What It All Meant

And try to imagine what would have happened if Donald Trump had behaved a fraction that well. Instead of turning everything into a debate about whether the #MeToo movement was really about persecuting men.

.. the president was thrilled when Kavanaugh transformed himself into a ranting boor who demanded to know whether one Democratic senator had a drinking problem and who blamed all his trouble on leftists and Clinton Democrats.

.. it was standing up to yelling men who feel the only problem in this world is that they’re not getting what they deserve.

.. As Senator Lisa Murkowski said when she announced she’d be a no vote, “We’re dealing with issues right now that are bigger than the nominee.” Nobody owed Kavanaugh a Supreme Court seat. His hearing was a job interview, and the Senate had a perfect right to simply decide there was more to consider than whether he had ever molested anybody.

.. In another era Franken could have gotten away with an apology, but he was at the center of a historic moment, when the country had to turn its back on the old boys-will-be-boys ethos that worked when women were supposed to stay home where they’d be safe from wandering fingers.

.. “Boy did he fold up like a wet rag,” Trump laughed at a rally this week in Franken’s home state of Minnesota. “He was gone so fast. It was like: ‘Oh, he did something.’ ‘Oh, I resign. I quit.’

.. This is exactly what the Kavanaugh nomination has come to represent. A vote for the nomination became a symbolic vote for a political ethos that thinks grabbing private parts is fun and complaining about sexual assault is a threat to young manhood.

.. This is a senator whose he-man image is so critical to his identity that he always runs campaign ads in which he shoots offensive legislation with a rifle. Imagine if someone like that had come out against the Kavanaugh nomination — just to say that Americans can behave better than this.

.. Kevin Cramer, who called the Kavanaugh controversy “even more absurd” than the Anita Hill case. And, he added, Blasey’s charges just amounted to “an attempt or something that never went anywhere.” Basically his position was that if there’s no penetration, it doesn’t count.

.. If the powerful can find a way to not take your claim seriously, they will.

I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration

I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.

.. The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
.. To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.
.. But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.
That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.
The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.
.. Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives:
  • free minds,
  • free markets and
  • free people.
At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.
.. In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.

There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture:

  • effective deregulation,
  • historic tax reform, a
  • more robust military and more.

But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is

  • impetuous,
  • adversarial,
  • petty and
  • ineffective.

From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.

.. Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.

“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.

The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.

The result is a two-track presidency.

Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.

.. On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

.. This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.

Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.

.. The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.

.. Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.

.. We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.

.. There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans.

Trump’s rhetorical schizophrenia is easy to see through

And so, on one day, we had an unhinged and divisive rant by President Trump in Phoenix. Then, the next day in Reno, Nev., a call for national unity and reconciliation. Multiple political personality disorder. Rhetorical schizophrenia.

The gap between Trump extemporaneous and Trump scripted is canyon-like. The normal role of a speechwriter is to find, refine and elevate the voice of a leader. The greatest professional victory comes when a president thinks: This is the way I would sound if I had more time to write and more talent with language. In these circumstances, speechwriting is not deception; it is amplification.

.. But what about speechwriting that is designed to give a leader a different voice? Here moral issues begin to lurk. Is it ethical to make a cynical leader appear principled? A violent leader seem pacific? A cruel leader seem compassionate?

.. Or maybe a speechwriter can hope a president will eventually rise to the level of his teleprompter.

.. he plays rhetorical games with the artificial (for him) constraints of being presidential. “Nobody wants me to talk about your other senator — who’s weak on borders, weak on crime,” he said of (conservative Republican) Jeff Flake. “Now everybody’s happy.” Here the “nobody” clearly included his own concerned advisers. Trump often uses speeches (and Twitter) to cut the strings of their counsel.
  • .. So it was the real voice that we heard in Phoenix, attacking a man with brain cancer — Republican Sen. John McCain — without any wish for his recovery.
  • The real voice defending a supporter who had been fired by CNN for writing “Sieg Heil” on Twitter.
  • The real voice making fun of a TV anchor’s height. The real voice again widening racial divisions by defending Confederate monuments as “our history and our heritage.
  • It was the real voice expressing greater passion in criticizing journalists than white supremacists.

