Four species of Beltway Republicans

In focus groups I conduct across the country, even Republican voters who readily acknowledge Trump was not their first or even tenth choice in the Republican primary in 2017 will nonetheless say they are glad he is picking fights, breaking things, and draining the swamp. Last week, Trump’s approval rating among Republicans tied its record high of 90 percent.

.. a taxonomy of Republican leaders with four different categories.

.. [1] The first category of D.C. Republican is the Trump enthusiast. The true believer, the die hard. This is the type of person who was aboard the Trump Train from the get-go, someone for whom the Republican Party of Donald Trump is the party they’ve always hoped for. Tough on immigration and trade, never enamored of Bush-era foreign policy, thrilled to have overthrown the old guard, this is the type of individual for whom a Trump administration has made Washington their oyster.

[2] The second category of D.C. Republican is the establishmentarian. Someone who was perfectly comfortable under the “old ways” but has adapted quickly to survive in their new, harsher environs. They play for Team GOP and Trump is their quarterback, so they’re happy to run his plays as long as they keep winning games. Trump was not toward the top of their list of possible choices for a nominee in 2016, but once he was picked, he was the guy and it was time to fall in line. A significant portion of Capitol Hill and the Republican Party apparatus fits into this category. Do they love the tweeting? Not really. Do they care enough to object? Absolutely not, not so long as regulations are being reformed and taxes are being cut.

[3] .. The third category is the internal opposition. As the continuing echo of the “Never Trump” movement, they view Trump as consistently wrong and categorically dangerous. They have found common cause with Democrats in the #Resistance, holding semi-secret meetings to discuss how to combat what they view as a hostile parasite that has found in the GOP a too-willing host. There is very little that they find praiseworthy about the current moment, and there have even been moments where some, like former presidential candidate Evan McMullin, have actively called for the defeat of mainstream Republicans at the ballot box as a way of teaching the party a lesson.

[4] But there is a fourth group. For lack of a better name at the moment, I will shamelessly steal the name of the excellent podcast hosted by columnist Jonah Goldberg: Goldberg in his introductory episode notes that his show will be neither pro- nor anti-Trump, but rather something for those who feel left behind by the other factions, who live in a constant state of feeling that everyone else around them seems to have gone crazy.

Staying on the Path

One of the more reliable themes in literature and popular culture is the idea of “staying on the path.” In Breaking Bad, Walter White plays a decent, hardworking high-school chemistry teacher. By the end, he’s a mass-murdering drug lord. The journey, like all such journeys, begins with a simple plan to take a single small step off the path.

.. Staying on the path is for lesser, weaker men.

.. In one sense, staying on the path is the simplest thing in the world. But as anyone who has tried to stay on a diet, go to the gym regularly, or start writing that term paper well ahead of the deadline can attest, the simplest things in life can often be the hardest. As Al Pacino, after his late-in-life graduation from Over-Acting School, says in Scent of a Woman, during the final “trial” scene:

I’m not a judge or jury. But I can tell you this: He won’t sell anybody out to buy his future!! And that, my friends, is called integrity! That’s called courage! Now that’s the stuff leaders should be made of. Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard. Now here’s Charlie. He’s come to the crossroads. He has chosen a path. It’s the right path. It’s a path made of principle — that leads to character. Let him continue on his journey.

 

.. Ron Haskins, also of the Brookings Institution, has identified what he calls the “success sequence”: “at least finish high school, get a full-time job and wait until age 21 to get married and have children.” If young people do just these three things, in that order, they are almost guaranteed to climb out of poverty. “Our research shows that of American adults who followed these three simple rules, only about 2 percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class (defined as earning around $55,000 or more per year).”

This is the path that almost guarantees a relatively decent life for poor people. And yet, many don’t follow it. Why? One reason: because it is hard. The pull of human nature is strongest when we are young — all those hormones! All of that adolescent arrogance! We think — feel, really — that the rules are for other people and that we can handle all of the possible consequence of indulging our glandular impulses. (Another reason more people don’t follow this path: Our culture and many of our elites heap scorn on it.) 

