His clunkers have included a secretary of state

  • (Rex Tillerson) who devastated morale at the State Department; a national security adviser
  • (Michael Flynn) who was convicted of lying to the FBI; three Cabinet officers (Interior Secretary
  • Ryan Zinke, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Health and Human Services Secretary
  • Tom Price) who were forced out for improper travel expenses and other ethical improprieties; a secretary of labor
  • (Alexander Acosta) who had given a sweetheart deal to a wealthy sex offender; and of course a communications director
  • (Anthony Scaramucci) who was fired after 11 days for giving a profanity-filled, on-the-record interview to a reporter.

Coats is the 10th Cabinet member to leave the Trump administration. In President Barack Obama’s first two years in office, not a single Cabinet member departed. Trump also has a record-setting rate of 75 percent turnover among senior, non-Cabinet officials. The cost of this constant churn and chaos is high: It becomes nearly impossible to develop or pursue coherent policies.

Donald Trump Too Tame for You? Meet Britain’s Boris Johnson

The bombastic and narcissistic former mayor of London and foreign secretary is the favorite to become the next prime minister. Brexit here we come.

The front-runner to become Britain’s next prime minister is a portly white man with unkempt blond hair, an adoring base of supporters, disdain for Europe, a dodgy private life and a loose relationship with truth and principle. There are also differences between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, but the similarities have been much noted in some European circles, with no small misgivings.

The biggest difference is that Mr. Johnson, who is 55, has been around politics all his life, as a journalist, member of Parliament, mayor of London and foreign secretary. His forte has not been conservative conviction, major achievement or great vision, but one of the sharpest tongues in British politics.

Like Mr. Trump with his tweets and rants, Mr. Johnson delights his followers with outrageous statements that they take as straight talk — even when he has gone so far as to describe Africans as “piccaninnies” or to ascribe President Barack Obama’s opposition to Brexit to an “ancestral dislike” of Britain as the son of a Kenyan.

His most commonly quoted quip these days is the one summing up his position on Brexit as having one’s cake and eating it. Curiously, Mr. Johnson was initially unsure of his position on leaving or remaining in the European Union — an unpublished article he wrote days before he came out in favor of leaving made a strong argument in favor of staying. Mr. Johnson says he was simply sorting out his thoughts.

Once he did that, Mr. Johnson swiftly became a premier campaigner for “Vote Leave,” touring Britain in a double-decker bus emblazoned with the claim that Britain pays 350 million pounds a week into the E.U.’s collective budget. That the claim was false did not trouble Mr. Johnson. He was fired from an early job in journalism for making up a quote, and one of his journalism colleagues once wrote of him, “Boris told such dreadful lies / It made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes.”

All that has made for great political theater and has positioned Mr. Johnson as likely to defeat Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt when the roughly 160,000 Conservative Party members — 70 percent men, 97 percent white, average age 57 — vote for their new leader, who then becomes prime minister because the Conservatives control the largest number of seats in Parliament. The winner will be announced on July 23, shortly before Parliament goes into recess.

Mr. Johnson could still founder — his standing dropped after a well-publicized recent altercation with his partner, Carrie Symonds, that prompted neighbors to call the police. But the more likely scenario is that Mr. Johnson will become prime minister with three months left before the current Oct. 31 deadline to reach a separation agreement with the European Union and avoid a chaotic no-deal Brexit.

And so, once again, a question mark hovers over Britain. Campaigning for Conservative votes, which are largely pro-Brexit, Mr. Johnson has spoken of renegotiating Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, which Parliament rejected three times, while pledging that no matter what, Britain will leave the E.U. on Oct. 31. “Being ready to do so,” he wrote in an open letter to Mr. Hunt on Tuesday, challenging his rival to take the same position, “is the best way to convince our European friends that we are serious in these negotiations and to get a better deal.”

It strains credulity that the European Union would reopen the agreement or that any wholly new set of terms for leaving the union would pass Parliament — or that the E.U. would show any sympathy and patience for Mr. Johnson, whom the French newspaper Le Monde called a “small-scale Trump.” Whether Mr. Hunt, who has campaigned as the responsible adult, could do better is another open question.

The answer will not be long in coming. But if the chaotic history of Britain’s Brexit debate is any guide, whatever it is will only bring on the next vexing questions.