.. his transparency reveals a disordered personality.

his Phoenix remarks indicate a loose connection to reality.

  • His response to the violence in Charlottesville was, in his view, “perfect.”
  • The North Koreans, he claimed, are learning to “respect” America (for which there is no evidence).
  • “I don’t believe that any president has accomplished as much as this president in the first six or seven months,” Trump claimed of himself. “I really do not believe it.”

What if Trump really believes what he claims? Then he would be not deceptive, but deluded.

.. Trump is not merely acting unpresidential; he is erratic and grandiose.

On the evidence of the Phoenix speech, Trump believes that a government shutdown is preferable to giving up on funding for the southern border wall. This involves a different type of delusion. Poll after poll demonstrates that about 35 percent of Americans support Trump’s wall. You can’t hold national parks and veterans’ payments hostage over an issue like this and expect to win.

..  “It also takes careful management of the levers available to the administration in a shutdown to keep it from becoming a nightmare immediately, and OMB [Office of Management and Budget] is not doing the work to prepare. Incompetence is the death of these guys over and over.”

.. The unified control of House, Senate and presidency means little when the president lives in a reality of his own.

Mueller Is Squeezing Manafort

I am more interested in reports that business records, connected to Manafort’s taxes and foreign bank transactions, were the object of the raid ordered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. That seems peculiar if the rationale for ordering a home search, rather than simply issuing a subpoena, was fear that Manafort would destroy evidence.

It makes perfect sense, though, if the prosecutor is playing hardball.

.. We should further note that the president had the authority to fire the acting FBI director at any time. There was no need for Trump to wait on AG Sessions, nor did anything prevent him from ordering Sessions to fire McCabe if that’s what he wanted done.

.. So, essentially, Trump’s tweet was a rant — nothing new there. Was it a rant triggered by the Manafort search? If so, it was Trump at his paper-tiger worst: He wanted McCabe gone but, knowing that many of his troubles stem from botching Comey’s firing, he could not risk firing McCabe — so in a fit of pique he lashed out at Sessions. And he’d love to fire Mueller, but he knows that would be a political earthquake his presidency might not survive — so in a fit of pique he lashed out at McCabe.

.. Manafort labored many years, at apparently lush compensation, for the Kremlin-backed cabal responsible for Ukraine’s ongoing tumult. That happened well prior to the 2016 campaign, but it has always been very disturbing. If Trump is telling the truth about having no meaningful ties to Putin, he should be encouraging the investigation of Manafort, not acting like he’s incensed by it.

.. the New York Times reported that the warrant sought tax documents and foreign banking records.

.. Search warrants are reserved for situations in which the prosecutor and agents reasonably fear that the subjects of the probe will destroy evidence if they know investigators are sniffing around. And search warrants executed in predawn hours are generally reserved for situations in which agents are dealing with hardened or desperate criminals — subjects who might not merely destroy evidence but endanger the agents who knock on the door; subjects who might alert other conspirators to flee if searches commence when everyone is awake and alert.

.. When a subject is cooperating with investigators, search warrants are wholly unnecessary and excessively intrusive.

.. Mueller’s team could easily have gotten the same disclosure without resorting to a search warrant. They need only have asked Manafort’s lawyers, who’d have had no reason to decline, especially after giving the same information to Congress.

.. That was not good enough for Mueller. This could mean either or both of two things: (1) Mueller believed Manafort was hoarding relevant evidence and might destroy it if it were not taken forcibly from him; and/or (2) Mueller has a message for Manafort: The special counsel is not limiting his inquiry to the Russia investigation that Congress has been pursuing; rather, Mueller intends to scorch the earth as necessary to make a case — any case — on Manafort, for purposes of squeezing him to become a cooperating witness against others, potentially including the president.

.. I believe Manafort is being squeezed. I’ve squeezed bad guys before. It’s not illegal, it’s effective, and if you’re a prosecutor dealing with a real bad guy, it’s righteous. Is Manafort that kind of bad guy? We don’t know what Mueller knows. But we can reasonably surmise that Mueller’s investigation is not confined to Russian meddling in the 2016 election — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s protestations notwithstanding.