.. Staying on the path may be the most conservative concept there is. “What is conservatism?” asked Abraham Lincoln. “Is it not the adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried?” People who think conservatism is opposed to all change miss the point entirely. Paths go places. They might not get us where we want to go as fast as we would like. But the conservative is deeply skeptical of shortcuts and simple plans to save time or effort. The rationalist temptation to “out think” the simple rules — what Oakeshott called “making politics as the crow flies” — may not always lead to tyranny or oppression, but the odds that it will are too great to justify the attempt.

.. Of course, he doesn’t deserve anything like all of the blame; conservatives often responded to his norm-breaking with norm violations of their own. The culture itself was ready for a president like Clinton, and that is its own indictment. Indeed, as Bill has often suggested, he was a victim of a breakdown in media practices and other norms that once would have protected him. That’s why he loves to hide behind whataboutist arguments about JFK’s transgressions. But it wasn’t just the sex. He broke norms, legal and otherwise, like a tornado ripping through town. Shaking down foreign donors , the White House travel-office firings, “Filegate,” selling pardons, the list goes on.

..  And Hillary Clinton wasn’t just standing by her man baking cookies. She was part of the racket. From her impossible genius at playing cattle futures, to her insidious cultivation of Sidney Blumenthal and David Brock, to her off-book email server, Hillary Clinton has always seen norms as something that should constrain other people.

.. I know liberals hate any “This is how you got Trump”

.. Donald Trump cast himself as a capitalist übermensch, who transcended the rules of a corrupt system he boasted about being a part of. He was one giant middle-finger to the norms, and he has invited a responding counter-attack on norms — from journalists, judges, and, it seems, at least a few FBI agents.

.. For instance, in a normal time, a man with his sordid sexual history could never get near the Republican nomination, never mind the presidency. But we live in a moment of whataboutist asininity when hypocrisy is considered a worse sin than the actual transgressions we’re hypocritical about.

.. It’s as if a murderer, who had a history of preaching against murder, is seen as more of a villain for violating his principles than for killing someone. No wonder Donald Trump could neutralize his transgressions simply by pointing to Bill’s. The common denominators cancelled out the numerators.

.. Point out that no reputable economist thinks we lose money from trade deficits the way Trump constantly insists, and the retort is, “Why don’t you want to make America great again?”

.. Point out that Trump Inc. is making money off the presidency in ways that would make the Clintons green with envy, and the reply is either eye-rolling or a fecal fog of whataboutism.

.. To paraphrase Nietzsche: Norms are for losers. Fighters make their own norms. Unity is the creed of MAGA, and its mantra of the One True Prophet is the order of the day. And if that means supporting a white-nationalist wannabe for the Senate, so be it. Campus conservatives used to define their intellectual rebelliousness by their support for certain ideas, now some define it chiefly by their fawning over a single politician.

Goldberg: Seeking Tolerance and Reprieve from Culture Wars

.. the Offended Wars are a kind of Potemkin conflict for the true battle over double standards.

The assumption is that liberals’ hearts are in the right place, thus, when they stray off the path rhetorically or in some other way, it’s not seen as revelatory of something darker or more sinister. Of course, conservatives do the same thing. We assume the best of our own tribe and can dismiss a joke or errant tweet quite easily from one of our own.

.. I think one of the reasons we got here is that liberals were truly blind to the double standard they benefit from and the norms they were happy to see violated when the people violating them were “the good guys.”

.. the principle of religious tolerance was a last resort, an utterly utilitarian practical compromise, after the combatants in Europe’s religious wars recognized what C. V. Wedgwood called “the essential futility of putting the beliefs of the mind to the judgment of the sword.”

.. First, we need to return to the idea of ideological and theological pluralism but moral consensus. People are free to believe whatever they like, and they are free to act on those beliefs so long as they don’t harm others. Second, we need a lot less nationalism (for want of a better term). What I mean by that is that the federal government and various national elites need to stop thinking that the whole country needs to think and act in one way.

