A Week After the Midterms, Trump Seems to Forget the Caravan

For weeks before the midterm elections, President Trump warned ominously about the threat from a caravan of migrants streaming from Central America toward Mexico’s border with the United States. It was a fearsome mix of criminals and “unknown Middle Easterners,” Mr. Trump claimed darkly, one that constituted a genuine national emergency.

But since the election last week, Mr. Trump has tweeted about the caravan exactly once — to issue a proclamation preventing those who cross the border illegally from applying for asylum in the United States. Fox News, which faithfully amplified Mr. Trump’s warnings about the migrants, has gone similarly quiet on the subject.

There was little dispute, even before Election Day, that Mr. Trump was exploiting the caravan for political purposes. But analysts, historians and veterans of previous administrations said there were few comparable instances of a commander in chief warning about what he called a looming threat, only to drop it as soon as people voted.

While the caravan has faded from television screens, the costs of Mr. Trump’s response to it have not. Nearly 6,000 active-duty troops remain deployed from the Gulf Coast to Southern California, where they are putting up tents and stringing concertina wire to face a ragtag band that is still not near the border.

Now that the political utility of troops on the southern border to face a fictitious caravan invasion threat is over,” said Adm. James G. Stavridis, a former commander of the military’s Southern Command, “let’s hope the president will stand down the troops so they can be with their families — especially over the holidays.”

But some officials in the Defense Department worry that Mr. Trump could do the opposite — seek an exception to the Posse Comitatus Act, the 1878 law that prohibits the government from using active-duty troops to enforce laws inside the country’s borders.

.. voters who made up their minds in the last three days before the election said they voted for Democrats over Republicans 53 percent to 41 percent. That coincides with the period in which Mr. Trump redoubled his focus on the caravan, rejecting the advice of aides who wanted to air a commercial promoting the healthy economy.

.. At one campaign rally after another, Mr. Trump said the election came down to “the caravan, law and order, and common sense.” In Mesa, Ariz., on Oct. 19, he said: “You got some bad people in those groups. You got some tough people in those groups. And I’ll tell you what — this country doesn’t want them. O.K.? We don’t want them.”

.. A day earlier, he tweeted about the “assault on our country at our Southern Border, including the Criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in.”

Mr. Trump posted footage of an undocumented immigrant on trial for killing a police officer, and his campaign organization produced an ad featuring migrants trying to scale a wall to dramatize the stakes of the election.

“I’ve never before seen an American president, after going all over the country about this national crisis, then the day after an election shrug,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University.

The closest parallel that Mr. Brinkley drew was to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who seized on — and mischaracterized — two murky encounters between American and North Vietnamese warships in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 as a pretext to accelerate America’s engagement in the Vietnam War. Still, he said, Mr. Trump’s response was of a different order.

It was a dangerous form of xenophobia, aimed solely for electoral purposes and had nothing to do in the end with real national security,” Mr. Brinkley said.

For the troops, so far, it has mostly been an expensive field trip. The cost of the deployment is not known, but budget officials believe it could reach $200 million if all 15,000 troops that Mr. Trump pledged are ultimately sent.

.. Defenders of Mr. Trump said the troops would take little notice of his sudden lack of emphasis on the caravan.

“Knowing the troops, knowing how busy they are, they’re not focused on him,” said Jack Keane, a retired four-star general who is a former vice chief of staff of the Army. “They’ve got a job to do.”

But other former military officers said the soldiers were well aware of the political motivation behind their mission. Lacking much else to do, they will quickly pick up on Mr. Trump’s loss of interest in the caravan, and it will add to their already depleted morale.

Stephen Miller’s Biggest Gamble Yet

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.

.. “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.

Hoping for a Midterm Split Decision

The conservative case for a Republican Senate and a Democratic House.

.. Let me suggest a third option. If you are a conservative who is moderately happy with some of Trump’s policy steps, fearful of liberalism in full power, but also fearful of Trump untrammeled and triumphant, the sensible thing to root for — and vote for — is the outcome that appears most likely at the moment: A Republican majority in the Senate and a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.

.. The best argument for conservative support for Donald Trump was always defensive: Elect him and you prevent the installation of a long-term liberal majority on the Supreme Court, and perhaps chasten the Democratic Party and arrest its leftward march.

For that argument to persuade, you had to trust the institutional Republican Party’s promise to contain Trump’s authoritarian instincts and restrain his follies. You also had to downplay the long-term damage, to conservatism and the body politic, of putting someone with such poisonous rhetorical habits in the bully pulpit.

.. so far Trump has been more constrained and less destructive than I expected — his foreign policy less destabilizing (so far) than either of his predecessors, his cruelest policy instincts walked back under pressure, the country more prosperous, his appointments more responsible and a large-scale investigation into his possible crimes proceeding, beset by Trumpian insults but otherwise mostly unimpeded by the White House.

