But Trump’s theatrics were also very convenient because they disguised the fact that he cannot now, or ever, deliver on his signature promise to create a “great” infrastructure program. This is why Trump “infrastructure weeks” have become a standing joke in Washington. LaTourette was right: The Republican Party is no longer interested in spending public money to solve big problems if doing so gets in the way of cutting taxes.
LaTourette explained this in his rough-and-ready way back in 2011 when he called the 2010 tea party class of Republicans “knuckledraggers that came in in the last election that hate taxes.”
One of those newcomers was Mick Mulvaney, now Trump’s acting chief of staff and budget director. From the moment Trump, Pelosi and Schumer announced their convergence on a $2 trillion infrastructure plan last month, Mulvaney began sabotaging it. “Is it difficult to pass any infrastructure bill in this environment, let alone a $2 trillion one, in this environment? Absolutely,” Mulvaney said.
He was far from alone because the entire Republican leadership in Congress is now part of the Knuckledraggers Caucus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly signaled that he had absolutely no interest in a big infrastructure plan if it required rolling back any part of the GOP’s 2017 corporate tax cut.
Democrats argue that because business is clamoring for infrastructure, it would make sense to ask business to foot part of the bill. They have suggested raising the corporate tax rate to 25 percent from the 21 percent enshrined in the 2017 law and pulling back on some of its other provisions.
No way, say the Republicans. A “nonstarter,” declared McConnell. Faced with the choice of bridges collapsing in a heap or reining in the tax giveaways, the bridges don’t have much of a chance.
Note that the meeting Trump sabotaged was about how to finance the plan. He had no way of coming up with anything constructive because, for all of his bravado, he is totally under the thumb of Congress’s conservative ideologues. His tantrum was part of the coverup no one is talking about: The emperor has no money.
This fact underscores a widespread misunderstanding about our politics. “Normal” Republicans are regularly described as privately horrified with Trump. Trump is said to have engaged in “a hostile takeover” of the GOP.
In fact, it’s Trump who has been taken over. He campaigned as a different kind of Republican, and his infrastructure promise was a major component of his antiideological image. But on all the things the ideologues and right-wing business interests care about —
Trump caves in.
We know the president’s boast that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any votes.” Perhaps Republicans in Congress wouldn’t go that far. Otherwise, they’ll keep standing with him as long as he prostrates himself before their tax-cutting god, even if this means showing he is too weak and powerless to fix the roads.
Barely four years ago, Mr. Murphy made a forceful argument that my marriage was unconstitutional. As the attorney tasked with defending Ohio’s discriminatory ban on same-sex marriage, he used dog-whistles such as “traditional marriage” in his brief to the Supreme Court and argued that “bigotry” had nothing to do with why the state refused to recognize my lawful marriage to my late husband.
.. In a landmark opinion written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — for whom Murphy himself once clerked — the Supreme Court declared that “it demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society.” Gay couples “ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law,” Kennedy wrote. “The Constitution grants them that right.”
.. Now, Murphy seeks to be a judge who will decide cases such as mine; his renomination was sent to the Senate this week. As a federal judge, Murphy would have immense power and influence over the rights of the LGBTQ community. Judges can decide if presidents can ban transgender soldiers from serving in the military. Judges can decide if people can be fired from their job for being gay. Such decisions would affect people such as me, Senator Portman’s son, and thousands of other LGBTQ people living in the 6th Circuit states of Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee.
In light of his past arguments, Murphy must show he is capable of being fair and unbiased toward the LGBTQ community.
Now that he is no longer obligated to defend the old Ohio law, he should explicitly affirm that my Supreme Court case was correctly decided and vow that discrimination against the LGBTQ community would have no place in his courtroom. Surely there is no longer anything stopping Murphy from showing the same respect and dignity to the LGBTQ community as Kennedy and Portman have.
Worried their chance to cement a conservative majority on the Supreme Court could slip away, a growing number of evangelical and anti-abortion leaders are expressing frustration that Senate Republicans and the White House are not protecting Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh more forcefully from a sexual assault allegation and warning that conservative voters may stay home in November if his nomination falls apart.
