Trump has a solid record, but he’s too busy making noise to tout it.
If a tree falls in a noisy circus, does it make a sound? If the Trump administration announces its largest deregulatory effort to date while the president is in the throes of a Twitter rampage, will anybody pay attention?
No, and thereon may hang the balance of Republican congressional control. It’s never clear where Donald Trump gets political advice, if he does at all. What is clear is that this White House is doing an able job of whiffing one of the best political messages in decades, a reality that is demoralizing administration insiders and GOP candidates alike.
.. The Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Department released a plan—announced on the website of these pages—to ax the Obama administration’s car-emissions standards, saving consumers $500 billion. Dollarwise, it may be the biggest deregulation ever.
.. The Treasury has recommended rescinding the “payday lending” rule, which threatened to cut off the poorest Americans from viable credit.
.. The Internal Revenue Service lifted a political threat to nonprofits by allowing them to shield the names of their donors.
.. The Department of Health and Human Services finalized its rule allowing more non-ObamaCare insurance options to millions of Americans. The Senate sent a $717 billion defense authorization bill to the White House, increasing active-duty strength and providing troops their largest pay raise in nine years. The Senate also confirmed the 24th Trump circuit-court judge.
.. The Labor Department released new numbers showing worker compensation increased 2.8% year over year, the fastest pace in a decade
.. Republicans have long known they don’t get a fair hearing from the press, which is why they shifted to talk radio and other alternative media. Mr. Trump understands that better than most—thus his heavy use of Twitter, live rallies and press conferences.
.. The president is certainly focused on his base, though with an eye to whipping them up with rallies focused primarily on the polarizing issues of trade and immigration. His tweets revolve around the same issues—those and Mr. Mueller—and are often defensive or whiny.
.. If Mr. Trump makes those centrists believe this election is about family separation, Republicans lose. If he refocuses it on voters’ newly thriving prospects, Republicans have a shot.
.. One remarkable aspect of the Trump administration is its productivity. The cabinet set a pace of reform in its openings weeks that has never lagged. If Mr. Trump isn’t going to spend every day embracing, elevating and making this product of his own presidency the dominant discussion, then no one will. The press isn’t going to do it. Democrats sure aren’t. And no other Republican has that megaphone.
Republicans who spoke up this time should be asking themselves why a president of their party felt he was enforcing its principles by breaking apart families and caging children.
.. But many, many other party leaders have been venturing ever deeper into the dank jungles of nativist populism for quite some time, exploiting the politics of fear and resentment. Mr. Trump did not invent Republican demonization of “the other” — it came about in two ways: gradually, and then all at once.
.. From the early 1990s to 2000, the conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan kept the Republican Party on its toes, running for president three times with an explicitly isolationist message.
.. But it was during the George W. Bush years that anti-immigrant sentiment started to become more central to the party’s identity.
.. Mr. Bush made comprehensive immigration reform a priority of his second term.
.. Conservative talk radio took up the cause, smacking Mr. Bush as squishy on immigration. The very concept of comprehensive reform became anathema to many on the right.
.. The Great Recession that Mr. Obama inherited did nothing to quell nativist resentment among working-class whites, and the rise of the Tea Party pulled the Republican Party further to the right
.. Just ask Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, who saw his fledgling political career almost snuffed out by his flirtation with comprehensive reform
.. in the wake of Mitt Romney’s presidential loss in 2012, after which the Republican Party briefly decided that one of its principal goals was to improve its image with Hispanic voters.
.. The resulting plan would have done everything from beefing up border security to overhauling visa categories to promoting a merit-based immigration system.
It also provided for the legalization of undocumented immigrants, which meant conservatives hated it.
.. the bill cleared the Senate by an impressive 68-to-32 vote. But John Boehner, then the House speaker, refused to bring it up for a vote in the Republican-controlled lower chamber.
.. Mr. Rubio became a pariah to the Tea Party voters who had propelled him to office three years earlier. Soon, he was denying that he had ever really supported the bill.
.. Party leaders fanned those flames, accusing Mr. Obama of being imperious and “lawless.” In one bit of twisted logic, Mr. Boehner argued that the House couldn’t possibly take up reform legislation because it couldn’t trust Mr. Obama to carry out said legislation.
