White House

Breaking: Trump Was Getting Impeached No Matter What

Whatever the significance of the BuzzFeed story, it’s not that Trump is getting impeached. That was going to happen regardless. If the BuzzFeed story is true (and everyone should be cautious about that given the fate of some past Trump-Mueller bombshells) it tells us what one of the impeachment counts will be, but doesn’t change the basic state of play—Trump is likely to get impeached, no matter what.

White House

Here’s What Critics of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Investigation of Trump Miss

The J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington, D.C. (Jim Bourg/REUTERS)

This post is a couple days late, and the news cycle is moving on at its typical lightning speed, but I still wanted to reply to Rich Lowry’s response to my argument that it was proper and prudent for the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation of the president. I fear that we’re going to have to agree to disagree. Rich gets the practical problem mostly right. It does present obvious difficulties when the FBI investigates its ultimate boss — even when that investigation is directly supervised by someone else. But I still think he misses the law, and the law is what defines the FBI’s mission.

A combination of statutes (passed through Congress, obviously), regulations, and presidential orders have created a specific counterintelligence mission and structure. This counterintelligence mission has been carefully defined, the FBI’s role in domestic operations has been carefully defined, and prior presidents have provided additional precise guidance. Here’s the crucial consideration — neither the Constitution nor the relevant statutes exempt the president from their scope. A president can be a threat to national security as that term is defined in the relevant policy guidance. A president — as a human being who is subject to potential corruption and foreign influence — can indeed act “on behalf of foreign powers.” Congress can and should investigate the president, but so can and so should the agency that Congress created and abundantly-resourced for precisely the purpose of conducting counterintelligence activities.

Congress holds presidents accountable by conducting investigations, overriding vetoes, and potentially through impeachment, but we can’t forget its lawmaking and funding power. It hems in a president with laws, and it creates and funds a law-enforcement apparatus that holds every American accountable. The Constitution grants a president considerable power, but it does not exempt him from the operation of law. Yes, the president can take action to shut down an investigation, but that requires a positive act on his part — an act he can be held accountable for by Congress and the public. He doesn’t have the inherent constitutional or statutory right to be free of FBI inquiries if such inquiries have sufficient evidentiary basis.

Moreover, let’s not exaggerate what the FBI has done. Rich asked whether the it’s the FBI’s job to “check and balance the president,” but an investigation isn’t a check on the president. It’s an inquiry. It’s a fact-gathering exercise. It’s not a prosecution. It’s not an impeachment proceeding. The question is whether the FBI can fulfill its legally defined role (as approved by Congress) when even the president is the target of the investigation? And the answer is that it can — absent a proactive exercise of presidential power.

Of course to say that the FBI can investigate the president is different from arguing whether it should in any given instance. My own view is that there should be a very high bar to clear before an attorney general should approve an investigation. If it turns out — once the facts are fully known — that the FBI’s decision to open a counterintelligence investigation turned largely on such acts as firing James Comey or giving erratic interview questions to Lester Holt, then I’ll retract my initial assessment that the investigation was prudent and judge that the FBI grotesquely abused its power. If, however, the decision (as I believe) turned on a number of additional factors — crucially including the multiplicity of troubling Trump team contacts with Russian operatives — then I’ll stand by my initial assessment.

Finally, I don’t want to go line-by-line through Rich’s piece, but a couple items did stand out. Rich says this:

David emphasizes how the regulations governing a counterintelligence investigation focus on the activity of the foreign power. Yeah, sure. But that’s why the Times story was so explosive. It reported on a counterintelligence investigation of Trump himself, who is obviously not a foreigner, but the duly elected president of the United States.

I’m puzzled by this point. Focus on foreign actors frequently involves investigating how they interact with American citizens. That’s a fundamental part of counterintelligence. If the FBI believed that Russia was attempting to induce Trump to act on its behalf, that would necessarily expose Trump to scrutiny.

Rich also says this:

Finally, the main contention of David’s piece is that since the FBI is authorized to undertake such a counterintelligence investigation by regulation, the president has in effect authorized the investigation of himself. Then, he takes back, or at least significantly vitiates, this point at the end of his piece by conceding: “It is quite fair to say (and obvious as you read the relevant guidelines) that counterintelligence responsibilities were not allocated with a potential investigation of the president in mind.”

