With less than a week to go before the midterm elections, President Donald Trump is warning darkly of an imminent immigrant “invasion,” deploying thousands of troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, releasing a racist ad on Twitter, and threatening to issue an executive order aimed at ending birthright citizenship.
The president has, in pundit-speak, found his “closing argument” for the 2018 campaign season.
Indeed, many savvy observers in recent weeks have interpreted Trump’s efforts to inflame national tensions around immigration as a desperate, last-ditch ploy to save his party’s at-risk congressional majorities. But while the president himself may be acting on some mix of impulse and improv, the roots of the strategy go deeper—and its architects in the West Wing are looking far beyond the current election cycle.
To understand the thinking behind Trump’s gambit, it is necessary to spend a few minutes inside the head of Stephen Miller, the 33-year-old speechwriter and senior policy adviser to the president. A fierce immigration hawk who’s championed a right-wing nationalist agenda, Miller is Trump’s most trusted adviser on immigration, and he is constantly looking for new ways to push his policy priorities into the national spotlight. Earlier this year, it was reported that Miller was leading an effort within the administration to crack down on immigrants in the run-up to the midterms. And as Politico reported Wednesday, Trump’s latest string of provocations—from the immigrant-caravan scaremongering to the likely unconstitutional executive order—represents a “dream come true” for Miller.
According to Miller, Trump benefits politically any time Americans are focused on immigration—no matter how bad the headlines, no matter how bleak the polls, no matter how big the controversy. “You have one party that’s in favor of open borders, and you have one party that wants to secure the border,” he told The New York Times earlier this year. “And all day long the American people are going to side with the party that wants to secure the border. And not by a little bit. Not 55–45. 60–40. 70–30. 80–20. I’m talking 90–10 on that.”.. Even setting aside the hyperbole, this view of the electorate is debatable. (Voters seem to have given Trump mixed reviews on his handling of the caravan, for example.) But it’s still worth understanding how Miller lays out his political calculus. While he may be a committed ideologue, he works for and with a lot of Republicans who are guided more by opportunism than by ironclad conviction when it comes to immigration. The long-term relevance of his sharply nativist politics within the GOP will depend in part on the Miller faction’s ability to keep selling it as a winning strategy (even in the face of evidence to the contrary)... “The future of the Republican Party should be tapping into … the feeling of belonging and meaning and pride that comes with being part of this whole ‘America First’ movement,” he told me. “There’s something really beautiful about people from all different walks of life … who are bound together by this big idea about American identity, and American unity, and American interests.”.. Continuing in concern-troll mode, Miller said, “I think one of the big challenges facing modern liberalism is that there’s not a great emotional appeal to an international identity, like a citizen-of-the-world identity.”.. “Look, the current nation-state model is the product of thousands of years of political, social, and cultural evolution,” Miller said. “I mean, it was only recently, in like the last few decades, that people have tried to create an organizing principle larger than the nation-state.” The desire to root for your own native country is “intrinsic” to human nature, he told me. “You see that flag, you sing the national anthem, or you hear your team wins the gold medal … it creates a kind of pride in you that is really hard to translate.”.. “Find today your most liberal friend, and ask them this question: Who has more of a right to a job in America—a U.S. citizen, or an illegal immigrant? And if they don’t say U.S. citizen like that”—Miller snapped his fingers—“then that means on some philosophical level they find the idea of America First objectionable.”.. “But the idea of having official membership in the nation-state, and therefore that state has an obligation to protect you”—that was the big idea he believed voters would keep coming back for. Voters feel that connection at a visceral level, Miller suggested, and in the end they would always side with a president offering that appeal.
There is nothing clandestine about Dugger’s quarry of new material, though Reagan’s staff has done its best to play it down. The material consists of transcripts of several hundred five-minute radio spots that Reagan broadcast after he left Sacramento in 1975; a series that ended the day he announced for president in 1979.
There can be no doubt whatever that these broadcasts express Reagan’s own personal, instinctive attitudes to the important foreign and domestic issues of the day, as opposed to cooler or more cautious or veiled attitudes he may have been advised to express then or later.
Reagan himself, in the last of the broadcasts, states that he wrote them all with his own hand. “I’ve scratched them out on a yellow tablet in airplanes, riding in cars, and at the ranch when the sun went down.”
They reveal him as perhaps a cleverer man than most reporters think he is. You may accept neither his premises nor his conclusions, but you will conclude, I submit, on reading these scripts, that Reagan writes better than you would expect. He has a sure sense of how an issue can be turned, sometimes twisted, to his advantage. And he has a real flair for one-liners.
The transcripts also reveal–and this is the heart of Dugger’s contention–a harder, nastier political style than that of the relaxed, tolerant personality Reagan has so carefully cultivated in the White House.
.. “He was presenting himself to the country as a moderate,” this is Dugger’s key charge, “but these transcripts show that deep down he was a hardline right-wing ideologue with fully formed and recently expressed prejudices on all of the outstanding issues of the day.”
.. The transcripts contain too much that supports this harsh judgment. All the clich,es of the Californian radical right are trotted out without inhibition.
“Eighty per cent of air pollution,” the president believes, “comes not from chimneys and auto exhaust pipes but from plants and trees.” Banning pesticides like DDT leads to “political pollution.” Smoking pot leads to sterility.