..  Fox News likes to do stories that boil down to “Can you believe someone in San Francisco believes X!?” MSNBC likes stories that boil down to “We have troubling reports that someone in Wyoming believes Y!” The underlying assumption is that in America everyone is supposed to think alike. Well, unless someone is actually being harmed — and I don’t mean in the terminally asinine construction, “words hurt”

.. Lastly, we need to get as much power out of Washington as conceivably possible.

.. As long as we think that the federal government, especially the executive branch, has monarchical power to impose a vision on the whole country, we will turn political contests into cultural warfare. The Whigs couldn’t abide a Catholic on the throne because they believed the king would impose his vision on all of England. The Catholics felt the same way about the prospect of a Protestant crown. The solution is to restrain the power of the crown — so that the faith of the monarch doesn’t matter.

Cincinnatus Lays Down the PowerPoint

In a normal time, the announcement that the Republican speaker of the House is retiring to spend more time with his family — after just a few years on the job — at a moment when Republicans control the federal government and have more officeholders nationwide than at any time in almost a century and the economy is roaring would be almost unimaginable.

Most politicians are actually pretty boring

Many are conniving and needy

Very few of them are intellectually interesting

.. I’ve long argued, friendship can be far more corrupting than money

.. if you personally hate Paul Ryan, that’s an indicator to me that you’re an unreasonable person.

.. But if you buy the claptrap from the Krugmanite Left or the Bannonite Right about Ryan, if you think he’s evil or a fraud, I’m going to assume you’re part of the problem in our politics.

.. boils down to simply two things: The idea that character matters and the idea that ideas matter.

.. The fact that Paul Ryan was a man out of place in his own party says far more about the state of the GOP than it does about the man.

Consider this week alone:

  • A president who cheated on his first wife with his second and “allegedly” cheated on his third with a porn star is tweeting that Jim Comey is a “slimeball.”
  • The president’s personal PR team over at Hannity HQ is calling Robert Mueller the head of a crime family.
  • The CBO just announced that we’re in store for trillion-dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see.
  • The president is tweeting taunts about how his missiles are shinier toys than Putin’s.
  • The president’s nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, a once passionate and thoughtful defender of Congress’s sole right to authorize war, is now invoking law-review articles as justification for a president’s right to wage war on a whim.
  • The president’s lawyer’s office was raided by the FBI (not Bob Mueller’s team, by the way) after getting a warrant from a judge and following all of the onerous protocols of the Justice Department, and the former speaker of the House — and avowed historian — is insisting that the Cohen and Manafort raids are morally equivalent to the tactics of Stalin and Hitler. I’m pretty sure the Gestapo didn’t have “clean teams” to protect attorney-client privilege (particularly of dudes named “Cohen”), and last I checked the KGB wasn’t big on warrants.
  • On Monday evening, the president convened a televised war council and spent the first ten minutes sputtering about how outraged he was by an inquiry into a pay-off of his porn-star paramour.

Kevin Williamson, Thought Criminal

the other day, EJ Dionne praised a piece by Ramesh and me on the need to criticize Trump. I responded:

Thanks.
That’s fine and I agree (and have been). But I think liberals should also think about how they invited the backlash that Trump rode. There’s plenty of blame across the ideological spectrum.

My tweet elicited a torrent of question-beggingself-righteous bilge from liberals who couldn’t imagine that liberals have any role in the mess that we are in. Assaults on free speech, the constant mockery and condescension from the commanding heights of Blue America, the refusal to consider any reasonable reforms to immigration, Hillary Clinton’s dynastic entitlement and contempt for “deplorables,” and the pushing of identity politics seem always to be noble do-goodery without a smidgen of overreach.

.. Michael Anton, who penned “The Flight 93 Election” back when he was hiding behind a pen-name, articulated very well in an exchange with me what millions of conservatives believe to be true:

The old American ideal of judging individuals and not groups, content-of-character-not-color-of-skin, is dead, dead, dead. Dead as a matter of politics, policy and culture. The left plays by new rules. The right still plays by the old rules. The left laughs at us for it — but also demands that we keep to that rulebook. They don’t even bother to cheat. They proclaim outright that “these rules don’t apply to our side.”

