The position of director of national intelligence was created after the 9/11 terror attacks to prevent another such assault on the American homeland. The DNI, as the director is known, must oversee 17 intelligence agencies with a total budget of about $60 billion. There are few jobs more important in the federal government — or the entire country. Yet President Trump treated the selection of a DNI with less care and forethought than he would give to picking an interior designer for Mar-a-Lago.
When Dan Coats decided last month that he had suffered enough as Trump’s DNI, Trump reportedly called Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to ask what he thought about Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) as a replacement. “Burr responded that he didn’t know much about the lawmaker but would consult with a few people,” Politico reported. “But less than a half hour later, Trump tweeted that Ratcliffe was his choice.”
Trump picked Ratcliffe, it seems, because he liked the congressman’s obnoxious questioning of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in July hearings and his role in spreading cuckoo conspiracy theories about a nonexistent “secret society” of FBI agents supposedly out to get the president. But it soon emerged that Trump didn’t know much about his new nominee.
In the days after Trump impetuously announced Ratcliffe’s nomination on July 28, The Post and other news organizations discovered that the three-term congressman from Texas had greatly embellished his résumé. He had boasted that he had “arrested over 300 illegal immigrants in a single day” and had “firsthand experience combating terrorism. When serving by special appointment in U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation, he convicted individuals who were funneling money to Hamas behind the front of a charitable organization.” Turns out that Ratcliffe had played only a small role in a sweep of undocumented immigrants and an even smaller role in the Holy Land case; an aide told the New York Times that Ratcliffe only “investigated side issues related to an initial mistrial.”
With Senate opposition growing, Trump withdrew Ratcliffe’s nomination on Friday just five days after putting him forward. He had lasted less than half a Scaramucci. In pulling the plug, Trump both credited and blamed the media, saying, “You are part of the vetting process. I give out a name to the press and you vet for me, we save a lot of money that way. But in the case of John [Ratcliffe], I really believe that he was being treated very harshly and very unfairly.”
Ratcliffe was treated “very harshly and very unfairly” — but by Trump, not the news media. There’s a reason presidents normally vet nominees before, not after, they’re announced. It’s better both for the prospective appointee and for the president to have any skeletons uncovered before swinging the closet door wide open.
By ignoring the traditional way of doing things, Trump subjected his personal physician, Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, to considerable embarrassment in 2018 by nominating him to become secretary of veterans affairs and then having to withdraw the nomination after stories emerged accusing Jackson of “freely dispensing medication, drinking on the job and creating a hostile workplace.” The Defense Department inspector general even launched an investigation of Jackson. Learning nothing, Trump repeated the same mistake this year when he nominated Herman Cain and Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors — posts for which they were utterly unqualified. Facing Senate resistance, Trump had to withdraw their names — but not before unflattering details of Moore’s divorce became public.
And those are the good-news stories: the nominees who never took office. Much more common for Trump has been his discovery, after the fact, that his appointments were terrible mistakes. His clunkers have included a secretary of state
- (Rex Tillerson) who devastated morale at the State Department; a national security adviser
- (Michael Flynn) who was convicted of lying to the FBI; three Cabinet officers (Interior Secretary
- Ryan Zinke, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Health and Human Services Secretary
- Tom Price) who were forced out for improper travel expenses and other ethical improprieties; a secretary of labor
- (Alexander Acosta) who had given a sweetheart deal to a wealthy sex offender; and of course a communications director
- (Anthony Scaramucci) who was fired after 11 days for giving a profanity-filled, on-the-record interview to a reporter.
Coats is the 10th Cabinet member to leave the Trump administration. In President Barack Obama’s first two years in office, not a single Cabinet member departed. Trump also has a record-setting rate of 75 percent turnover among senior, non-Cabinet officials. The cost of this constant churn and chaos is high: It becomes nearly impossible to develop or pursue coherent policies.Trump is a president straight out of “The Great Gatsby.” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of his protagonists: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” In Trump’s case, the thing that he has smashed up is America’s government, and the cleanup cannot begin until January 2021 at the earliest.