I took nothing back. The policies, by their own terms, still apply to the president. We may prefer that the authors of the relevant statutes and executive orders had the foresight to outline a separate set of procedures for our commander-in-chief that could answer some of the thorny questions raised by any presidential investigation (like the DOJ did when it published its analysis of presidential indictments), but we’re left with the language we have, and any good textualist knows that’s the language you apply.

The president is a powerful citizen, but he’s still a citizen. When the Constitution doesn’t exempt him from the scope of the law, when statutes don’t exempt him, and when he hasn’t used those powers he possesses to exempt himself, then legal processes should work on him much like they do with anyone else. That’s one of the virtues of a constitutional republic. A president can be held accountable by his own government.

Culture

I Know What I’m Getting Charlie Cooke for Christmas This Year

Education

Lawsuit Aims to End the Chilling of Free Speech at the University of Texas

Social-justice warrior types abound in college and university administrations. They’re especially drawn to jobs in Title IX and diversity offices where they are able to use their power to threaten students for saying un-PC things. The result is a cloud of vague rules causing students to keep quiet on any potentially controversial issue.

One school where that has happened is the University of Texas. In today’s Martin Center article, Nicole Neily, president of Speech First, discusses the lawsuit her group has brought against the university for its free speech-chilling regulations. She writes:

Thanks to four policies that the school maintains—a verbal harassment ban, an Acceptable Use Policy governing internet & digital use, a Residence Hall Manual, and a ‘Campus Climate Response Team’—the eyes of the University of Texas really are on students, keeping tabs on their speech all the time, everywhere.

The University of Texas is a public institution and therefore obliged to uphold the First Amendment. But the administrators care more about controlling speech in ways that supposedly benefit “marginalized” student groups than in preserving an environment in which everyone can speak without fear of reprisal.

Neily concludes:

Students at the University of Texas, including Speech First members, have been chilled and deterred from speaking openly about issues that are important to them—credibly fearing that their views may be considered ‘offensive,’ ‘biased,’ ‘uncivil,’ or ‘rude’ by other students, which could get them reported. The University is unlikely to voluntarily change these policies—which means the courts must now intervene.

UT is turning into“Animal Farm.” Let’s hope that this lawsuit helps to reverse the process.

White House

Trump’s FBI Problem Is a Character Problem

President Donald Trump speaks to the news media before boarding Marine One to depart for travel to New Orleans from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., January 14, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

There’s a great debate between David French and Rich Lowry on the latest episode of The Editors about the bombshell earlier this week that was eclipsed by the BuzzFeed story. The New York Times reported that the FBI initiated an investigation into whether Trump was a Russian asset of some kind.  Rich thinks the real outrage is that the FBI launched such a probe in the first place. David thinks the probe was legally justified.

But there’s a missing ingredient in the debate.

As someone who thinks it’s an outrage that Congress has gelded itself by outsourcing its responsibilities to the executive branch over the last century, I agree with many of Rich’s frustrations. If our constitutional system were operating properly, much of what Mueller is doing would be done by Congress. Having an employee of the justice department conducting a crazy hybrid investigation that is equal parts a criminal probe, a national-security review, and an impeachment inquiry is no way to run a railroad — or a republic.

But I side with David. Congress established the FBI and has empowered it to do many things in its stead. In a sense, the FBI is run by the executive, but it works for Congress, which created it and pays for its operation. I may sympathize with Charlie Cooke that the FBI is constitutionally problematic, but one can also have such arguments about paper money, the income tax and countless other entities. The fact is that they exist and have a long tradition of existence. Retreating to constitutional objections about the operation of longstanding laws and institutions is always interesting and sometimes fruitful, but it also threatens to descend into Ron/Rand Paulism — a way to absolve yourself from the pressing question of the moment by invoking a rhetorical Kobayashi Maru that lets you off the hook from making a no-win decision.

This is why military planners war-game various scenarios, pelting decision-makers with imperfect information in real-time, demanding best-guess choices in the heat of the moment. It’s one thing to condemn the bombings of Dresden or Nagasaki in retrospect, it’s another to put yourself in the position of people making the call in the moment.

