Trump Can’t Afford to Lose

The cost of defeat would be higher for President Trump than for Speaker Pelosi.

The Oval Office speech and trip to the border suggest the stakes are rising as the government shutdown is now in its third week. In the received Beltway wisdom, the trick for shutdowns is to pin blame on your opponents, in the way that then-Speaker Newt Gingrich was blamed for the 1995 shutdown by Bill Clinton, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took the hit for the quickly aborted shutdown early last year. Because Mr. Trump took full responsibility for this shutdown even before it started, the thinking goes, he is fated to lose.

Trump Fired His Most Effective Lieutenant

The outgoing attorney general did more to enact the president’s priorities than any other member of the Cabinet, but that didn’t save him from White House hostility.

The paradox of Jeff Sessions’s tenure as attorney general is that no member of the Trump administration was so beleaguered and disparaged by President Trump, but no member got as much done.

Even as he endured persistent verbal abuse from the president, Sessions steamed forward on a range of conservative social-policy priorities, aggressively reorienting the Justice Department’s stances on immigration, civil rights, and criminal justice, among other issues. In an administration plagued by incompetent and ineffective figures, Sessions was a paragon of efficacy—a distinction that horrified his many opponents, but did nothing to win Trump’s trust or affection.
  • When it came time for Trump to pull the plug on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as he had promised he would during the 2016 campaign, the president got cold feet, but Sessions was happy to be the public face of the withdrawal. It was Sessions who
  • tried to follow through (unsuccessfully) on Trump’s threat to cut off funding to sanctuary cities. It was Sessions who issued new guidance to immigration judges. And, most prominent, it was Sessions who
  • went to the border to announce the Trump administration’s decision to separate migrant children from their parents.
Sessions openly said the plan to split families up was intended to deter migrants, even as other administration officials said otherwise. The policy was met with widespread and appropriate horror, and Trump eventually pulled back—but he had backed the plan before that, and Sessions had followed through.
.. But these weren’t just Sessions’s pet issues. They were Trump’s as well. Hardline immigration policies, giving police free rein, fighting phantom voter fraud—these were all signature Trump projects. Sessions had been the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump, and Trump took from him a range of policy concepts—especially on immigration—as well as a top adviser, Stephen Miller.
But Sessions’s stewardship of those projects didn’t return him to favor with Trump, who, according to Bob Woodward’s book Fear, called Sessions “mentally retarded” and a “dumb Southerner.”
.. When McGahn’s departure was announced in August, I wrote that he’d been the most effective person in the West Wing, through his stewardship of judicial appointments. But Trump disliked and distrusted McGahn, and seemed eager to have him gone.
.. Of course, the same issue poisoned both Sessions’s and McGahn’s relationships with Trump: the Russia investigation, and especially Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s takeover of it.
.. Trump was angry that neither man had protected him. He raged at Sessions’s lack of “loyalty” and complained that Attorney General Eric Holder had “totally protected” Barack Obama. (What he meant by that is unclear.) He twice instructed McGahn to fire Mueller, and McGahn twice refused, once threatening to resign.
.. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker assumes control of Mueller’s probe. Whitaker was outspokenly critical of the special counsel’s inquiry before joining the administration, so Trump may now have a leader of the Justice Department who is more pliable on the Mueller front. But the president is unlikely to find an attorney general who will do as much to move his priorities forward as Sessions did—and the new attorney general will come into the job knowing that loyalty and efficacy aren’t enough to garner favor with Trump.

Steve Bannon’s clever idea to save the GOP from brutal midterms

Bannon was in Rome to learn from and provide support to the unusual coalition of populists and nationalists who together won half the vote in Italy’s recent elections and have formed a government. Bannon sees that sort of coalition — mixing left and right, old and young — as his goal for the United States. “Europe is about a year ahead of the United States. . . . You see populist-nationalist movements with reform [here]. . . . You could begin to see the elements of Bernie Sanders coupled with the Trump movement that really becomes a dominant political force in American politics.”

.. The Republican Party’s strategy, for now, appears to be to make the midterm elections a series of local contests focusing on the tax cut and the healthy economy. Bannon views this as fundamentally misguided. “You have to nationalize the election,” he said. Bannon understands that voters are moved from the gut more than through a wonky analysis of taxes. “This is going to be an emotional [election] — you’re either with [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi or you’re with Donald Trump.

.. Bannon is most focused on the issue of immigration because it hits both the heart and the head. “Immigration is about not just sovereignty, it’s about jobs.”

.. He believes that the Trump coalition can attract up to a third of Sanders supporters who see trade and immigration as having created unfair competition for jobs, particularly for working-class blacks and Hispanics.

.. “You’re not going to be able to take the Hispanic and black community from the STEM system in grammar school to our best engineering schools . . . to the great jobs in Silicon Valley, unless you start to limit these H-1B visas and this unfair competition . . . from East Asia and South Asia.”

.. Now this strikes me as entirely wrong. The reason that not enough Hispanic and black students end up in Silicon Valley has much more to do with a broken education system, particularly for poorer kids, than the modest number of skilled Asian immigrants who get work visas.
.. The most likely result of limiting these visas is that talented immigrants will simply go elsewhere — Canada, Britain, Australia — and start successful companies there.
.. The Democratic Party is too far to the left on many of these issues, embracing concepts such as sanctuary cities, which only reinforces its image as a party that is more concerned with race, identity and multiculturalism than the rule of law.

.. I wrote last month that Trump would try to fight the midterm elections on immigration and added, “Do not be surprised if Trump also picks a few fights with black athletes.”

.. He predicted the next major battle would be over the proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. “The wall is not just totemic. The wall is absolutely central to his program. . . . As we come up on Sept. 30, if [Congress’s] appropriations bill does not include spending to fully build his wall . . . I believe he will shut down the government.”

.. Bannon doesn’t think the fighting and the rancor in the United States are going away any time soon. The “battle between nationalists and globalists is at the fundamental roots of what America is, what America will be,”