The Morning Jolt

White House

Trump’s Michael Cohen Problem

President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen exits Federal Court after entering a guilty plea in Manhattan, N.Y., November 29, 2018. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters )

Making the click-through worthwhile: President Trump continues to believe he’s a great judge of character, no matter what troubles come his way; the GOP looks at turnout efforts for 2020; Rahm Emanuel surprises everyone by slamming Beto O’Rourke; and there’s another book to add to your holiday shopping list.

This is the last Jim-written Morning Jolt for a week. I’ll be on the National Review cruise next week, so I’ll see a few of you in person in a day or so! For others, traditionally, the off-year cruises are to further afield destinations such as Alaska or Norway, so if you’ve been thinking about a cruise vacation . . . 2019 is coming!

Why Would You Keep a Weak, Not Very Smart Lawyer for Twelve Years in Exchange for a Favor?

President Trump, before getting on to Marine One yesterday:

THE PRESIDENT: Go back and look at the paper that Michael Cohen wrote before he testified in the House and/or Senate. It talked about his position. What he’s trying to do — because he’s a weak person and not a very smart person. What he’s trying to do is end — and it’s very simple. He’s got himself a big prison sentence, and he’s trying to get a much lesser prison sentence by making up a story…

Q: If Cohen is such a bum, why did you hire him, have him on your payroll for 12 years, and have him do so much of your dirty work like paying off (inaudible)?

THE PRESIDENT: Because, a long time ago, he did me a favor. A long time ago, he did me a favor.

That’s a pretty implausible explanation. You don’t keep someone as your personal lawyer for twelve years as a favor if you think he’s a weak person and not a very smart person.

No doubt Trump thinks he’s a good judge of character and ability. Trump told the Washington Post during an interview on Tuesday, “I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody’s brain can ever tell me.” No matter how many times his decision of who to trust blows up in his face — Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, Omarosa Manigault, Steve Bannon, Rex Tillerson — Trump remains absolutely convinced his gut feelings can accurately determine who is trustworthy and loyal and helpful and who isn’t.

This is a spectacularly dangerous combination — a terrible judge of character who is absolutely convinced that he’s a spectacular judge of character. He demands absolute loyalty, gives little to none in return, and then is surprised when his underlings turn out to be way less loyal than he expected, over and over again. Trump is easily flattered, attracts and prefers obsequious brown-nosers, and recoils from just about any criticism, no matter how constructive or necessary it might be.

Trump goes through lawyers quickly; the relationship becomes unworkable as the president refuses to heed legal advice. Trump lawyers seem to feel as if they’re more dedicated to keeping the president out of legal trouble than he is — and that he’s not fully honest with them, leaving little confidence that the president would be honest under oath.

Trump likes who he is and doesn’t see any need to change. It wouldn’t take much for Trump to become a much more effective president. He would have to not lash out at every criticism he saw on cable news. He would have to at least feign interest in listening to the people he wants to persuade. The guy who prides himself on authoring The Art of the Deal would have to stop blowing up every working relationship in Washington over every perceived slight, insult, or disrespect. The policy agendas of, say, Senator Ben Sasse and Trump don’t differ that much, particularly in the areas of strengthening the military, standing up to China, reducing regulations, and pushing back against censorious political correctness. But Trump usually wants to vanquish critics, not cajole them and win them over. (Every once in a while, Trump manages to do this, such as with the renegotiated NAFTA treaty, now called the “United States-Mexico-Canada agreement.” (Some free traders aren’t thrilled with the final result, but as Iain Murray concludes, “Overall, the deal will ensure that the continental commerce on which industries and consumers across North America rely will continue uninterrupted — and that is worth celebrating.”)

Can Bigger Get-Out-the-Vote Efforts Help Save Republicans in 2020?

It’s good to know that Republican governors are not whistling past the graveyard:

Over the course of the week, eight Republican governors from across the country held a series of closed-door “murder board” sessions with senior party officials vying to become the RGA’s executive director for the next campaign. Governors pressed the applicants on how 2020 hopefuls should run with Trump at the top of the ticket. And they peppered them with questions on a burning topic: How to address the party’s plummeting support from highly-educated and suburban female voters.