Rich objects to Trump’s general approach to Russia, but he defends the president on constitutional, republican, and democratic grounds. Trump is the president and he can make the policy calls he wants without being subject to investigatory gainsaying by his own FBI. In theory, that’s a perfectly cogent and defensible position.

But if you put yourself in the real-world situation of the FBI, you can forgive people for having a “What the Hell is going on?” response to Trump’s actual behavior. I won’t belabor you with the litany of reasons we know about — from his Putin sycophancy, the DNC hacking, his firing of Comey and using a pre-textual memo to justify it and so on. But if you get a chance you should read this whole thread:

Yes, yes, many of the FBI officials involved in the decision to investigate were undoubtedly victims of the motivated reasoning that comes with excessive and inappropriate partisanship, but that doesn’t mean only partisans could come to the conclusion something smelled very fishy. And as David argues at length, the FBI was acting with legal authority to figure out what was behind the odor. This is partly why I wrote earlier this week that the story, if true, is both “simultaneously understandable and outrageous.”

This points to something I’ve been writing about for two years now. Trump defenders want to defend everything Trump does outside of the lines of normalcy on the grounds that he is a disrupter. There are several problems with this argument, but I’ll focus on two. The first is that much of Trump’s disruptiveness is characterological, not programmatic or ideological.  If you want to defend the president’s prerogative to question the value of NATO, that’s fine. That’s one kind of disruption, to be sure. But his personal behavior from his pettiness, impulsiveness, and constant mendacity is disruptive, too. And you can’t expect people un-besotted with him to compartmentalize the two the way you do. Trump’s erratic behavior is endearing to some and worrisome to others. Expecting those endeared to find it troubling is as foolhardy as expecting the worriers to find it charming, particularly if the worrier has a responsibility to act.

Second,  Trump supporters simultaneously celebrate his disruptiveness, and even his violation of democratic norms, but are scandalized when he provokes equally disruptive or norm-violating responses. When I hear Kevin McCarthy complain that Nancy Pelosi’s quasi disinvitation to deliver the State of the Union is “beneath” the office of the speaker, or when I hear praetorian pundits denounce the profane language of his opponents as if they shock the conscience of Trump supporters, I want to resort to the international sign-language gesture for Onanism.

If you are going to anoint a Cincinnatus who lays down his golf bag to save the Republic for being willing to break the rules and fight for ends heedless of traditional means, you should probably avoid clutching your pearls when partisans and even non-partisan institutionalists alike behave as if there are no guard rails for them either.

Culture

The Washington Post vs. the March for Life

Participants attend the annual March for Life in Washington, January 19, 2017. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

The Post’s main story (at least at the moment) on the March for Life—by Julie Zauzmer, Marisa Iati, and Michelle Boorstein–spends much of its time arguing against pro-life positions.

This year’s march theme is that the pro-life position is “pro-science”: in other words, that science backs the pro-life movement’s key premise that abortion takes the life of a living human organism. The Post trio establishes, as though it in any way contradicted that claim, that medical associations have taken official positions against restrictions on abortion. (I have never heard a pro-lifer make the more expansive claim that science proves that abortion should be restricted, which is obviously something that science cannot do, any more than it can prove the case against restrictions.)

Here’s the key passage:

The March for Life advertised two scientific papers along with its announcement of its “pro-science” theme. One, published by the antiabortion nonprofit the Charlotte Lozier Institute, describes the meeting of a sperm cell and an egg cell to form a zygote, a new type of cell distinct from the two that formed it. The paper then asks whether that cell is its own organism separate from the mother, or a part of a human like a liver cell or a skin cell.

The fact that the zygote “directs its own development,” leading it to eventually turn into more complete embryo and eventually a baby in the right circumstances, leads the writer of the paper (a neurobiology and pediatrics professor at the University of Utah) to conclude that from the moment of conception, embryos “are indeed living individuals of the human species.”

Sarah Horvath, a doctor who has performed abortions and currently works as a family planning policy and advocacy fellow for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said that ACOG, a 58,000-member organization that includes more than 90 percent of the ob/gyns in the United States, disagrees with that scientist’s explanation of life.

