National Security & Defense

In Defense of the Long Twilight Struggle

I am on record that I think the “take Trump seriously but not literally” cliché to be deeply problematic. It was a good analytical and political shorthand during the election. Analytically, it was true that many voters didn’t take his rhetorical bombast literally, but they did take it seriously as a sign of his commitment to certain issues and a willingness to defy “politically correct” norms. Politically, it was helpful — to Republicans — because it exonerated them from the charge of literally agreeing with everything Trump did or said. But this has now morphed into a silly form of goalpost-moving that should not be tolerated in a president.

For instance, Trump has a well-known tendency to claim or insinuate that the things he’s done are historically unprecedented. Last week, he said he had better poll numbers among Republicans than Lincoln, which calls to mind Lincoln’s famous line, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” One of Trump’s favorite tics is to claim that X is “the worst ever” or “the best ever” in American history. He says, for example, that our economy is “the best ever” (it’s not). During the campaign he said, “Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before — ever, ever, ever.”

That was absurd, but it was campaign season so “take him seriously, not literally,” etc, etc.

But today, the commander in chief said, “There’s been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia.”

This simply isn’t true, and from what I’ve seen, no one seems bothered by it.

It is true that, in many respects, the Trump administration has been tougher than Obama was. But Woodrow Wilson sent some 13,000 expeditionary troops into Russia to help beat the Bolsheviks. He also refused to recognize the Soviet Union, as did his successors Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover.

During the Cold War, we fought Russian proxies and supported forces fighting Soviet-backed regimes and the Soviets themselves in places such as Afghanistan. Kennedy ordered a massive military build-up in response to the Berlin Wall. He blockaded Cuba, a Soviet vassal, and took America to the brink of nuclear war.

Ronald Reagan ordered an arms build-up, including the SDI program, that helped bankrupt “the Evil Empire” — to use Reagan’s phrase.

This, of course, leaves out literally thousands of operations, large and small, public and clandestine, economic and military, conducted to hamper, harass, and undermine the Soviet Union during the “long twilight struggle” of the Cold War. That effort, long the glue that held together the conservative coalition and the Western alliance, was once a source of great pride on the right. It seems worth a blog post in its defense.

White House

Is That What He Said?

Maybe Trump did say “No” when asked if he thought Russian hackers are still targeting America. Maybe he would say “No” if asked again. But I just don’t think this video supports the claim enough to justify all of the breathless reporting.

It seems to me he’s basically saying “No” to answering questions.


The Times Strains to Credit France’s World Cup Victory to Immigration

France’s win over Croatia in the World Cup vindicates an open-borders policy towards Third World migrants, according to the New York Times:

At a moment when Europe is strained by hostility toward dark-skinned migrants, the winning French soccer team’s nexus of African-origin stars is seen as an implicit rebuke to countries that have historically been less open to immigration.

“Croatia, the team that France defeated in the final, all of whose members are white, represented a country that has “forced back asylum seekers and migrants,” Human Rights Watch said on its website.

This is a desperate argument. Croatia beat Nigeria 2–0 on June 16. Did that win vindicate a Croatia-first immigration policy? In the 1998 World Cup, Croatia beat Jamaica 3–1; in the 2014 World Cup, Croatia beat Cameroon 4–0. Score more political wins, apparently, for national borders.

A soccer team is not a country, despite tribal team identification. The 15 meritocratically selected African-origin players on France’s soccer team are hardly stand-ins for the millions of African and Middle Eastern immigrants who form a vast, unassimilated underclass on the outskirts of European cities. A win at the World Cup has nothing to do with the reality of mass, unfiltered Third World immigration, and it shows the travails of the open-borders crowd, in the face of the rising rejection of their philosophy, that they need to make it.

National Review

National Review Seeks Web Managing Editor

National Review is seeking a Web managing editor to join its New York office. The managing editor will work closely with the editor to oversee the day-to-day operations of the website’s editorial activities; commission and edit online features from freelancers and staff; assign editing to other editors on staff; supervise junior editorial staff; oversee the daily publication schedule and copy flow; manage payment for contributors; evaluate submissions and pitches; and assist in developing and executing editorial strategy.

The ideal candidate will have:

• excellent writing and editing skills

• experience with digital publishing

• the ability to juggle a wide range of tasks on short deadlines and work well with writers, editors, and Web producers

• management experience and skills

• a strong interest in and understanding of politics and policy

Applicants should send a résumé and cover letter to:

Law & the Courts

Democrats Drive Kavanaugh’s Weak Polling

Several polls have now found lower support for confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court than there was for confirming previous nominees. He is polling a bit worse than Neil Gorsuch did initially, for example.