To the extent that any Republicans deserve credit for this constraint, though, they are mostly elected Republicans in the Senate. The House is more pure, uncut MAGA, more reflexive in its defense of a president whose behavior is often indefensible, more poisoned by the worst Trumpist tendencies (witness the steady migration of the Iowa congressman Steve King toward an overt white nationalism) and more inclined to allow Trump a free hand should he seek to make his actual presidency exactly like his Twitter feed.

.. So a Democratic House would supply a much more effective check on that temptation, along with more vigorous scrutiny of corruption in the White House, about which congressional Republicans have been studiously incurious. And it would offer that check without jeopardizing any potential conservative legislative achievements — because, let’s be frank, the congressional G.O.P. isn’t going to do anything serious with its power if it gets re-elected except confirm judges, and you don’t need the House to elevate Amy Coney Barrett if there’s one more high court vacancy.

.. for the genuinely populist sort for conservative (that is, the best kind), having a Democratic House might force Trump himself back toward the economic populism of his campaign, which he mostly abandoned but has suddenly remembered in the last days before the midterms, talking up a phantom middle-class tax cut and proposing an “America First” approach to drug pricing.

Given the more favorable Senate map and the possibility of a recession, Democrats can reasonably hope to retake the upper chamber in the next four years no matter what. And it will go much worse for the right if that Democratic majority has 60 seats in that scenario as opposed to 52 — something that will be determined by this fall’s election as much as by what happens two or four years hence.

Of course, if you’re a Trump skeptic who believes that only an earth-salting defeat will enable the re-emergence of a decent right, then trying to constrain a future liberalism will seem less important than rooting for the necessary disaster to arrive for Republicans today. But I don’t think our polarized system lends itself to salt-the-earth defeats anymore, and I also don’t think that parties necessarily emerge from them wiser than before — since in such defeats they’re condensed to their more fervent and often foolish core.

In Illinois, Obama Hits the Midterm Campaign Trail—and Trump

Fascist politics bear particular and notably contradictory hallmarks:

  • ideas of equality are used to cloak discrimination;
  • demands for “law and order” camouflage growing corruption and official lawlessness.

Those descriptions are increasingly applicable to the current state of affairs in the United States, and, more extraordinarily, they mirror Obama’s comments at Urbana-Champaign. “Demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems,” he said.

  • “They promise to fight for the little guy even as they cater to the wealthiest and the most powerful.
  • They promise to clean up corruption, then plunder away.
  • They start undermining the norms that insure accountability, try to change the rules to entrench their power further.
  • And they appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled, if veiled at all.”

‘Winter is coming’: Allies fear Trump isn’t prepared for gathering legal storm

President Trump’s advisers and allies are increasingly worried that he has neither the staff nor the strategy to protect himself from a possible Democratic takeover of the House, which would empower the opposition party to shower the administration with subpoenas or even pursue impeachment charges

.. The president and some of his advisers have discussed possibly adding veteran defense attorney Abbe Lowell, who currently represents Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, to Trump’s personal legal team

..Trump announced Wednesday that

  1. Donald McGahn will depart as White House counsel this fall, once the Senate confirms Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. Three of McGahn’s deputies —
  2. Greg Katsas,
  3. Uttam Dhillon and
  4. Makan Delrahim — have departed, and a fourth,
  5. Stefan Passantino, will have his last day Friday.

That leaves John Eisenberg, who handles national security, as the lone deputy counsel.

.. McGahn and other aides have invoked the prospect of impeachment to persuade the president not to take actions or behave in ways that they believe would hurt him, officials said.

Still, Trump has not directed his lawyers or his political aides to prepare an action plan, leaving allies to fret that the president does not appreciate the magnitude of what could be in store next year.

.. Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani said he and the president have discussed the possibility that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will issue a damning report to Congress.

.. If Democrats control the House, the oversight committees likely would use their subpoena power as a weapon to assail the administration, investigating with a vengeance. The committees could hold hearings about policies

  1. such as the travel ban affecting majority-Muslim countries and
  2. “zero tolerance” family separation, as well as on possible
  3. ethical misconduct throughout the administration or the Trump family’s private businesses.
..  “Assuming Democrats win the House, which we all believe is a very strong likelihood, the White House will be under siege. But it’s like tumbleweeds rolling down the halls over there. Nobody’s prepared for war.”
.. Trump has told confidants that some of his aides have highly competent lawyers such as Lowell, who represents Kushner, and William A. Burck, who represents McGahn as well as former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
“He wonders why he doesn’t have lawyers like that,” said one person who has discussed the matter with Trump.
Another adviser said Trump remarked this year, “I need a lawyer like Abbe.”
Giuliani said that he has not heard of Trump considering adding Lowell to the team but that he would be a great choice because of his thorough and aggressive style.

“This president might like that better,” Giuliani said. “If he thinks someone isn’t being tough enough, he has a tendency to go out to defend himself. And that’s not good.”

.. “I would think that the type of lawyer most able to handle the impeachment scenario would be someone from the appellate and Supreme Court bar — someone of the Ted Olson or Paul Clement or Andy Pincus level, someone who knows how to make the kind of arguments should it come to a vote in the Senate,” Corallo said.