“I think that’s a gross exaggeration of an incredibly complex topic. There are many fertilized eggs that never implant, that implant in the wrong place … that become miscarriages, that in fact can become a type of cancer,” Horvath said.

Perhaps Horvath said something more compelling to the reporters that they did not print, but her words as quoted do nothing to undermine the conclusions of the paper by Maureen Condic (whose name the Post bafflingly omits).

Horvath’s first three points (mentioning non-implantation, implantation in the wrong place, and miscarriages) merely establish that human zygotes may die in the natural course of things, something that no informed observer has ever doubted; they do not establish that these zygotes are anything other than living organisms of the human species, exactly as Condic says. Horvath’s fourth point is presumably a reference to teratomas, which are gamete tumors and are not organisms that direct their own orderly development. Human teratomas are not cases in which a human zygote becomes a type of cancer (and if they were, they would merely be another way in which a human zygote could die).

To sum up, then: Conception marks the beginning of the life of a new human organism, however short or long the life of that human organism turns out to be; and every living human organism started being a living human organism as a zygote, at conception. It is of course possible to deny that all human organisms have a moral status that demands protection. But those who wish to deny it have often shown themselves capable of engaging in enormous feats of obfuscation.

Health Care

Attempt to Expand Oregon Assisted-Suicide License

Disabled protesters against physician-assisted suicide gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., October 5, 2005. (Reuters)

Oregon’s assisted-suicide legalization was the tip of the spear. Its provisions were never intended to remain restricted in perpetuity, but rather, were designed to give people false assurance that the ambitions of the euthanasia movement are limited.

They aren’t. And now true to form, a bill has been filed in Oregon to greatly expand eligibility and add other liberalizing provisions. First, HB 2232 would broaden the definition of terminal illness to the point that the term is stripped of any logical or cogent meaning:

“Terminal disease” means a disease that will, within reasonable medical judgment, produce or substantially contribute to a patient’s death.

Do you see how utterly open-ended that is? The condition could be a non-terminal illness or disability that would eventually contribute to — not necessarily cause — a patient’s death years in the future.

The bill also does away with the current requirement that the prescribed poison be taken orally, a provision intended to prevent third parties from killing the patient and disguising it as an assisted suicide. The new requirement is “self-administration,” which is also broadly defined:

“Self-administer” means a qualified patient’s physical act of ingesting or delivering by another method medication to end his or her life in a humane and dignified manner

Hence, a healthcare provider could hook the patient to an IV line containing a lethal dose of fentanyl that only required the patient to flip a switch to administer, sort of like Jack Kevorkian’s infamous suicide machine. Under this provision, poison could also be delivered by feeding tube, which could be done easily — if illegally — by someone other than the patient without anyone being the wiser.

Current Oregon law restricts lethal prescribing to licensed physicians. But many Beaver State MDs want no part of assisted suicide. So, the bill would expand eligibility to prescribe lethally to non-doctors:

“Health care provider” means a person licensed, certified or otherwise authorized or permitted by the law of this state to administer health care or dispense medication in the ordinary course of business or practice of a profession, and includes a health care facility.

Physician’s assistants can prescribe in Oregon, for example. The point is obviously to increase the cohort of willing lethal prescribers.

The bill maintains the current law’s phony definition of “counseling.”

“Counseling” means one or more consultations as necessary between a psychiatrist or licensed psychologist and a patient for the purpose of determining that the patient is capable and not  suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgment.

In other words, mental illness or depression that may be diagnosed need not actually be treated — which is the usual purpose of  “counseling.” Rather, the sole purpose of the mental-health referral is to deem the patient “capable,” which means,“the ability to make and communicate health care decisions to health care providers.” People can be very disturbed and still be “capable.”

There is an even more radical assisted-suicide legalization bill pending in New Mexico, which I described here. Delaware assisted-suicide enthusiasts will follow up a radical bill from last session with another, that I will detail once it has been officially filed.

Why do I keep bringing these proposals up? I want people to understand that the glib promises of tight restrictions made by U.S. activists are tactical lies designed to convince the reluctant to accept legalization. They are not intended to be permanent features of assisted-suicide practice going forward.

Those with eyes to see, let them see.