Several of these leaders, including ones with close ties to the White House and Senate Republicans, are urging Republicans to move forward with a confirmation vote imminently unless the woman who accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford, agrees to share her story with the Senate Judiciary Committee within the next few days.
The evangelical leaders’ pleas are, in part, an attempt to apply political pressure: Some of them are warning that religious conservatives may feel little motivation to vote in the midterm elections unless Senate Republicans move the nomination out of committee soon and do more to defend Judge Kavanaugh from what they say is a desperate Democratic ploy to prevent President Trump from filling future court vacancies.
“One of the political costs of failing to confirm Brett Kavanaugh is likely the loss of the United States Senate,” said Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition who is in frequent contact with the White House.
“If Republicans were to fail to defend and confirm such an obviously and eminently qualified and decent nominee,” Mr. Reed added, “then it will be very difficult to motivate and energize faith-based and conservative voters in November.”
The evangelist Franklin Graham, one of Mr. Trump’s most unwavering defenders, told the Christian Broadcasting Network this week, “I hope the Senate is smarter than this, and they’re not going to let this stop the process from moving forward and confirming this man.”
Social conservatives are already envisioning a worst-case scenario related to Judge Kavanaugh, and they say it is not a remote one. Republican promises to shift the Supreme Court further to the right — which just a few days ago seemed like a fait accompli — have been one of the major reasons conservatives say they are willing to tolerate an otherwise dysfunctional Republican-controlled government. If Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination fails, and recent political history is any guide, voters will most likely point the finger not at Mr. Trump but at Republican lawmakers.
.. The reason the prospect of Judge Kavanaugh’s defeat is so alarming to conservatives is that they fear he could be the last shot at reshaping the nation’s highest court for years. If Republicans were to lose control of the Senate, where they hold a 51-to-49 majority, in November, Mr. Trump would find it difficult to get anyone confirmed before the end of the year. Even if Senate leaders were able to schedule hearings and hold a vote, there could be defections from Republican senators uneasy about using a lame duck session to ram through a lifetime appointment that would tip the court’s ideological balance.
.. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas and one of Mr. Trump’s most vocal evangelical supporters, said he did not know who was telling the truth, Judge Kavanaugh or Dr. Blasey. “But I can say with absolute certainty,” he added, “that the Democrats don’t care who is telling the truth. Their only interest is in delaying and derailing this confirmation.”
.. The importance of the Supreme Court to the Trump White House and the Republican Party is difficult to overstate. Mr. Trump has heralded Justice Neil M. Gorsuch and Judge Kavanaugh, his two Supreme Court nominees, as crowning achievements in an otherwise uneven presidency.
.. Conservative groups have spent tens of millions of dollars building the men up as legal luminaries, gentleman scholars and the fulfillment of Mr. Trump’s campaign promise to nominate judges who have “a record of applying the Constitution just as it was written,”
.. A relatively smooth, predictable confirmation fight has also been a key part of Republicans’ strategy to keep the Senate. In the 10 states that Mr. Trump won where Democratic senators are up for re-election, Republicans have attacked Democrats for either opposing the judge or remaining noncommittal.
.. some are also arguing that they cannot be indifferent and insensitive to a victim.
.. But many conservatives see little use in being deferential when, they argue, the Democrats play by no such rules. They look back at the failed confirmation of the Republican nominee Robert Bork in 1987, whose writings on civil rights were picked over by Democrats, and the 1991 hearings for Clarence Thomas, who faced testimony from Anita Hill that he had sexually harassed her, and they see a sophisticated and ruthless Democratic machine bent on discrediting their nominees.
.. “Republicans are right, as a moral matter as well as a political matter, to take allegations of misbehavior like this seriously,” said Frank Cannon, president of the American Principles Project and a veteran social conservative strategist. “At the same time, we’ve seen anything and everything thrown at Republican Supreme Court nominees for decades,” he added, noting that Republicans have been slow to understand that Democrats are “playing by different rules.”