Pew has a small 41-36 percent plurality for confirmation now, compared to a 44-32 percent split on Gorsuch.

The Morning Consult/Politico poll has a bigger margin, but shows a similar amount of slippage compared to the last nominee. It finds a 40-28 percent split in favor Kavanaugh and had a 43-25 percent plurality for Kavanaugh.

In both cases, the key change seems to be stronger opposition among Democratic voters. In Pew, a 27-point margin against confirming Gorsuch among these voters has become a 47-point margin against Kavanaugh. The Morning Consult/Politico poll found Democrats opposed to Gorsuch by a margin of 21 points and opposed to Kavanaugh by a margin of 33 points.


The University We Need

Professor Warren Treadgold of St. Louis University has just written a superb book on the problems facing our higher-education system entitled, “The University We Need.” In today’s Martin Center article, I review it.

The author, who has been in the academic world for a long time and knows whereof he speaks, says that few insiders are willing to speak truthfully about higher education in America. He is quite willing, and his book lands solid punches on every page.

Among the worst of our problems is the infection of postmodernism, which has spread like a really bad strain of the flu. Treadgold writes that postmodernism “is almost impossible to combat on its own terms because rejecting the possibility of objective truth allows postmodernists to ignore even the most rigorous arguments and conclusive evidence, and their rejection of ‘elitism’ leads them to deny that any idea is better than any other . . . Marxists, feminists, and other ideologues ally themselves with postmodernism because all of them judge arguments not only their merits but on ideological grounds.”

Most of the faculty is poorly trained to teach, Treadgold argues, and they can get away with teaching narrow courses on their particular specialties. Students therefore waste time and loads of money on degrees that betoken little useful learning.

The title refers to the author’s desire to see a new university founded — one to rival the current elites, but without the pernicious overlay of “progressivism,” “diversity,” and other obsessions of the academic Left. If such a university were to be created (and there is abundant wealth in non-leftist hands to do so), the faculty should be paid well to teach sound courses (and yes, choosing them would mean discriminating against the throngs of leftist acolytes), and the students should be selected mainly on the basis of their interviews with admissions officers who would find out if they are truly interested in learning. (Most students, even smart ones, go to college not to learn but to get the degree they assume they need.)

A new, top-notch university? It’s a great idea, and let’s hope one or more wealthy Americans who care about the nation’s future grabs hold of it.

National Review

National Review Seeks Web Producer/Content Manager

National Review is looking for a dynamic, self-motivated individual with experience and skills in web content management, writing and editing for the web, and site management — bonus points if you have experience in managing social accounts for media brands, video editing/ production experience, building photo galleries, or SEO experience. The website content manager will be responsible for web production & content management across all aspects of the organization’s online presence and for maintaining site standards.

We’ll trust you to:

  • Help create and manage production of content in a variety of formats including articles, photo galleries, videos, podcasts, and email
  • Serve as a resource for content expertise – answer internal and external questions on content production, publishing processes and procedures as well as editorial matters
  • Raise, discuss, and resolve content production issues
    Curate content on main landing pages to optimize user experience

You’ll need to have:

  • Experience (1-2 years) in an online publishing or content management role — News and/or Politics background preferred
  • Bachelor’s degree in journalism, communications, marketing, political science, or another digital media field preferred
  • Ability to produce content for a range of platforms: web, mobile, and social
    An analytical mind who is simultaneously scientific and creative in their approach to using data to make content decisions
  • Basic knowledge of HTML (preferred)
  • Flexibility with work hours that will involve time outside the 9-to-5 weekday hours; off-shift work required in urgent news situations
    Intellectual vigor & zeal for politics

Bonus points for:

  • Web Video editing & production, building photo galleries, podcasting
  • Social media posting experience (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Reddit)
  • SEO/ Search Engine Optimization chops
  • Photo Editing Software & Web Analytics

Candidates must reside in the Greater NYC area as the position is based in Midtown Manhattan.

To Be Considered:

Please email cover letter & resume to

Place ‘MB: NR Content Manager 2018’ in the Subject Line

White House

The President’s Do-Over

President Trump discusses the Helsinki summit before a meeting with members of Congress at the White house, July 17, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

In response to Strong Would

I agree with Jonah on all counts: On net, President Trump’s do-over of his Helsinki remarks is a good thing; regrettably, it is not sincere; and while I hope the revised version is the one he sticks to, I don’t have confidence that will be the case — as posited in my column Tuesday on the folly of having the summit in the first place, Trump seems constitutionally incapable of distinguishing what ought to be his undeniable legitimacy as president from the fact (it is a fact) of Russia’s influence operation during the campaign.