National Security & Defense

ISIS and Us

Raqqa, Syria, August 2017 (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters)

In the hearts of the Right, Lindsey Graham is sometimes up and sometimes down. But he’s almost always candid. In early December, commenting on the reaction of Trump officials to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, he said, “If they were in a Democratic administration, I would be all over them for being in the pocket of Saudi Arabia.” Later in the month, commenting on President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from Syria, he said, “If Obama had done this, we’d be all over him as Republicans.”

Yes.

Trump declared, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria.” That was on December 19. Two days ago, four Americans, among others, were killed in Syria by ISIS. The Pentagon has named three of the four: Jonathan R. Farmer, Shannon M. Kent, and Scott A. Wirtz.

There is a debate: Is ISIS our enemy? If we leave them alone, will they leave us alone? After 9/11, Pat Buchanan (whom Trump has been quoting lately) said, “They’re over here because we’re over there.” That is a common belief on the right, and it has traditionally been strong on the left.

Last month, Stephen Miller, the president’s aide, defended Trump’s decision on Syria as follows: “Let’s put America first. Let’s not spill American blood to fight the enemies of other countries.” For his own part, Trump tweeted, “Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there work. Time to come home & rebuild. #MAGA.”

Maybe ISIS will leave us alone, if we leave them alone. But maybe not. Also, the world is interconnected, both pleasantly and unpleasantly. Opponents of our engagement abroad speak of “the never-ending war,” or “never-ending wars.” The thing is, you may not be able to decide when a war ends. Others have a say in it too, unfortunately.

In August 2017, James Mattis, then the defense secretary, spoke to troops about our fight against terrorists. He said, “We’ll fight alongside our friends and allies, and we’re gonna keep right on fightin’ until they’re sick of us and leave us alone.” That strikes me as realism.

Health Care

If Only We Had Communist Health Care

Cubans attend a public political discussion to revamp a Cold War-era constitution in Havana, Cub, August 13, 2018. (Tomas Bravo/Reuters)

Nicholas Kristof, in the New York Times:

Cuba is poor and repressive with a dysfunctional economy, but in health care it does an impressive job that the United States could learn from. According to official statistics (about which, as we’ll see, there is some debate), the infant mortality rate in Cuba is only 4.0 deaths per 1,000 live births. In the United States, it’s 5.9.

In other words, an American infant is, by official statistics, almost 50 percent more likely to die than a Cuban infant. By my calculations, that means that 7,500 American kids die each year because we don’t have as good an infant mortality rate as Cuba reports.

. . .

There are also allegations that Cuba fiddles with its numbers. The country has an unusually high rate of late fetal deaths, and skeptics contend that when a baby is born in distress and dies after a few hours, this is sometimes categorized as a stillbirth to avoid recording an infant death.

Dr. Roberto Álvarez, a Cuban pediatrician, insisted to me that this does not happen and countered with explanations for why the fetal death rate is high. I’m not in a position to judge who’s right, but any manipulation seems unlikely to make a huge difference to the reported figures.

Oh . . . kay, then.

Like Kristof I’m “not in a position to judge” how much a Communist regime fiddles with its numbers, though he and I seem to have very different priors on that question. But even the numbers he’s comparing change an awful lot depending on what sources you rely on and how you choose to cut them.

The CIA World Factbook, for instance, puts Cuba’s infant-mortality rate at 4.4 rather than 4.0 per 1,000 (as of 2018). And the U.S. rate varies by racial and ethnic group, with whites and Hispanics having rates around 5 per 1,000 but blacks having a rate above 11 per 1,000 in 2016, according to a Centers for Disease Control report.

And by the way, if you use the CDC’s online infant-mortality tool to look only at Americans of Cuban origin, their rate was 3.8 in 2016, and 4.0 for the entire period running from 2011 to 2016. So Cubans in the U.S. have about the same infant-mortality rate that Cuba claims to have domestically.

It’s possible, of course, that a better health-care system would help to narrow these various gaps. But it’s not going to eliminate them, because health care is not the only thing that drives racial health disparites. Yet that is what Kristof assumes when he calculates what would happen if our entire country suddenly had an infant-mortality rate as low as the one Cuba reports, and links this comparison to Cuba’s health-care system.