.. I disagree with Anton’s prescription — to surrender to identity politics and cheat the way our “enemies” do — but I cannot argue much with this description of a widespread mindset. Many on the right are surrendering to the logic of the mob because they are sick of double standards. Again, I disagree with the decision to surrender, but I certainly empathize with the temptation. The Left and the mainstream media can’t even see how they don’t want to simply win, they want to force people to celebrate their victories (“You will be made to care!”). It isn’t forced conversion at the tip of a sword, but at the blunt edge of a virtual mob.

.. Kevin Williamson’s views on abortion put him outside the mainstream. And he was fired from The Atlantic merely for refusing to recant them.

Meanwhile, extreme views on the left are simply hot takes or even signs of genius. Take the philosopher Peter Singer. He has at least as extreme views on a host of issues, and he is feted and celebrated for them. He is the author of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s entry on “Ethics.” He holds an endowed chair at Princeton. He writes regularly for leading publications. And he argues that sometimes it’s okay to kill babies, as in his essay “Killing Babies Isn’t Always Wrong.” “Newborn human babies,” he writes, “have no sense of their own existence over time. So killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living.” He cutely asks whether people should cease to exist. (He ultimately and grudgingly answers “No.”) Oh, he also argues in favor of bestiality.

And he’s been profiled favorably in the pages of The Atlantic.

.. Singer’s work does not render him anathema in elite circles, it earns awards, praise, and celebration for its ruthless consistency and edgy provocation. He is not fired for what he writes never mind what he thinks. I have no doubt some people don’t think this is a perfect example of a double standard, and I could come up with some objections to it myself. But if you can’t see why some people — fellow American citizens — see it as a glaring double standard, you are part of the problem.

The ‘Good Old Days’ of the Trump Presidency

you can’t have it both ways. You can argue that all of the chaos is part of Trump’s strategy. But you can’t cherry-pick the chaos you like and claim the media is making up the rest.

.. I’ve talked to people in the White House. I’ve talked to congressmen and senators off the record. And I’ve talked to far more people who’ve talked to such people. They all say that things behind the scenes in Trump World are nuttier than Mr. Peanut’s stool sample.

.. Just this week, the president’s body man was ejected from the White House on a freezing cold day, and he wasn’t even allowed to get his coat (presumably, he knows stuff — because he was instantly hired by the Trump reelection campaign).

Trump fired his secretary of State over Twitter.

Roll back the clock another week or two, and you have the sudden resignation of Hope Hicks and the revelation that Rob Porter couldn’t get a security clearance because of credible allegations that he was an abusive husband.

I can’t remember the last time Trump humiliated his attorney general, but it feels like we’re due. There was also some stuff about executing drug dealers and calling Chuck Todd a son of a b****. Oh, and there was that stuff about how trade wars are good.

..  Trump loves controversy but hates confrontation. That’s why he wants to force Sessions to quit

  • That’s why he fired James Comey while the FBI director was giving a speech in California, and it’s why he wanted to
  • fire Rex Tillerson while the secretary of State was in Africa.
  • .. when Democrats are in the room, Trump tells them he’d go for comprehensive immigration reform and preens about how he’d like to “take the guns first, go through due process second.”

.. Recently, people close to Mr. Trump say that he has begun to feel more confident that he understands the job of president. He is relying more on his own instincts, putting a premium on his personal chemistry with people and their willingness to acknowledge that his positions are ultimately administration policy, rather than on their résumé or qualifications for the job.

My friend and chicken-wing consultant Steve Hayes argues that Pompeo is in fact “the real Trump whisperer.” He reports:

“I’ve seen a dozen times when Pompeo has talked the president out of one of his crazy ideas,” says a senior administration official involved in the national security debates.