Jonah points to Trump’s body language and ad-lib during Tuesday’s walk back. On the honesty meter, I was most dissuaded by the context of “would” in the president’s original remarks. He was making a case for why one should harbor doubts about the intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia meddled. His use of “would” (“I don’t see any reason why it would be Russia”) made perfect sense; his revisionist “wouldn’t” is discordant.

This matters because it guarantees that the story will linger longer.

Let’s say the president had come out and simply said, “I made a mistake. I should have been clear that I accept the conclusion that Russia interfered in the election. The important thing now is to make sure they know there will be a heavy price to pay if they try it again.” It would have been bad — he’d have felt humiliated while his critics crowed. But it would have been right, it would have been over faster, and it would have impressed at least some critics that Trump was playing against type. It would have inspired confidence that his advisers had gotten through to him about the seriousness of the Helsinki lapses.

Now, instead, we will have elongated coverage of why the president’s new version — I had it right all along, I just tripped on a word — is not credible. (In another era, I would have said “we will have days of coverage,” but the news cycles are much shorter these days, and the president is good at quickly superseding the last story with the next story.)

One depressing thing I will never understand: Why Trump is unable to see that conceding an obvious fact — viz., that Putin’s effort was meant to ramp up support for Trump and opposition to Clinton — would neither undermine Trump’s legitimacy as president nor concede that Putin wanted Trump to win.

Forget about what ardent Trump antagonists would say on this score; it is not worth trying to talk them out of their grievances. As a practical matter, Russia’s influence operation was a drop in an ocean of electioneering. It made no more difference than the international Left’s unconcealed enthusiasm for Mrs. Clinton. Trump won mainly because he wasn’t Hillary and partly because he struck chords that played well with salient parts of the electorate. The Russian hacking made no difference. To repeat an argument I made during the campaign, nine out of ten people (at least) in America have no idea who John Podesta is; to buy the Democratic theory, you’d have to believe that the emails of virtually unknown Democratic operatives were critical to voters, but Mrs. Clinton’s own thousands of classified and unaccounted-for emails were of no moment. That’s silly.

Just as important, Putin is a sophisticated, cunning man. He surely does not delude himself into believing he can actually determine the outcome of an American election. If you look at how Putin meddles in Western elections, his pattern is to back losing factions and stoke friction. His goal is to foment discord. He may say he wanted Trump to win — after all, he knows that saying so causes still more controversy. But he didn’t support Trump because he wanted Trump to win; he supported Trump because he was sure Trump would lose.

The idea was to make life as difficult as possible for the fledgling Hillary Clinton presidency. Like other expert observers, Putin did not believe Trump was going to win. His influence operation to divide American society has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams because he has gotten media and Democratic-party help that would never have materialized if Clinton had won, as everyone was so certain she would.

Politics & Policy

Apparently, Only Conservatives Spend Money on Politics

Attendees at the 2013 NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in Houston, Texas. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Alex Griswold notices the bizarre way in which the Treasury’s 501(c)(4) rule change is being reported in the press. Here’s the headline on CNN’s story:

NRA and some other nonprofits will no longer need to identify their donors to the IRS

And here’s the opening to the piece:

Some nonprofit groups will no longer have to give the IRS the names of donors who give them $5,000 or more.

Among the groups that will no longer have to report donors are the National Rifle Association, various chambers of commerce, and groups focused on particular issues, such as Americans for Prosperity, which has been closely associated with the Koch brothers. But the ruling also applies to groups like the NAACP, labor unions and volunteer fire departments.

What’s the “but” doing there? The change applies to every single 501(c)(4) in America. CNN could just as easily — and just as misleadingly — have placed the story under the headline, “NAACP will no longer need to identify their donors to the IRS.” Or it could have mentioned, say, Planned Parenthood. Or SEIU. Or Everytown for Gun Safety. Or the Sierra Club. Or . . .

The New York Times’s story has a similar headline:

I.R.S. Will No Longer Force Kochs and Other Groups to Disclose Donors

The Times notes that “varied” groups will benefit from this change, which is true. But the “varied” groups given as examples are “arms of the AARP, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association and Americans for Prosperity, which is funded partly by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.” Gosh, what a range! They must have been plucked from the air . . .

USA Today‘s story sits under the headline, “Trump administration won’t force NRA, Kochs to disclose donors to IRS,” and starts like this:

The Trump administration will no longer force some tax-exempt organizations, including politically active groups such as the National Rifle Association, to identify their contributors to federal tax officials.