.. Privately, some conservatives were thrilled that Dr. Blasey and her lawyer have resisted the opportunity to testify in the Senate on Monday and demanded instead that the F.B.I. first investigate her claims. That would be just enough, they said, to give Republicans the justification for moving forward without her. The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, made clear on Wednesday that he would not postpone a hearing past Monday.
.. sets up a fight that Republicans could win in the Senate but might ultimately lose at the ballot box in November. The level of outrage could run so hot among Democrats, who would likely use every procedural and political tool at their disposal to delay confirmation, that it could provide even more fuel to an already energized liberal base.
.. “Given the confirmation theatrics, followed by this allegation that was held until the last moment, this could be seen as another partisan attack and could actually fuel conservative turnout,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
.. Conservatives are likely to use protests and other forms of resistance to Judge Kavanaugh as a way to clarify for unmotivated Republican voters what Democratic control of the Senate means: a Trump-nominated Supreme Court justice would never be confirmed again.
“If Chuck Schumer is majority leader and Dianne Feinstein is chairman of the Judiciary Committee,” said Mr. Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, “it will be open season on any Trump nominee to the federal bench at any level of the judiciary.”
NBC News and the Wall Street Journal polled his job approval. There was no appreciable change.
.. Why? The most important reason has to be the remarkable state of the American economy. On Election Day 2016, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 18,332.43. On August 29, it closed at 26,124.57. That is an increase of some 40 percent. Other indices show similar gains. Growth in GDP went from 1.5 percent in 2016 to 2.3 percent in 2017 and, helped by the excellent 4.2 percent number in the second quarter, is forecast for around 3 percent in 2018.
.. The fact that presidents are not responsible for the economy does not stop the public from assigning them blame or credit. And Trump deserves some credit. His pro-business attitude stirs the bulls’ animal spirits. His deregulatory and tax policies contribute to growth. Trump understands that he is riding the bull — and that his following will be strong for the duration of the journey... The economic boom is crucial in understanding why Trump enjoys the 88 percent approval among Republicans that keeps him politically viable... Trump continues to goad, highlight, and benefit from an antagonistic news media. The overwhelmingly negative coverage of Trump paradoxically works to his advantage by driving his supporters to rally to his side. When the press gets a story wrong, Trump is vindicated. His voters have less reason to trust the elite media institutions they see as allied against them in a struggle over American identity... Media obsession with Trump and scandal helps the president in other ways. For one, the scandals are confusing and increasingly self-referential. Only political professionals and junkies can keep track of them. The headlines run together. The talking heads are background noise to men and women outside the bubble... The media fixation hands Trump the initiative. Because so much of the news is based on his Twitter feed, he can create storylines — and spark confusion and outrage — with the push of a button. This ability lets him shift attention from current controversies by creating fresh ones. The ongoing hysteria lessens the cost to Trump of each bad story. It also allows him to portray media institutions and figures as insiders contemptuous of Trump voters and eager to overturn the result of a presidential election.
Democrats — and most Republicans for that matter — have yet to grasp the ideas of political economy that Trump intuits: government that privileges American citizens through
- tight labor markets,
- border security,
- trade reciprocity, and
.. Nor do Democrats understand that American populism is not simply economic. It is cultural. It has long been associated with traditional values and practices, an unreconstructed patriotism, and support for law and order. No matter how well Democratic proposals might test, the party will not succeed at the national level unless it addresses and mollifies the social concerns of the white working class. Pelosi, Schumer, and Sanders have not tried.
Mr. Trump took a car ride with Mike Pence along with Billy Graham’s son Franklin and Tony Perkins, a leading figure on the Christian right, during the Louisiana floods of 2016. Impressed by what Franklin Graham’s Christian ministry had done for flood victims, Mr. Trump told him that he was writing it a six-figure check, which Mr. Graham told him to send to Mr. Perkins’s church. Both men were moved by his impulsive kindness, and a bond was formed.
.. When Mr. Trump exited the car, he gave Mr. Robison a hug, pulled him up against his chest firmly and said, “Man, I sure love you.” A small gesture, perhaps, but heartfelt, real and so unlike the caricature of the president most of us see. And practically every evangelical leader I interviewed has a similar story.