.. Along the way, Republican candidates continued to play to their base’s darker impulses. On the whole, the rhetoric was subtler than that of the current president
.. Steve King, Republican of Iowa, painting Dreamers as drug mules with “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
.. Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama: “I’ll do anything short of shooting them”
.. Nor was Mr. Trump the first Republican to promote the idea that within every immigrant lurks a murderer or terrorist.
.. Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, ran around warning of what came to be mocked as the great “terror baby” plot. As Mr. Gohmert told it, radical Islamists were plotting to impregnate droves of young women, who would infiltrate the United States to give birth here. The babies would be shipped back home for terrorist training, then return as adults to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting America.
.. Time and again, given the choice between soothing and stoking nativist animus, Republican lawmakers chose the low road.
.. And he has even less interest in addressing the root causes of migrant families flocking to the border.
.. In 2016, the Department of Homeland Security reported, “More individuals sought affirmative asylum from the Northern Triangle Countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) in the last three years than in the prior 15 years combined.”
.. Helping these nations stabilize themselves is key to reducing the flow of asylum seekers. But Mr.
Trump does not like complexity or long-term strategizing.
He prefers casting blame and making threats.
.. In the administration’s budget proposals, it has sought deep cuts in aid to these countries — something Congress has wisely ignored. Removing a financial lifeline from nations already in chaos is hardly a recipe for progress.
.. Mr. Trump’s move to kick out as many people who are from these countries as possible threatens to overwhelm nations ill equipped for such an influx. And without the money that many of the immigrants living here regularly send back to their families, the economies of these countries would further crumble.
.. In 2016, 17 percent of El Salvador’s gross domestic product came from remittances from abroad.
.. America’s immigration mess is not going to be cleaned up anytime soon.
.. conservatives are terrified that the base will punish them if they concede even an inch. Speaker Paul Ryan, with one foot out the door, has no juice. And pretty much everyone assumes that nothing will move through the Senate anyway.
.. Trump is planning fresh crackdowns in the run-up to the midterms, to reassure his base that he has not lost his resolve. If anything, given the fragility of his ego, last week’s flip-flop will make him all the more desperate to prove his strength.
.. Mr. Trump is more a breaker than a fixer.
.. The question now is whether the conference will learn anything useful from this episode.
.. There is also his
- politicization of law enforcement, his
- attempts to undermine public faith in the democratic process, his
- attacks on the press, his
- family’s suspect business dealings and his
- habitual lying
.. this is unlikely to be the last time the president puts members of his party in an uncomfortable, and perhaps untenable, position.
.. The weight of this moment should be recognized. Mr. Trump’s capitulation was not a given. With a little less media scrutiny, fewer heartbreaking photos and fewer calls from angry voters, tent cities could have kept on filling with traumatized children.
.. Having done so much to pave the way for Mr. Trump and his immigration policies, they now owe it to the American people to help keep him in check.
More than any president in living memory, Donald Trump has conducted a dogged, remorseless assault on the press. He portrays the news media not only as a dedicated adversary of his administration but of the entire body politic. These attacks have forced the media where it does not want to be, at the center of the political debate.
Trump’s purpose is clear. He seeks to weaken an institution that serves to constrain the abusive exercise of executive authority.
.. Rosen observed that the history of right-wing attacks on the media
extends back through Agnew’s speeches for Nixon to Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 and winds forward through William Rusher, talk radio, and of course Fox News, which founded a business model on liberal bias.
Trump is not just attacking the press but the conditions that make it possible for news reports to serve as any kind of check on power.
.. From undue influence (Agnew’s claim) to something closer to treason (enemy of the people.) Instead of criticizing ‘the media’ for unfair treatment, he whips up hatred for it.
.. Trump has some built-in advantages in his war on the media. Confidence in the media was in decline long before Trump entered politics
.. in September 2017 that 37 percent of the public had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence in the mass media, down from 53 percent in 1997.
.. The Trump administration, with a rhetoric that began during the campaign and burgeoned in the earliest days of Donald Trump’s presidency, has engaged in enemy construction of the press, and the risks that accompany that categorization are grave.
.. Insofar as Trump succeeds in “undercutting the watchdog, educator, and proxy functions of the press,” they write, it
leaves the administration more capable of delegitimizing other institutions and constructing other enemies — including
- the judiciary,
- the intelligence community,
- immigrants, and
- members of certain races or religions.