And so it goes. What’s “media bias”? This is.

White House

What Now?

The Helsinki walk back illustrates the problem with always rushing to Trump’s defense no matter what he says or does: Sometimes he leaves you high and dry.

For instance, Sean Hannity interviewed Trump immediately after the press conference, depriving himself of an opportunity to gauge the blowback and hence calibrate his questions for the firestorm. So while Hannity’s opening monologue was calibrated to it, focusing on the media’s overreaction, his actual questions gave no hint that he saw any problem with the president’s comments. The set-up for his first question was, “You were very strong at the end of that press conference.” And then it got friendlier.

There’s nothing in the interview that suggests Trump didn’t mean what he said. What will Hannity say about Trump’s about-face? (Tonight, Tucker Carlson is supposed to air his interview with Trump, also recorded immediately after the presser. It will be interesting to see if there’s anything in it that could remotely support Trump’s new storyline.)

Others spent the day yesterday insisting that there was nothing wrong with what Trump said. Rand Paul said that Trump should be “lauded and not belittled.” Jeanine Pirro went full Pirro, immolating straw men and pointing out that the intelligence agencies got the Iraq War wrong, too. Charlie Kirk went further, insisting that the domestic intelligence community is the real threat to America.

Roger L. Simon denounced the “cowards” at Fox News who criticized Trump (again with the “real men blindly follow their leader” trope) and pondered whether the Helsinki summit mightve been Trump’s “finest hour.”

So what now? Was Trump a coward for agreeing with Newt Gingrich and Brit Hume? Is the new party line that Trump would never cast doubt on the domestic intelligence community? Or did the Deep State get to him?

Economy & Business

Four States Distort a Corner Post

The new tax law includes a cap of $10,000 on the deductibility of state and local taxes. Four states — New York, Connecticut, Maryland, and New Jersey — are suing to undo that cap. (You can check out this news account or the text of the complaint.) These states say that the Constitution requires an uncapped deduction.

They say that by capping the deduction, Congress has attempted to push the states to adopt different fiscal policies than the ones they have — to encourage them to cut their level of spending and taxes. This attempt, they further say, violates their sovereignty as states.

The argument seems to me pretty far-fetched. If it were valid, then wouldn’t every matching grant the federal government provides a state also be unconstitutional? Every such grant attempts to bring about, and has the effect of encouraging, a different set of state fiscal priorities than would exist without the grant.

I am even more confident in rejecting paragraph 107 of the complaint. Here it is in full:

Shortly before the enactment of the 2017 Tax Act, Republican sponsors’ true purpose in imposing the new cap on the SALT deduction became apparent: to coerce a handful of States with relatively high taxpayer-funded public investments — States that are primarily Democratic leaning — to change their tax policies. As one conservative commentator explained, “[t]he fact that these tax increases will fall most heavily on ‘blue’ parts of the country is obviously not an accident.”75 An economist who advised President Trump’s campaign was more explicit about the purpose of changing the SALT deduction: “‘It’s death to Democrats.’”76

I’m the “conservative commentator” mentioned; footnote 75 refers to this Corner post of mine from last November. The post argued against the idea that an earlier version of the tax bill, which repealed the state-and-local deduction altogether, was designed to punish blue states. Here’s the sentence immediately following the one the lawsuit quotes: “Republicans think they need to limit some deductions to make up some of the lost revenue from other parts of tax reform, and doing that in a way that minimizes the pain to their own constituents is bound to appeal to them.” Later, I note that if one assumes that the state-and-local-tax deduction is unjustified, its repeal eliminates a subsidy from red states to blue ones.

I think, and have written elsewhere, that it would be a good thing if the scaling back of the deduction leads state and local governments to retrench. But I certainly don’t think, and have never said, that scaling back the deduction coerces states and should be celebrated for coercing them. And the post quoted in the lawsuit doesn’t come within hailing distance of that sentiment.


Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today (July 17, 2018)

1. The Stream: It’s Becoming Harder to Ignore the Genocide in Nigeria


3. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty appeals a ruling in the ongoing saga involving foster families in Philadelphia.


Continue reading “Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today (July 17, 2018)”

White House

Strong Would

It’s good that Trump walked back his Helsinki remarks.

It’s obvious that he doesn’t mean it. That was pretty clear from his body language. Also, his prepared remarks were forced. But his ad lib was pretty sincere:

“[Eat-your-spinach voice] I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. [/Eat-your-spinach voice]

[Trump voice] Could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all. [/Trump voice]”

He then did his usual riff on the subject.