.. Critics say that the Trump-evangelical relationship is transactional
.. evangelicals take the long view on Mr. Trump; they afford him grace when he doesn’t deserve it. Few dispute that Mr. Trump may need a little more grace than others. But evangelicals truly do believe that all people are flawed, and yet Christ offers them grace. Shouldn’t they do the same for the president?
.. The Bible is replete with examples of flawed individuals being used to accomplish God’s will. Evangelicals I interviewed said they believed that Mr. Trump was in the White House for a reason.
.. Bishop Wayne Jackson, who is the pastor of Great Faith Ministries International in Detroit and calls himself a lifelong Democrat, remembers Mr. Trump’s campaign visit to his church. He told me that the moment Mr. Trump got out of the car, “the spirit of the Lord told me that that’s the next president of the United States.”
.. I’ve watched Mr. Trump through the lens of the faith community for years, and he has delivered the policy goods and is progressing on the spiritual ones.
.. Donald Trump is on a spiritual voyage that has accelerated in recent years, thanks to evangelicals who have employed the biblical mandate of sharing and showing God’s love to him rather than shunning him.
.. This president’s effect on our cultural norms has been shocking. His critics would call it appalling; evangelicals say it’s immensely satisfying: They’ve seen a culture deteriorate quickly in the past decade, and they’re looking for a bold culture warrior to fight for them.
Showing that God does indeed have a sense of humor, He gave them Mr. Trump. Yet in God’s perfection, it’s a match made in heaven.
Mr. Trump and evangelicals share a disdain for political correctness, a world seen through absolutes and a desire to see an America that embraces Judeo-Christian values again rather than rejecting them.
.. Finally, why in the world wouldn’t evangelicals get behind and support a man who not only is in line with most of their agenda but also has delivered time and time again? The victories are numerous:
- the courts,
- pro-life policies,
- the coming Embassy in Jerusalem and
- religious liberty issues
, just to name a few. He easily wins the unofficial label of “most evangelical-friendly United States president ever.”
.. But the goal of evangelicals has always been winning the larger battle over control of the culture, not to get mired in the moral failings of each and every candidate.
.. For evangelicals, voting in the macro is the moral thing to do, even if the candidate is morally flawed. Evangelicals have tried the “moral” candidate before.
- .. Jimmy Carter was once the evangelical candidate. How did that work out in the macro?
- George W. Bush was the evangelical candidate in 2000: He pushed traditional conservative policies, but he doesn’t come close to Mr. Trump’s courageous blunt strokes in defense of evangelicals.
This year’s Conservative Political Action Conference began 472 days after the 2016 presidential election. Its first day ended with jeers for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
.. During Barack Obama’s presidency, speakers — Trump included — warned that Democrats would “fundamentally transform” America and saddle children with unpayable debt.
.. portrayed a conservative movement that was winning the present and the future, in the position, finally, to smash the left.
.. the CPAC conservatives lacked a clear, new adversary.
.. Donald F. McGahn used his remarks to spell out how Trump’s judicial appointments — a ready applause line — were part of a long-term strategy to dismantle the bureaucratic state.
.. the young crowd was promised resources for campus organizing — and lawsuits, when necessary — to unravel decades of left-wing dominance at universities.
.. “The future of western civilization will be won on college campuses,”
.. The conference’s exhibit hall contained little about potential Democratic presidential candidates; the only one that stood out was a stand-up of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), made grotesque and outfitted with a Native American headdress.
.. Onstage, the Democratic Party was alternately mocked as pathetic or described as an increasingly radical menace
.. Sebastian Gorka, a former White House adviser who now works with the main presidential super PAC, said that Trump would face any impeachment push from Democrats by “outflanking them every day on Twitter multiple times.”
Everyone observing our politics, or serving in it, still has the sense that anything could happen at the White House at any time. But neither the most hopeful nor the most fearful prognostications about the effects of Trump’s presidency on our political system have been confirmed.
.. It would be hard now to claim that the surface appearance of reckless incompetence at the White House is just a mask for deep strategic genius.