“Certainly as we’re talking to the candidates, that’s one of things we’re talking to them about,” said Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, the RGA’s incoming chairman.

On Wednesday, Paul Bennecke, a veteran GOP strategist and the organization’s outgoing executive director, delivered a presentation to top donors in which he outlined a series of steps the party needs to take to prepare for 2020. He argued that Republicans couldn’t cede the fight to register voters and warned that Democratic groups were spending big to increase their numbers.

The irony is that the GOP turnout effort in 2018 didn’t break down or fall asleep this year. In 2014, 40 million Americans voted for House GOP candidates. This year, 50.6 million Americans voted for Republican House candidates — almost 11 million more! The problem for the Republicans is that the number of Americans who voted for Democrats jumped from 35.6 million in 2014 to 60.1 million — an astonishing leap.

What’s Got Rahm Emanuel Snickering about Beto O’Rourke This Early?

Wow. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Chicago mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had a favorite in the still-taking-shape 2020 race for the Democratic presidential nomination, but it is surprising to see Emanuel slamming a particular figure this publicly and this early.

“If Beto O’Rourke wants to go and run for president, God bless him, he should put his hat in and make his case. But, he lost. You don’t usually promote a loser to the top of party,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday on MSNBC, becoming the highest-profile Democrat yet to air doubts about the excitement swirling around El Paso congressman.

Right, right. Democrats would never nominate a man who lost a bid for Congress in 2000, or a governor’s race in 1980, or a governor’s race in 1966, or an unsuccessful presidential bid in 1960. (That’s Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Lyndon Johnson, for those who don’t want to click through.)

Is Rahm Emanuel secretly pulling for Joe Biden or some other candidate thought of as “the Obama team’s pick”? Deval Patrick? Eric Holder? Julian Castro?

In 2006, Emanuel, the then-DCCC chairman, helped recruit what Democrats thought would be a long-lasting all-star team of new House members. But the 2010 and 2014 GOP waves wiped out that class; almost none of them are still active in politics, never mind still in Congress: Chris Carney, Ron Klein, Brad Ellsworth, Bruce Braley, Paul Hodes, Heath Shuler, Mike Arcuri, Zack Space, Jason Altmire, Joe Sestak, Ciro Rodriguez, Steve Kagen. This year brought the career of Joe Donnelly to a screeching halt.

Going through the list of 2006 Democratic House recruits, I did encounter one name from back then who’s in the 2020 presidential discussion: New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand.

ADDENDA: It is never fun when friends fight, and I wished we lived in a world where my friend Kurt Schlichter and my distinguished colleagues never crossed swords. It will not surprise you that I think “cruise ship conservatives” are just fine, and the notion that they’re some sort of insidious full-spectrum foe to this administration requires ignoring the existence of figures such as Kevin Hassett and John Bolton.

Anyway, Kurt just completed another novel in his series about a not-too-distant future where the red states and blue states have formalized “the Split” and become separate countries — the old United States of America and the new “People’s Republic of North America.” In Wildfire, Kurt does what I’ve wanted to see from the first book in this series, which is give us a sense of how the rest of the world would respond to the United States dividing into two countries and becoming much less responsive to crises around the globe.

The answers may surprise you. Mexico is relatively thriving, but it has an immigration problem . . . and is building a wall to keep out everyone who’s crossing over from California. Russia’s less restrained than ever. Central Europe is facing severe problems, although some countries are adapting to a more dangerous world better than others. Every couple of pages there’s some hilarious twist of how today’s controversies played out within a few decades, walking the line between genuine dystopian nightmare and hilarious social satire. (The reevaluation of the legacy of J. Edgar Hoover alone is worth the price.) Kurt’s portrait of the blue-state PRNA is much more nuanced in this book — it’s actually competent at some tasks of government, or at least preserving its own power, and it’s not a monolithic evil empire — it has factions and rivalries on par with Game of Thrones. Wildfire has a much more diverse palette and variety of tones, beyond the Tom Clancy–esque thriller and 1984 notes struck before — weaving a tale that evokes zombie movies, buddy-cop movies, Mad Max, and the Prayers for the Assassin series from Robert Ferrigno.

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