More than 20 years ago, Harvard’s N. Gregory Mankiw, who would later serve as George W. Bush’s chief economic adviser, published the first edition of his best-selling Economics 101 textbook. Early in the book, trying to explain why economists are often perceived as disagreeing about everything, he wrote about the role of “charlatans and cranks.” When economists appear to be at odds, he wrote, you should be aware that sometimes the apparent dissent is coming from “some snake-oil salesman who is trying to sell a miracle cure.” He was referring to the people who told Ronald Reagan that cutting taxes would pay for itself, above all a guy named Art Laffer. As Mankiw noted, the charlatans and cranks were wrong: Reagan’s tax cuts sharply reduced revenue. And the same thing has been true every time tax-cut proponents have promised a miracle. Most recently, the 2017 Trump tax cut has led to a precipitous collapse in corporate tax receipts, twice as much as projected. Yet decades of being wrong again and again has done nothing to reduce the influence of tax-cut cranks on the G.O.P. On the contrary, their grip has gotten ever tighter. Even supposed Republican moderates like Maine’s Susan Collins justified their support for the 2017 bill by saying that it would pay for itself. And on Wednesday, Laffer will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. To be fair, Laffer is known for other things besides his utter faith in the miraculous power of tax cuts. He’s also known for warning about the dire effects of the Federal Reserve’s efforts to fight the financial crisis: “Get ready for inflation and higher interest rates,” he thundered a decade ago. Actually, no: Inflation has stayed low, and interest rates are close to their lowest levels in history. Now, anyone with a long career of making economic pronouncements will have made some bad calls. God knows I have. But what makes Laffer and others like them so special is both the utter consistency of their wrongness and the fact that their influence just keeps rising despite that wrongness. Or maybe I should say that their influence grows because of their wrongness. Constantly predicting great results from tax cuts for the rich and catastrophe should top tax rates go up is a bad way to devise economic policy but a very good way to ingratiate yourself with wealthy political donors. Attacking any policy that might have helped the economy while a Democrat was president was a pretty good career strategy too. What’s striking is that at this point the G.O.P. apparently has no use for economists who aren’t snake-oil salesmen. There are serious economists — like Mankiw — who happen to be conservatives, out of some combination of personal values and judgements about the proper role of government. I can respect their positions, even when I disagree. But they have no political home. Laffer’s medal, like the appointment of the fundamentally ludicrous Larry Kudlow as chief economist and the attempt to install Stephen Moore at the Fed, is like putting up a sign saying “Only charlatans and cranks need apply.”
A senior administration official involved in the process said, “We’re not pulling out. We’re not pulling back. We’re still supportive. He’s still going through the White House vetting process and then he will go up to the Senate Banking Committee—if he gets through vetting process. In other words, no change. We’re sticking with Moore.”
When asked about Mr. Moore, Corey Lewandowski, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager who remains in contact with the president, said Mr. Trump has been influenced by the fight over his last Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who came under withering scrutiny for alleged sexual misconduct and heavy drinking in high school and college.
“Judge Kavanaugh is Justice Kavanaugh because this president is willing to stand up and fight for him,” Mr. Lewandowski said. “And he’s willing to do that for other people.”
Multiple Senate Republicans have expressed doubts about the prospects for confirming conservative commentator Stephen Moore if President Trump nominates him to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. They cited among other issues his comments about women. Here is a sample.
Aug. 1, 1994 column for The Washington Times
“Probably the most objectionable pork in the entire legislation is the $1.8 billion earmarked for Sen. Joe Biden’s ‘Violence Against Women Act.’ That act sets up gender sensitivity programs for judges and police; classifies assaults against women as ‘hate crimes’ or civil rights offenses, and passes out millions of dollars to women’s groups for ‘rape education’ and a smorgasbord of other programs. The act would be more efficient if Congress cut out the federal middleman and simply required every American household to write a $20 check to the radical feminist group of its choice.”
Nov. 7, 2000 column in National Review
Explaining that his wife voted for a Democrat: “Women are sooo malleable! No wonder there’s a gender gap.”
March 19, 2002 column in National Review
Writing about the “March Madness” NCAA college basketball tournament: “Here’s the rule change I propose: No more women refs, no women announcers, no women beer vendors, no women anything. There is, of course, an exception to this rule. Women are permitted to participate, if and only if, they look like Bonnie Bernstein. The fact that Bonnie knows nothing about basketball is entirely irrelevant.”
Nov. 21, 2013 speech at Brown University
“You all know the motto for Fox News, right, John? It’s, uh, ‘Fox News: Fair Balanced and Blonde.’ Haha! I’ve met a lot of beautiful women at Fox News and it’s one of the fringe benefits of working there.”
April 10, 2014 column for National Review
“What are the implications of a society in which women earn more than men? We don’t really know, but it could be disruptive to family stability. If men aren’t the breadwinners, will women regard them as economically expendable? We saw what happened to family structure in low-income and black households when a welfare check took the place of a father’s paycheck. Divorce rates go up when men lose their jobs.”
July 19, 2016 debate at Republican National Convention
“I’d get rid of a lot of these child labor laws. I want people starting to work at 11, 12. It’s amazing how many people I meet who are successful…who grew up on a farm and started working on a farm at age 10, 11, 12 years old where you learn a work ethic.”
“If we do have a higher minimum wage, nationally…we must, must, must must have a policy that has a $6- or $7-an-hour teenage minimum wage because we’re going to price a lot of those young people out of the workforce, and they’re not going to get the training we need.”
“And by the way did you see that there’s that great, um, cartoon going along that the New York Times headline: ‘First thing that Donald Trump Does as President is Kick a Black Family Out of Public Housing?’ And it has Obama leaving the White House? I mean, I just love that one. But uh — It’s just a great one.”
Shown a video clip of that speech on an episode of PBS’s Firing Line with Margaret Hoover that aired April 30, 2019, Mr. Moore sought to defend himself, saying, “You know, that is a joke I always made about, you know, Obama lives in, you know, the president lives in public housing, but I didn’t mean it like a black person did.”
Aug. 17, 2017 appearance on CNN after Charlottesville riots
“I mean, Robert E. Lee hated slavery. He abhorred slavery, but he fought for his section of the country…The civil war was about the South having its own rights.”
“Can I say something politically incorrect? Republican women are so much more beautiful than Democratic women.”