Like everyone I’d like to make sure that infants get the care they need. But if we’re looking for good examples to follow overseas, why turn to this “poor and repressive” country with a “dysfunctional economy” on the basis of its own claims about the success of its health-care system? Even the reported results are not as impressive as Kristof makes them seem, and it’s not clear we should trust any information coming out of the country to begin with.

National Review

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Elections

Would It Make Sense For Larry Hogan to Primary Trump?

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan speaks at the National Governors Association summer meeting in Providence, R.I., July 13, 2017. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

A Politico report this morning about Maryland Governor Larry Hogan – including a scheduled trip to Iowa in March – has people buzzing about whether Hogan will launch a primary challenge to President Trump in 2020. Hogan, prudently, is coy on the subject, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that he actually decided to run. Would it make sense for Hogan to do that?

To answer that question, you first have to ask what “make sense” means. There are three possible reasons to run for president, and while many candidates have more than one such reason, you really only need one. One, you think you can win the nomination. Two, you think there is something that needs to be said, a message that won’t get heard unless you run. Three, you think your career will be advanced by having run.

On the first count, I don’t think Hogan has much chance of winning the nomination, but if he was ever going to run, 2020 is the best shot he would ever get. Hogan has been remarkably politically successful as governor of deep-blue Maryland, regularly ranking as one of the two most popular governors in the country (a January 2019 Morning Consult poll has his approval rating at 68%, second only to Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker), and he was re-elected by a 12-point margin with 55.4% of the vote in 2018. Like Chris Christie in 2012, that means his political moment would probably be now and not later even under normal circumstances, and his ability as a blue-state star and cancer survivor to present a calm, sane, no-drama get-it-done contrast to Trump only accentuates that. Hogan’s stock is as high as it will get, and at 62, he’s not a guy who’s likely to see a better moment return a decade or two later.

In a national election, however, Hogan’s status as a pragmatic, tax-cutting, infrastructure-building moderate would matter less than his moderate-to-liberal stances on abortion, the morning-after pill and Planned Parenthood funding, immigration, guns, and other social-issue hot buttons. In either a crowded field or a two-horse race without an incumbent, those positions would normally relegate Hogan to collecting the scraps of socially liberal voters at the margins of the Republican primary electorate. In a head-to-head race against Trump, Hogan would probably stand to gain some additional votes from socially conservative voters casting protest ballots, but it’s hard to see how that gets him anywhere near the critical mass needed to topple an incumbent. As I’ve noted before, “the core of any campaign to oust Trump in 2020 needs to be built around not just the 14.2 percent of primary voters who voted for Kasich in contested primaries and the 1 percent who voted for Jeb Bush, but also the 40.6 percent who voted for Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.” By early 2020, some of those voters may see Trump as either morally unacceptable or politically no longer viable, but that’s an awfully big bloc of voters who chose one of two solidly socially conservative Senators in 2016 and would be asked to back someone quite different this go-round.

Now, it’s possible that Trump could be so badly wounded by then that Hogan – as the only one willing to jump in the race – could grab the nomination by default. He’d stand a better chance of doing so than a 2016 retread like John Kasich or a 2018 failure like Jeff Flake. But if Trump actually ends up in such bad shape by then, Hogan could instead wind up as the Eugene McCarthy of the race, proving the incumbent’s vulnerability only to attract more viable challengers into the race. In other words, the very Trump weakness that would be essential to Hogan having a chance to win would also increase the odds that someone else would beat him to the finish line.

That brings us to the second question: the message. There’s a strong case that someone needs to bring an alternative to Trump to Republican primary voters, and remind them that a conservative agenda doesn’t need to be encrusted with all of Trump’s many faults – his endless lying and bragging, his crudeness, his chaotic management style, his instinct for racial and gender divisiveness, etc. Hogan may well share the conviction that such a candidacy is a moral imperative and an act of long-term benefit to the party. If he does, he would be well-situated to make those arguments; another candidate could as well, but his position as a successful governor who can’t be attacked for a Washington voting record would give him greater standing to do so than Flake or even Ben Sasse.