Let that sink in. It’s not quite as reassuring as it sounds. If Haberman is right, then even if Pompeo had success in the past constraining Trump, he might not be able to going forward, given how Trump is more inclined to let his freak flag fly.

.. One of the great divides on the right these days is over the question of whether the policy wins of the Trump administration occurred because of Trump or despite him.

With the possible exception of Ted Cruz, I don’t think any other Republican would have

  • moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem,
  • opened ANWR to drilling, or
  • pulled out of the Paris climate accords and
  • TPP (though I think the TPP move was a mistake).

Most of Trump’s policy successes, however, have been accomplished thanks to party and movement regulars in the administration and in Congress

  • Judicial appointments have been outsourced to the Federalist Society and Mitch McConnell, thank God.
  • Tax reform was Paul Ryan’s baby.

I am generally baffled when people say, “He’s gotten so much accomplished.” From where I sit, so much has been accomplished despite him.

He also gets “credit” for the fire sale of conservative credibility on countless conservative positions and arguments

.. The GOP’s tax-cut message did not have the salience Republicans hoped

.. Trump is increasingly toxic in normally Republican-friendly suburbs. His rallies may energize the GOP base — but they energize Democrats more.

.. Many of his preferred policies and most of his antics divide Republicans, while they unite Democrats.

.. Let’s also assume Mueller doesn’t find evidence of “collusion” that directly implicates Trump but that he does find enough to land Jared, Don Jr., and Michael Cohen in the dock. Paul Manafort is already looking at spending more than two centuries in jail.

What happens when

  • Democrats get subpoena power? What happens when
  • they start drafting articles of impeachment? What happens if
  • Mueller reveals that Trump isn’t really as rich as he claims and that
  • his business is mostly a Potemkin village of money-laundering condo sales? What happens
  • if Stormy Daniels — or the retinue of super-classy ladies reportedly looking to follow her lead — releases embarrassing pictures of the president?

How do you think unconstrained Hulk Trump reacts? Heck, how do you think the beleaguered skeleton crew at the White House behaves? Everyone is gonna lawyer up

Normal administrations are crippled by zealous investigatory committees; is it so crazy to think that Donald Trump might not show restraint?

Might he be tempted to give the Democrats the store to hold off investigations, impeachment, whatever? Everyone defends the Jerry Falwell Jr. caucus on the grounds that they have a “transactional” relationship with Trump. Well, what if other transactional opportunities take precedence?

..  in the next couple of years, a tsunami of tell-all books and more-in-sorrow-than-anger reputation-rehabilitating memoirs will probably come out.

.. “character is destiny.” And I’ve never been more confident that that destiny is coming, and it won’t be pretty.

 

The Wisdom of Youth

I’m a Gen Xer. I take literally zero pride in the good things people my age do. I also have zero shame about the terrible things people my age do. Why? Because age is as dumb a thing as height or hair color to hitch your self-esteem to. What kind of loser looks back on a life of mediocrity and sloth and says to himself, “Well at least other people in my age cohort did great things!”

.. And yet, we constantly invest special virtue in young people. As Socrates explained to Meno, there are no special virtues for young people. There are simply virtues. If a young person says that 2 + 2 = 4, that’s no more right or wrong than if an old person says so. The bravery of one 18-year-old does not negate the cowardice of another 18-year-old.

.. Older people know more than younger people. I’ve been stunned by the number of people offended by this. A lot of folks are getting hung up on the fact that young people know more about some things than older people. Fair enough. The average young person knows more about today’s youth culture and gadgets than the average fogey. My daughter can identify the noise coming out of my car radio. When I was a kid, it was running joke that grown-ups couldn’t figure out how to make the VCR stop flashing “12:00.” It never dawned on me that knowing how to fix that problem meant I knew more about politics than my dad.

.. it’s also a part of my objection to populism. That’s because youth politics is a form of populism. It claims that passion and the group are more important than reason and the individual. It is the passion of the crowd. And when grown-ups bow before the rising generation, it is a form of power-worship.