But there’s another problem. This riff undermines the core of his walk back. Trump says that he meant to say “wouldn’t” instead of “would” in the bolded part below:

My people came to me, Dan Coates, came to me and some others they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia.

I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server but I have, I have confidence in both parties.

Well, in his walk back today, Trump goes out of his way to say that it “could be other people also.” So apparently he’s saying that yesterday he meant to say that he couldn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia and Russia alone who meddled in the election. Today, he’s saying that he can see how it might be lots of other people or countries?

Again, it’s good that Trump is trying to fix the damage, and it’s good that people in the White House (presumably) made him do it (the reporting on that will be fascinating). Still, I expect he’ll fall back into a “you’re damn right I ordered the code red” admission that contradicts this admission sooner rather than later. Though I hope he doesn’t.


Partisan Politics Rears Its Ugly Head in Our Immigration Courts

Ever wonder what goes on in our immigration courts? Well here’s an embarrassing, albeit troubling vignette.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has filed a complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board requesting disciplinary action against federal immigration Judge Carmene “Zsa Zsa” DePaulo for violating the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act prohibits partisan political activities by federal-government employees. Immigration judges are employees of the U.S. Department of Justice.

DePaulo (apparently no relation to the fabulous Hungarian actress, Zsa Zsa Gabor) is an immigration judge in Southern California. OSC says that DePaulo “promoted then-Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s plan for immigration reform during a deportation hearing over which DePaulo was presiding in March 2016.”

According to OSC, the subject of the hearing was facing not only deportation, but also a ten-year ban on reentry into the U.S. DePaulo opined that Clinton intended to change this “pretty harsh thing” (the ban on reentry) provided “the Senate becomes a Democratic body and there’s some hope that they can actually pass immigration legislation.” Republicans, DePaulo told the courtroom, “aren’t going to do anything” about immigration “if they can help it” other than to “try to deport everybody.”

As the OSC’s Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner said, “When a federal immigration judge in a public setting uses her position to advocate for partisan campaign outcomes, that’s a real problem.” Kerner said the judge was in clear violation of the Hatch Act because she was engaging in political activity while on duty and using her official position to influence, interfere with, or affect the result of the election.

DePaulo’s attitude is symptomatic of the problems in our federal immigration-court system. The backlog of immigration cases increased dramatically during the Obama administration due in part to a substantial slowdown in the handling of individual cases by immigration judges. Many of these judges were appointed by President Obama and went to great lengths to delay hearings, granting frequent continuances to avoid finding that aliens in the country illegally were not entitled to remain in the U.S.

How significant was the slowdown? According to the Government Accountability Office, it took around 42 days to complete a removal case in 2006. By 2015, that had increased 700 percent, to 336 days. Immigration judges such as Carmene “Zsa Zsa” DePaulo who don’t want to actually enforce federal immigration law are part of the problem.

OSC notes that a Hatch Act violation can result in demotion, suspension, removal from employment, and debarment. At that 2016 hearing, Judge DePaulo demonstrated that she has neither the impartiality nor the judgment to be an immigration judge. She should not be an employee of the federal government, and she certainly should not be presiding over immigration cases.

White House

Words Matter for Me, but Not for Thee

David French does a good job below explaining why the “watch what Trump does with Russia, not what he says about it” defense is such weak sauce.

I’d just add a couple things. First, the “who cares what he says?” or “that’s just his style!” standard is deployed awfully selectively. Here’s the simplest way to think about it: If Donald Trump had called out Putin, manfully standing up for America and reading the Russian dictator the riot act, the same people saying, “words don’t matter” would be over the moon celebrating Trump’s leadership and strength (indeed, this was the pregame spin of the summit from the usual suspects). So which is it? Do his words only matter when his words work for him?

It’s all a bit like the old Jon Stewart defense. When he said scathing, nasty, vicious, partisan things, Stewart took all the awards and accolades he could get from liberals. When conservatives complained or pushed back, he’d just say, “Hey, I am just a funny man! Don’t take me so seriously.” If Trump’s words matter when you like them, you can’t claim they don’t matter when you don’t like them.

Second, Trump’s words matter beyond the realm of diplomacy and foreign policy. They set the tone for our political discourse, for the arguments people make for him and against him. They motivate and demotivate voting blocs. They affect the morale of people who work in the executive branch. And, more to the point, the words of those who defend his words matter too. Conservatism is being reshaped because of his words, and the words of those who think Trump’s rhetoric is never the “real” problem.

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