George Will: This sad, embarrassing wreck of a man

America’s child president had a play date with a KGB alumnus, who surely enjoyed providing day care. It was a useful, because illuminating, event: Now we shall see how many Republicans retain a capacity for embarrassment.

.. Jeane Kirkpatrick .. she explained her disaffection from her party: “They always blame America first.” In Helsinki, the president who bandies the phrase “America First” put himself first, as always, and America last, behind President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Because the Democrats had just held their convention in San Francisco, Kirkpatrick branded the “blame America first” cohort as “San Francisco Democrats.” Thirty-four years on, how numerous are the “Helsinki Republicans”?

.. He speaks English as though it is a second language that he learned from someone who learned English last week. So, it is usually difficult to sift meanings from Trump’s word salads. But in Helsinki he was, for him, crystal clear about feeling no allegiance to the intelligence institutions that work at his direction and under leaders he chose.

..  consider Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), who for years enjoyed derivative gravitas from his association with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Graham tweeted about Helsinki: “Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.” A “missed opportunity”

.. Contrast Graham’s mush with this on Monday from McCain, still vinegary: “Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Or this from Arizona’s other senator,

Jeff Flake (R): “I never thought I would see the day when our American president would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression.” Blame America only.

.. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and others might believe that they must stay in their positions lest there be no adult supervision of the Oval playpen. This is a serious worry, but so is this: Can those people do their jobs for someone who has neither respect nor loyalty for them?

.. in what evidently went unsaid (such as: You ought to stop disrupting Ukrainedowning civilian airlinersattempting to assassinate people abroad using poisons, and so on, and on).

.. The most innocent inference is that for decades he has depended on an American weakness, susceptibility to the tacky charisma of wealth, which would evaporate when his tax returns revealed that he has always lied about his wealth, too.

.. A more ominous explanation might be that his redundantly demonstrated incompetence as a businessman tumbled him into unsavory financial dependencies on Russians.

A still more sinister explanation might be that the Russians have something else, something worse, to keep him compliant.

.. Trump has a weak man’s banal fascination with strong men whose disdain for him is evidently unimaginable to him. And, yes, he only perfunctorily pretends to have priorities beyond personal aggrandizement. But just as astronomers inferred, from anomalies in the orbits of the planet Uranus, the existence of Neptune before actually seeing it, Mueller might infer, and then find, still-hidden sources of the behavior of this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.

Ryan, Republicans and the Republic

The ships are leaving the sinking rat.

That’s the moral of Paul Ryan’s unexpected but not surprising announcement this week that he will give up the speakership

.. Many of these Republicans once believed that Donald Trump alone possessed the kind of political virility needed to vanquish Hillary Clinton and make America great again. Only belatedly have they figured out that the virility comes with a case of syphilis.

.. “The litmus test for being a Republican these days is not about any given set of ideals or principles; it’s about loyalty to the man, and I think that’s challenging.”

.. The world will little note nor long remember that in 2017 Republicans cut the top marginal rate to 37 percent from 39.6 percent and otherwise tried but failed to kill Obamacare

.. A conservative rejoinder to this critique is that the speaker had no choice; that Trump was the lemon with which he had to make lemonade. Nonsense. Congress and the White House are coequals, and Ryan and other Republicans who saw Trump for what he is never owed him obeisance. They owed the country an alternative political vision, untainted by Trumpism, which could emerge from the debacle of this presidency with clean hands. Ryan’s failure to deliver one will be remembered as the central fact of his once-bright career.

.. Is there an alternative?

Among Republicans, Ohio’s John Kasich, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, and Arizona’s Jeff Flake and John McCain have sought in different ways to offer one, without immediate success but with integrity, honor and a sense of the long view.

.. “The center-right and center-left are still joined by a broad set of common values, including respect for free speech and dissent, a belief in the benefits of international trade and immigration, respect for law and procedural legitimacy, a suspicion of cults of personality, and an understanding that free societies require protection from authoritarians promising easy fixes to complex problems.”

Paul Ryan’s Retirement in 7 points

It would be difficult to overestimate the meaning of Paul Ryan’s decision to retire from Congress even as he occupies the office of Speaker of the House. So let’s estimate.

Twice in the past three years, the sitting Speaker has walked away from the office. Ryan only became Speaker because John Boehner, his predecessor, quit rather than suffer through a challenge from the bomb throwers in the Republican House conference. There’s no precedent for this in American history. The Speakership has been one of the most powerful offices in the world. Now it’s apparently more agony than ecstasy for a Republican.

.. A Republican likely won’t be elected speaker after the 2018 midterms. Ryan’s decision suggests he and others have seen enough internal data to know their capacity to hold their 23-seat majority is slipping away.

.. That makes 42 GOP retirements among the 237 Republican members of the 115th Congress—a number vastly higher than any recent Congress’s.

.. the Ryan retirement isn’t just a sign. It’s like a fireball from the sky. And it will occasion more retreats and embolden more Democrats.

.. the GOP is Trump’s party now, not Ryan’s.

.. His mercurial nature and habit of punching down have combined with general GOP support for Trump personally to prevent any such rump from emerging in the Congress. He’s already claimed the scalps of two Republican senators—Bob Corker and Jeff Flake—who attempted to do just that. How did their standing athwart Trump help them or anyone?

.. some of the GOP’s wonkier agenda items are being implemented by the Trump administration–notably, in the sphere of deregulation. So, yes, it’s Trump’s party, but there’s an extent to which it’s also Ryan’s party, the conservative policy wonk’s party. Except, of course, for two big things.

The first big thing is entitlement reform, which is the issue nearest to Ryan’s heart.

.. No matter what happens, no matter the growth of the economy or the glories of #MAGA, the remorseless logic of the actuarial charts showing the government going bankrupt from the cost of Medicare and Medicaid sometime around 2030 is unyielding

.. The second big thing is the massive federal deficit, which is projected to stay above the $1 trillion mark for God knows how long. The bitter irony here is that the Tea Party–whose ab nihilo existence began the Republican resurgence in the House and Senate, and whose anti-Establishment ethos was the precursor to Trump–was obsessed with the idea that Barack Obama was breaking the bank, and rightly so. Now, the Tea Party forms the hard schist of the Republican base, and it’s clearly decided not to hold Trump accountable

How to Respond to a Trump Twitter Tantrum

Several congressional Republicans had the right response to President Trump’s lie-laden tantrum about Robert Mueller yesterday.

Firing Mueller, Senator Lindsey Graham said, “would be the beginning of the end of his presidency.” Senator Jeff Flake called it “a massive red line.” Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, was weaker, letting his spokeswoman say, “Mr. Mueller and his team should be able to do their job” — but that’s still less deferential to Trump than Ryan normally is.

.. the firing of Andrew McCabe, the F.B.I. deputy director. “All this matters even more urgently when you consider the McCabe firing as a road-test for Trump’s method in an impending showdown with Robert Mueller,” Frum writes.