There are also serious policy arguments to be had within the Republican coalition about foreign policy, trade, and immigration. It’s less obvious, at this juncture, that Hogan has as much to say on those fronts, and his social-issue record would make it easier for Trump to hit him back as being out of the policy mainstream of the party, shifting the terrain of a primary challenge away from Trump’s own vulnerabilities.

Third, we come to the question of how this would advance Hogan’s career. Unlike Sasse, he’s not up for re-election in 2020, so he could pursue a primary challenge without quitting his day job, but he’s term limited as Maryland governor in 2022. His only prior political experience was as a state-level Cabinet official and an unsuccessful House candidate (his 10-point loss in 1992 was the closest anybody’s ever gotten to unseating Steny Hoyer). Maybe Hogan sees his next move as a lobbyist or a “Strange New Respect” GOP-bashing cable commentator like Kasich, but other than the presidency his most logical next steps up would be a Cabinet post in a Republican Administration or a Senate bid.

A Cabinet job is not that big a step up from being a governor unless it’s one of the big jobs, and by 2022 even a re-elected Trump Administration would have only two years to go and a near-certainty of being replaced by an incoming Democrat, after which Hogan would be in his 70s. There’s no Senate race in Maryland in 2020, but what about after that? Chris Van Hollen is up in 2022, at which point Hogan would be ready to leave office, and if Trump loses re-election, a 2022 midterm race could again be favorable for a strong Republican candidate. In 2024, Ben Cardin is up, and he’ll be 81 by then. Either race could be appealing to Hogan.

How would a primary challenge affect that? In the short run, Hogan would be seen by a lot of Trump loyalists and party-establishment Republicans as a traitor to the Administration, and that would be a bad start to a Senate bid if it was in 2020. A Trump general election loss would lead some diehards to blame Hogan, while a Trump victory would leave a vindictive Trump in the Oval Office.

But by 2022 or 2024, things could look different, especially if Trump loses in 2020. Recruiting a top-shelf Senate candidate in a state like Maryland is hard enough that the party bigwigs would forgive a lot to get Hogan to run, and in a general election, his status as the guy who stood up to Trump could be a huge asset of the type that a Republican needs to make the leap from Governor to Senator. It’s not at all irrational for Hogan to calculate that his best path to higher office from where he stands now is to make a quixotic primary stand against Trump.

Maybe Larry Hogan won’t run for president; probably, if he does, he won’t be the nominee. But the decision before him is about more than just his odds of being the next Republican nominee for president.

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NRI Marketing

Houston, We Have a Promotion

If you live in the area or will be in town this Wednesday (January 23), then do think about attending the terrific NR Institute event featuring NRI fellow Richard Brookhiser discussing his new book, John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court. Rick and his happy audience will be assembling at the St. Regis Houston (1919 Briar Oaks Lane). The shebang kicks off with a reception starting at 5:30 p.m., followed by the program — in which Rick will trace John Marshall’s career through landmark decisions and explain how he transformed the Supreme Court into a central pillar of American life. Then there’s a book signing at 7 p.m.

The cost is $25. Of course, if you are an NRI 1955 Society Member, admission is complimentary (and there is a private dinner afterwards). For more information contact Francisco Gonzalez francisco@nrinstitute.org. You can R.S.V.P. here. But do it now.

Health Care

On the Care of Small Babies

There’s a new line of “Little Snugglers Nano Preemie Diapers” for babies born extremely early. Huggies released it last year, but I read about it only today. The diapers are for the 1.4 percent of infants who are born weighing less than two pounds. As Rebecca Shapiro explains in HuffPost, “The company sought the expertise of nurses working in Neonatal Intensive Care Units and neonatal therapists to create a product that promotes growth while protecting premature babies’ fragile skin.”

Why make a diaper like this? Because babies are precious, whatever their size. Said one Huggies executive, “We’re passionate about helping all babies thrive, especially the smallest and most fragile.”

It’s for babies like Austin James, born at 25 weeks, 1 pound 14 ounces. Because babies deserve care and protection, whatever their stage of development.

American medicine is continuing to make advances in the treatment of “micro preemies.” Babies who would once have been written off are now saved. Because a civilized country will make heroic efforts to protect lives.

Godspeed, marchers.