.. Emmet Flood, a White House lawyer and McGahn ally who handles the special counsel’s Russia investigation, has long been considered a top prospect to replace McGahn.

.. Flood, often described as a lawyer’s lawyer, is in many ways the opposite of Trump and Giuliani, yet the president has told advisers he is impressed by Flood’s legal chops and hard-line positions defending the prerogatives of the White House.

.. White House aides, including deputy chief of staff Johnny ­DeStefano and political director Bill Stepien, have tried to ratchet down Trump’s expectations for the elections, saying that projections look grim in the House.

.. Another concern is that the White House, which already has struggled in attracting top-caliber talent to staff positions, could face an exodus if Democrats take over the House, because aides fear their mere proximity to the president could place them in legal limbo and possibly result in hefty lawyers’ fees.

“It stops good people from potentially serving because nobody wants to inherit a $400,000 legal bill,” said another Trump adviser.

.. the West Wing staff is barely equipped to handle basic crisis communications functions, such as distributing robust talking points to key surrogates, and question how the operation could handle an impeachment trial or other potential battles.

Trump sees the administration as having a singular focus — him — and therefore is less concerned with the institution of the presidency and not aware of the vast infrastructure often required to protect it, according to some of his allies.

.. Jack Quinn, who served as White House counsel under Clinton, said his office had at least 40 lawyers and as many as 60 during key times.

.. “I appreciate that Rudy Giuliani is doing a lot of the public speaking and perhaps some other things,” Quinn said. But, he added, “it’s a little bit of a mystery to me who is doing the outside legal work.”

Trump’s worst political nightmare? Democrats with subpoena power

While some Democrats have pressed for Trump’s impeachment, what would be certain is that Democratic committee chairs would swamp Trump and his deputies with subpoenas, document requests and public hearings that would bog down his administration and distract from his agenda ahead of the 2020 elections.

Already, congressional Democrats have amassed dozens of oversight requests targeting the White House, various Cabinet departments and private entities with business ties to Trump and his family.

.. Some outside Trump advisers have mused in recent days that losing the House would be a political disaster but saw a silver lining in the possibility that Democrats would veer left next year and be a foil for Trump

.. “There is a never-ending stream of outrage,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican political consultant who served in the final three years of the Bush White House. “The only difference is, now all of their outrage is directed at Twitter. But when you give somebody a gavel, they can actually hurt you.”

.. Their mission would be to stop the EPA or any other regulatory agency from just functioning, basically, until they can regain power.”

.. it was difficult not to contemplate the possibilities that would come with not only subpoena power, but also a much larger staff and investigative budget.

.. Since Trump took office, Oversight Committee Republicans have blocked more than 50 Democratic subpoena requests ranging from

  • documents pertaining to the administration’s health-care policies to
  • information on the government’s use of chartered airplanes to
  • a demand for testimony from former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

.. would also scrutinize policy issues such as

  • prescription drug prices,
  • postal reform and
  • preparations for the 2020 Census.

.. Unlike the partisan congressional probes into Bush and Obama, which focused mainly on alleged missteps by subordinates, Democrats are primed to put the president himself in the investigative crosshairs 

.. For one, Democrats would be able to inspect Trump’s federal income tax returns for the first time — a trove that they have long demanded but Republicans have shown no interest in obtaining. Under federal law, any tax return can be examined by the chairman of any of the three congressional tax committees.

.. Other information regarding Trump’s personal finances and business dealings could also be subject to Democrats’ prying eyes. They could include rosters of hotel clients and members of Trump golf and social clubs, as well as details of real estate deals that his companies have participated in.

.. requests for information on the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, as well as Trump’s controversial border policies.

Four Democratic senators on Thursday requested a Pentagon investigation into whether the White House improperly offered tours of Air Force One to members of Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.

Disgusted With Donald Trump? Do This

The moral of the Helsinki freak show, the NATO tragicomedy and the children in cages near the border isn’t just that Donald Trump lacks any discernible conscience, real regard for this country or mature appreciation of history and our exalted part in it. It’s that this next election matters — immeasurably.

.. when it comes to babysitting this president, the Republican Party is a lost cause.

.. 79 percent of Republicans approved of Trump’s sycophantic performance at the news conference with Vladimir Putin, while 85 percent deem the investigation of Russian intrusion into our elections a distraction. They bear less and less resemblance to the followers of a coherent ideology and more and more to the members of a cult. That word is gaining currency in our political discourse for excellent reason.

.. roughly 40 percent of Americans who were eligible to vote didn’t.

.. ages 18 to 29. But fewer than one in two of them cast a ballot

.. Trump won the presidency because of about 78,000 ballots in three states. A nation’s direction can hinge on a margin that small. Every vote counts.

.. Does our discipline rise to the level of our anger? Does our will? A large-enough showing by voters opposed to Trump would overcome the forces of gerrymandering and overwhelm the Koch brothers.