.. Trump is signaling — through his terminology, through his delegitimizing actions, and through his anticipatory undercutting — that the press is literally the enemy, to be distrusted, ignored, and excluded.
.. motivate it to want to call out the changing norms that it sees around it, and to defend the role of important democratic institutions when they are attacked. But when the press is itself one of those institutions, it finds itself a part of the story in ways that it is unaccustomed to being, and it has to weigh the potential loss of credibility that might come with an aggressive self-defense.
.. “The best way for the press to react to Trump’s undemocratic behavior is to continue trying to do their jobs the best they can,”
.. Ladd specifically warned against “reacting to Trump by becoming more crusadingly anti-Trump.”
Trump has successfully “put the mainstream media in a difficult position,” according to Geoffrey Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago:
If the media directly address the accusations of fake news, they ironically run the risk of dignifying the accusations. But if they ignore the accusations, they miss the opportunity to prove their professionalism to those who have grown skeptical.
.. Trump’s disdain for the First Amendment is an integral part of a much longer series of developments in which both parties have demonstrated a willingness to defy democratic norms, although the Republican Party has been in the forefront.
For a quarter of a century, Republican officials have been more willing than Democratic officials to play constitutional hardball — not only or primarily on judicial nominations but across a range of spheres. Democrats have also availed themselves of hardball throughout this period, but not with the same frequency or intensity.
.. Fishkin and Pozen cite the work of Mark Tushnet, a professor at Harvard Law School, to define constitutional hardball as “political claims and practices”
that are without much question within the bounds of existing constitutional doctrine and practice but that are nonetheless in some tension with existing pre-constitutional understandings. Constitutional hardball tactics are viewed by the other side as provocative and unfair because they flout the ‘goes without saying’ assumptions that underpin working systems of constitutional government. Such tactics do not generally flout binding legal norms. But that only heightens the sense of foul play insofar as it insulates acts of hardball from judicial review.
Republicans on the far right, in particular, Fishkin and Pozen write, have been willing to engage in constitutional hardball because they are drawn to “narratives of debasement and restoration,” which suggest
that something has gone fundamentally awry in the republic, on the order of an existential crisis, and that unpatriotic liberals have allowed or caused it to happen.
The severity of the liberal threat, in the eyes of these conservatives, justifies extreme steps to restore what they see as a besieged moral order.
.. As with so many things about President Trump, it strikes me that he didn’t start the fire. He got into office because it was already burning and now he’s pouring on gasoline.
.. Accusations that the press has a political agenda can, perversely, help create an agenda which is then said to corroborate the accusations.
.. Pozen described Trump’s denunciation of the press as “the culmination of several decades of comparable attacks by media pundits, such as Rush Limbaugh” and he argues that Trump’s calls
to lock up one’s general election opponent, encouraging online hate mobs, lying constantly, attacking the press constantly, contradicting oneself constantly, undermining the very idea of truth are individually and in common potentially profound threats to the integrity and quality of our system of free expression.
Ms. Ingraham honed her craft in college at The Dartmouth Review, the undergraduate right-wing journal that earned national recognition (and some revulsion) for stunts that, in hindsight, presaged the antics of Breitbart reporters.
.. “All the way back to Dartmouth, I was part of the insurgency,” she said.
In an era before mainstream acceptance of homosexuality, Ms. Ingraham assigned a reporter to attend a meeting of the campus gay students’ alliance and published a transcript of the proceedings, naming names. Years later, she apologized, citing in part the experience of her gay brother and his partner, who had AIDS.
.. “Laura represents her own unique brand,” said Christopher Ruddy, who runs Newsmax, a Fox News competitor. “She comes out of the milieu of talk radio, where the economics of that business have driven a lot of hosts who were moderately conservative to be a little edgier.”
.. She had been encouraged to back Mr. Brat by a producer, Julia Hahn, who went on to write for Breitbart and now works in the White House.
.. Asked if she is bringing a Breitbart viewership to Fox News, Ms. Ingraham responded: “I wouldn’t call it a Breitbart audience. I would call it America.”
“I like Tom Wolfe’s description of the country,” she continued. “There’s America. The coasts are like the parentheses. In between is the country.”