.. Both begin from the assumption that Trump ran for president in order to use the presidency to achieve a set of relatively conventional political or policy objectives, and each approach formed its expectations around some sense of what those might have been. Ten months into his presidency, it does not look as if this was the nature of Trump’s ambition.
.. Instead, his ambition seems to have been something like a desire to put himself at the center of our national consciousness and attention. This looks to be what Trump wants most, and what some of his most peculiar choices and actions are directed toward achieving. Everything else — from policy priorities to political alliances — is always subject to change in pursuit of that goal. This could also be a key to understanding the effects Trump might ultimately have on our constitutional system.
.. Trump’s ambition that most resembles the ambitions of many other politicians.
.. But they also, of course, run to do something.
.. Trump’s exertions in office have mostly been of a different sort altogether. They have generally been neither channeled through the constitutional framework nor directed against it
.. The ideal of the president as project manager was especially prominent in how Trump spoke about his ambitions at the very beginning of his campaign. In August 2015, for instance, asked by George Stephanopoulos how he would carry out his immigration proposals, Trump responded, “These people don’t know what they’re doing, George. They’re politicians. They don’t know management. I get the best people and we will do it properly and we will do it humanely.” Asked three months later to respond to criticism from his primary opponents about his proposal for a registry of Muslims, he responded, “It would be just good management.” Pressed for more details, he said, “It’s all about management, our country has no management.” We have grown so accustomed to this sort of vague, brash talk from Trump over the past two years that we barely stop to ask what it actually conveys.
.. Trump still seems to believe that he has unique management abilities to offer the country and that this job is like his last one. Perhaps ironically, given his now-infamous lack of discipline, his sense of the president’s core administrative function remains exceptionally managerial — and not, in this sense, quite political or constitutional. He instinctively treats members of Congress like incompetent subcontractors.
.. Trump’s sense of the president’s broader functions, meanwhile, has turned out to be fundamentally theatrical. In just about every setting, he is performing for an audience. Thus his obsession with ratings and audience size, his running commentary on Twitter (often calling for actions that he could instead just undertake as chief executive), and his peculiar tendency even to comment on his own speeches as he delivers them.
.. his intense desire to please the room at every moment — which has led him incessantly to shift course and change positions. He seems to want different things at different times in front of different audiences. But he actually always wants the same thing: He wants to be acclaimed a winner.
When he isn’t depicted as successful, whether it’s on morning television or in a meeting with congressional leaders, he says and does whatever seems required to change the story in his favor. He can’t resist such provocations because he is always on the stage, needing to please or save face before the crowd.
.. This has left President Trump open to shameless attempts at manipulation by members of Congress and his own administration who think they can push him in their direction on key policy questions by portraying their preferred approach as a way for him to look stronger.
.. Trump’s capacity to disrupt our exhausted political order and force other politicians into at least modestly more populist directions could well prove a boon.
.. the presence of an undisciplined, aggressive performance artist at the heart of our government — a figure whose excesses are not structurally counterbalanced by others in the system because they are not strictly speaking excesses of presidential power — could alter the public’s expectations of government and politics in ways that are decidedly unhelpful to American constitutionalism and would not be easy to reverse. Viewing politics as entertainment could be a hard habit to break.
.. Washington has experienced the Trump presidency so far as an exhausting, intense, and unproductive circus.
.. Both seem to have been incapacitated by concerns that anything meaningful they do could be undercut by an erratic presidential tweet at any moment.
.. The appointment of judges might be the one presidential function that does not require perseverance — once nominated, they are confirmed by another branch of government and then perform their work without dependence on the president
.. it is frankly hard to say just what the president actually aims to achieve except for being on everyone’s mind all the time.
.. For many decades now, American progressives have advanced an ideal of the presidency in great tension with the logic of our broader constitutional architecture. Trump now offers a far less coherent model of the presidency that is downright unaware of that broader architecture and so stands as a kind of histrionic alternative to constitutional politics. If we are to hold out any hope for a constitutional restoration, these cannot be the only options before the public.