.. The social attitudes revealed are uniformly indifferent to the old, the poor, the weak, and always coincide with the interests of the rich, corporations, and the financial Haves. The president is more moved by “the injustice done to Allan Bakke” than by the plight of those on welfare, and it is “demagoguery” to believe that income taxes should be progressive, that is, should increase with the size of incomes.
.. More surprising, and more unpleasant, is the president’s habit of using the sly, indirect way of the propagandist, using code language to suggest more than he quite says right out.
.. He does not explicitly advocate the death penalty, for example. That would sound too bloodthirsty. Instead he quotes with approval the father of a murdered man who says, “after two years the murderer of my son goes free, but my son is dead.” Because the late senator Joe McCarthy did not start to make his unsupported allegations about communists in government until after Alger Hiss had been charged with perjury, it does not follow, as Reagan implies, that those who oppose McCarthyism believe that the Cold War existed only in the minds of reactionaries.
.. There is a good deal of old-fashioned chauvinism to be found in the broadcasts. The Caribbean, Reagan concluded because Michael Manley was prime minister of Jamaica, “is rapidly becoming a communist lake in what should be an American pond.” What should be? The Caribbean basin? The Atlantic? The whole great gulf of ocean itself?
..”Maybe there is an answer–we simply do what’s morally right. Stop doing business with them. Let their system collapse.”
What if it doesn’t collapse?
.. Ronald Reagan is the leader of elements in the government who want the United States to obtain a first- strike capability
.. not all Reagan’s ideas are mistaken. His reaction against the New Deal, as Dugger says, would not have taken him to the White House unless it expressed authentic grievances, genuine second-thoughts about what had been accepted wisdom, real pain experienced by those who had not been preferred targets for the benevolence of the liberal system.
It is true. but that does not make the real Ronald Reagan, revealed behind the mask of amiability in his radio scripts, any less profoundly disturbing.
in 2005, the extraordinary refusal to confirm his nomination to be President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations by a Republican-controlled committee is worth revisiting for what it revealed about Mr. Bolton and what it may portend for our national security.
.. Testifying before the usually staid Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 2005, Carl W. Ford Jr. — the former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research — called Mr. Bolton a “kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy” and a “serial abuser” of people beneath him in the chain of command. Mr. Ford — a self-described conservative Republican and Bush supporter — made vivid an emerging portrait of Mr. Bolton as a bully who repeatedly sought retribution against career intelligence analysts with the temerity to contradict him.
.. As under secretary of state, Mr. Bolton insisted that Cuba was attempting to build a biological weapons program. The national intelligence officer for Latin America and the State Department’s top biological weapons expert disagreed. In a fit of rage, Mr. Bolton tried to have both reassigned.
.. Mr. Bolton also was accused of attempting to inflate the dangers of Syria’s biological and nuclear weapons programs, by trying to sneak exaggerated assertions into speeches and congressional testimony before being called on it by intelligence officials. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage reportedly issued an extraordinary decree that required Mr. Bolton to clear all of his public utterances with Mr. Armitage himself... Mr. Bolton also accused a State Department subordinate of not sharing with him a cable about weapons inspections in Iraq. The same official had managed to delete some of the more extreme claims about Iraq’s weapons programs from Mr. Powell’s infamous presentation to the United Nations. Mr. Bolton ordered him removed from his duties, which State Department officials reportedly saw as an another instance of Mr. Bolton trying to marginalize dissent.
Mr. Bolton made it something of a habit to request the identity of American officials whose names had been blacked out of sensitive intelligence intercepts. Some members of the Foreign Relations Committee were concerned that he was seeking information to use against those who disagreed with him — the very kind of improper “unmasking” that President Trump has falsely accused some members of the Obama administration of pursuing.
Other witnesses came forward to allege abusive behavior by Mr. Bolton during his time as a lawyer in the private sector — screaming, threatening, throwing documents and, in the words of one woman, “genuinely behaving like a madman.”
All of this ultimately proved too much for Senator Voinovich. In a remarkable speech to his colleagues on the committee, a visibly pained Mr. Voinovich explained his decision to vote against Mr. Bolton, effectively killing the nomination. We’ve heard, he said, that Mr. Bolton is “an ideologue and fosters an atmosphere of intimidation. He does not tolerate disagreement. He does not tolerate dissent.”
.. Though he has advocated tough policies on Russia, he has also reportedly suggested that Vladimir Putin’s effort to undermine the 2016 election was a false-flag operation orchestrated by the Obama administration.
he denounced the “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”
..McCain and Bannon are the antipodes of the Republican Party.
- The institutionalist versus the insurgent.
- The internationalist versus the America Firster.
- The maverick versus the ideologue.
- Above all, the hedgehog versus the honey badger.
The hedgehog, said the Greek poet Archilochus, knows one big thing.
.. On Monday McCain called America “the land of the immigrant’s dream,” and said: “We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil.”
To a large and growing segment of the G.O.P., which thinks magnanimity is for losers, these statements amount to a form of treason.
.. The honey badger, by contrast, will do anything to get what it wants. It is wily, nasty and has as much use for honor as a pornographer has for dress.
.. For the honey badger, it’s whatever works: anti-Semite one day; Israel’s make-believe champion the next. Bannon is the most revolting operator in American political life since Roy Cohn.
.. The goal isn’t to win elections but to purge the party and remake it in Bannon’s image. He wasn’t kidding when he told historian Ronald Radosh in 2013 that he’s a “Leninist.”
.. serve as a rallying point for a Republican Party that can save itself from dishonor, win its share of elections, and stand up to the honey badgers who mean to pillage it.