Shooting the Stragglers

I keep seeing all of this stuff about how the midterms were everything from a blip to a huge victory for Trump and that he’s more likely than ever to get reelected. Ehhh . . . maybe. I can see the argument. I just don’t understand the confidence. Just consider the fact that were it not for the Benghazi hearings, Hillary Clinton would probably be president today — because it was those hearings that put her server in play.

I’m a skeptic about the Russia-collusion stuff, but the notion that there’s nothing for a subpoena-powered Democratic House to find in Trump’s closet just strikes me as nuttier than Mr. Peanut’s pool party.

Also, Trump won with a minority of the popular vote. He’s less popular today than he was in 2016, and the Democrats are way more motivated. The GOP coalition has shrunk while the Democratic coalition has expanded.

.. For example, here’s my friend Hugh Hewitt in the Washington Post:

President Trump will win reelection. Anyone who watched Wednesday’s presser after Trump’s big night Tuesday knows in his or her bones that it will happen, because the president is getting better and better at the job.

I found the whole column so strange. As Hugh admitted to me in a Twitter exchange, the point wasn’t to be empirical. Fair enough. We can chalk up the sweeping claim that anyone who watched the press conference knows in his or her bones that Trump will get reelected to poetic license. I mean, I don’t know that, though in fairness I didn’t watch the whole thing. I merely listened to a bunch of it on the radio, so maybe there was something subliminal in the video — like in The Ringor in those Silver Shamrock commercials from Halloween III — that compels one to believe he will be reelected simply by virtue of the fact that he displayed his usual press-bashing vindictiveness towards Republicans who don’t suck-up to him, and his usual, often entertaining turd-polishing of bad news.

.. he displayed his usual press-bashing vindictiveness towards Republicans who don’t suck-up to him, and his usual, often entertaining turd-polishing of bad news.

.. But the fascinating thing about Hugh’s column is that he has redefined the job of the president into “combatant in chief.” What Hugh says about the political culture is largely true. Americans like combat — political, virtual, mortal (Finish him!), etc. — but I don’t understand why Hugh should celebrate the idea that the president of the United States should encourage and amplify that tendency. 

.. I’m sure he’d be more critical of a Democratic president doing anything like what Trump does. Moreover, just because the president is “good” at combat doesn’t mean his combativeness attracts more voters to him. Rather, it activates combativeness in his opponents.

.. Beyond the wishcasting, these kinds of arguments — which are everywhere on the right these days — seem like Trump-norming to me. In gender-norming, women are rated on a curve. A female applicant can only carry a 110-pound dummy through an obstacle course? Let’s make that the standard for women on the firefighter’s test! Donald Trump can’t act presidential? Make “combativeness ”the new standard for presidents. We take the measure of the man — and make the man the new measure.

.. the combat closest to Trump’s heart is with the GOP itself:

It is important to understand that for all the talk about how Trumpism is a reaction to leftism and social-justice warriors and political correctness, the truth is that it is principally an intra-party fight. It’s the final crackup of Cold War Republicanism; a cultural revolution in which the lumpenproletariat seized control of the party from the pointy heads and exiled them to the labor camps. And like the Maoists, the Trumpers aren’t really interested in picking a fight with the other superpower. They’re much more concerned with controlling the near abroad — which is to say, the Republican party. That’s why they tend to focus their hatred on Republicans and conservatives who decline to get on board, rather than on Democrats and liberals. Jeff Flake is the enemy; Kamala Harris is just a random nonplayer character.

.. Always remember that Trumpers — the people who believe in him, not the remora fish looking for their bits of chum — care very little about the left. Their real opponents are other Republicans. Seen from that perspective, Tuesday’s vote was a huge success. Because for Trumpers, it’s never a binary choice. Wherever a Trump-skeptical Republican was running against a Democrat, Trumpism couldn’t lose.

.. I think Jonathan overstates a few things, but his central point strikes me as largely correct, particularly when it comes to Trump himself. He mocked candidates who lost because of him but insisted they really lost because they failed to embrace him. This is not a brilliant strategy for winning in 2020; it’s a blunt strategy for Trumpifying the party further. It’s also ridiculous on the merits. The idea that if only Barbara Comstock “embraced” Trump more, her D.C.-suburb constituents would have changed their mind is ludicrous. As Jonathan notes, Carlos Curbelo has a 72 percent Hispanic district, half of which is foreign born. No doubt they voted Curbelo out because they wanted more talk about diseased foreigners and sh**hole countries, not less.

.. Indeed, more and more, liking Donald Trump is coming to define whether you’re on the team, and if you don’t like him — by which I mean, if you don’t celebrate his whole catalog the way the Bobs celebrated Michael Bolton’s — you’re part of the problem. Heck you’re not even a conservative.

.. That’s why Katie Arrington, who defeated Mark Sanford in a primary by promising to be a loyal foot-soldier for Trump, blamed Sanford for her loss of a reliably Republican seat:

“We lost because Mark Sanford could not understand that this race was about the conservative movement — and not about him.”