Elections

The Upshot on Sanders, Warren, Harris, and Biden

Potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, Mass.) speaks at an Organizing Event in Manchester, N.H., January 12, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

A couple readers have asked what’s the upshot or conclusion from those long lists of things you should know about Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Joe Biden.

It’s a free country! Draw your own conclusions! That having been said . . .

Bernie Sanders is exactly what he appears to be — a very old radical with dreams of large-scale political revolution. For a long time, he was nearly as hostile to the Democratic party for being timid as he was to the Republicans, and he made a lot of enemies among Democratic officials. He’s hard-Left but old-school Left, and not quite in rhythm with the more identity-politics-focused younger progressives of today. He’s got bold plans for sweeping changes to the entire United States economy that would require a huge political mandate that he’s not likely to ever win.

Like many second-time candidates, Sanders appears to be pursuing a strategy of offering pretty much the same thing for a second time and hoping that the voters conclude that they made a terrible mistake by passing on him the first time. He may be in for a rude awakening. Sure, Sanders was the surprise of 2016, but maybe that just reflected that a lot of Democrats were looking for a non-Hillary option, and Sanders was just better than chumps like Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chafee.

Elizabeth Warren could have been a much more broadly popular populist figure in American politics if she had taken just a few different turns along the way. There was a time when she and Lou Dobbs were largely aligned, denouncing greedy companies and insider politicians for taking advantage of the middle class through predatory, fraudulent, and generally unethical behavior. She offered some mild criticism for feminists and school choice opponents. She barely hid her hostility to high-ranking Democrats with deep connections to Wall Street. But as Warren rose through the ranks of the party, her deviations from orthodoxy grew rarer.

Warren became more like the rest of the Democrats, and the rest of the Democrats became more like Warren in a broad-spectrum hostility to the financial industry and business as a whole. The result is that she doesn’t stand out as much as she used to — she’s still pretty populist, a trade skeptic, an Occupy Wall Street philosophy in the schoolmarm-ish law professor package. The comparisons to Hillary Clinton are wildly off the mark. In her wonkiness, stiffness, and gobs of (disputed) research in a once-obscure policy topic that suddenly became hot, she’s much more like . . .  Al Gore.

Kamala Harris is, by most measures, the Democratic party’s dream “progressive prosecutor.” But that second word means her record’s are a little more pro-law-enforcement than ideal for the post-Ferguson era. Your average progressive activist or Democratic primary voter probably isn’t a big fan of civil asset forfeiture, criminal prosecutions for parents of truant children, or perhaps the police going through ancestry databases looking for familial DNA matches. In a Democratic primary, she’ll get grief for choosing not to prosecute Steven Mnuchin and his bank. And she’s going to try to simultaneously campaign on a “tough prosecutor” image and de facto amnesty positions, insisting that “an undocumented immigrant is not a criminal.” She’ll be the president who rigorously enforces the laws she likes and ignores the ones she doesn’t like.

Out of the four candidates I’ve written lists about, there’s been by far the most interest in Harris — suggesting to me that even a lot of people who follow politics feel like they don’t really know that much about her yet. Her public image is still being shaped right now — which is a great opportunity for her, and a window of opportunity for any of her rivals.

Joe Biden may very well end up being the most “centrist”/least-leftist/old-fashioned/least-radical Democratic option in the field. This is not because he’s particularly centrist or often defies the will of his party, but he’s been around long enough that he’s got the voting record and residual attitudes from a time when Democrats supported the death penalty, stiffer penalties for drug possession, some abortion restrictions, government surveillance, and so on. He’s open about his Catholic faith and uses language that is far from politically correct. He’s also not on board with some current trendy progressive ideas like universal basic income.

In a general election, those aspects of Biden would represent a real danger for Trump. But first Biden’s got to get there, and his whole persona and worldview will be tough to sell when the Democratic party’s grassroots are feeling angry and leftist and radical. It’s also a really open question as to how the party’s primary voters feel about Biden’s inherent . . .  Joe Biden-ness, for lack of a better term. Biden got a lot of forgiveness for his gaffes from being Obama’s vice president, and today’s average online progressive is primed to go ballistic over statements that sound racist, sexist, or generally insensitive.

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