.. I heard my friend Mollie Hemingway on Fox refer to the traditional suburban Republican voters the GOP lost as basically “Never Trump elitists.” I know Mollie has very strong views about how Trump-skeptical pundits shouldn’t be given much airtime anymore, but why write off the voters the GOP needs to be a majority party?

..  he wants to launch a long-term transformation of the GOP (and by extension, the conservative movement) based upon Donald Trump’s personality. His term for the working-class voters he wants behind the driver’s seat is literally “Trump Is Great Republicans” or TIGRs.

.. Many — most? — of the people who think Trump Is Great are not primarily driven by public policy. The folks who watched that press conference and said, “This is awesome!” or shouted, “What a statesman!” do not think Trump is great because of policy X or Y. They think policy X or Y is great because Donald Trump says so.

.. The opposite is true as well. The voters who are horrified by Trump’s style, rhetoric, or personality are not going to be won over with policy. The college-educated suburban women who fled the GOP aren’t going to be won back with child-tax credits.

Henry is absolutely right that there is an opportunity here for the Republicans — in the abstract. But in reality, Trump isn’t the guy to sell it. Trump’s chief priority isn’t anything like creating a lasting William McKinley–style coalition; it’s to be the center of attention.

..  Just a few years ago, all of the arguments on the right were about how to better bend the GOP to conservatism. Jim DeMint said that he’d rather have 30 pure conservative senators than 60 squishy ones. Now, almost in the blink of an eye, the argument is how to bend conservatism to the GOP.

.. If a woman can’t meet the physical standards, change the standards. If the GOP can’t meet the standards of traditional conservatism, change conservatism.

.. Majority parties always have diverse coalitions, because it is only by collecting a diverse coalition that you can assemble a majority. FDR’s coalition had everyone from socialist Jews and blacks to Klansmen in it. Goldwater’s coalition was much narrower, and he was trounced.

.. But the idea that all conservatism should be is a branding operation for the GOP to win elections is an awful idea too. Because that means its ultimate concern is winning, not being right.

.. Of course, humans have an almost bottomless capacity to convince themselves that they are right about whatever serves their interests. So, I have no doubt we would see such rationalizations about whatever path we went down.

This isn’t just conjecture.

Exhibit A: American liberalism. The starting point for American liberals, for generations, has been: “In our hearts we know we’re right” so therefore the priority shouldn’t be arguing about principles but arguing about how to get or keep liberals in power. The underlying principle was power as its own reward.

Exhibit B: The GOP right frick’n now.

Giuliani Demands ‘Factual Basis’ for Mueller Probe Before Any Trump Interview

Comments represent hardening of White House stance on sit-down in Russia probe

WASHINGTON— Rudy Giuliani said Sunday that President Donald Trump would only submit to an interview with Robert Mueller if the special counsel could show a “factual basis” for the Russia investigation, which he characterized as corrupt.
The new statement from Mr. Trump’s lawyer, repeated on three Sunday news shows and in an interview with the New York Times, suggests prospects are receding for a sit-down between the president and Mr. Mueller.
.. “We would not recommend an interview for the president unless they can satisfy us that there is some basis for this investigation,” Mr. Giuliani said on NBC, a hardening of the White House’s stance after months of negotiations on the terms under which the president would agree to testify.

The special counsel investigation was established by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to handle the FBI’s Russia investigation, which began in 2016, after Mr. Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017.

The enabling documents for the probe authorize Mr. Mueller to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

.. Lawyers for Mr. Trump had been eyeing early July as a possible time for an interview with the special counsel, likely at Camp David or the White House and lasting for about 2½ hours.

.. Earlier this year, Mr. Trump said he would be willing to testify under oath. But Mr. Giuliani later struck a more combative stance, saying he should only agree to such a meeting if federal prosecutors made clear the role played by a suspected informant said to have approached Trump campaign aides.

.. Mr. Giuliani said the investigation wouldn’t find any “evidence of wrongdoing” by the president.

I have a pretty good idea because I have seen all the documents that they have,” Mr. Giuliani said on CNN, adding the investigation had produced 1.4 million documents.

.. Mr. Giuliani cited an inspector general report that found a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent on Mr. Mueller’s team, Peter Strzok, had sent text messages critical of Mr. Trump. Mr. Strzok was reassigned from his post last summer after Mr. Mueller learned about the messages. “It cast a taint over the entire investigation,” Mr. Giuliani said on ABC. He added: “This is the most corrupt investigation I have ever seen.”

.. Mr. Trump would be “like a lamb going to the slaughter” if he were to testify, Mr. Giuliani added.

.. Mr. Giuliani also said he had “zero” concerns about Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen speaking with federal prosecutors as part of a separate probe into Mr. Cohen’s business dealings. Mr. Cohen has denied any wrongdoing. “As long as he tells the truth,” said Mr. Giuliani, “We’re home free.”

Don’t Talk to Mueller, Mr. President

In the past, Trump has been careful in his depositions, but since his mode of communication is highly dependent on jaw-dropping hyperbole, gross simplifications and misinformed or misleading assertions, it can’t be a good idea to put him under oath in any circumstance.

.. It also runs counter to the widespread assertion that Trump is “acting guilty,” when he may well be acting like Donald Trump — aggrieved, combative, scornful — when he’s innocent.