The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Flake’s Criticism of Trump Isn’t Good Enough for The New York Times

Welcome to August. This time of year is known for vacations, preseason football, and, every once in a while, some terrible foreign policy crisis: the start of World War I, the Berlin Wall Crisis, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the coup against Gorbachev, and the Ghouta chemical weapons attack. Here’s hoping the month is quiet.

The New York Times, Gleefully Trashing Trump’s Critics on the Right

The New York Times reviews a new book from Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona that rips Trump, and offers an incoherent criticism along the way:

But Flake has also cast most of his votes in favor of Trump’s policies. Just last week, he voted for the bill to repeal Obamacare without replacing it, and then he voted for the hastily assembled “skinny repeal.”

On that point, he seems to be at odds with his book, in which he specifically cautions Republicans against engineering a sloppy repeal of Obamacare behind closed doors. “Legislation executed without hearings and written by only one side is always a bad idea, regardless of who does it,” he writes.

The primary intellectual failing of “Conscience of a Conservative” is that it doesn’t untangle the dysfunction in Washington from the dysfunction of his own party. Republicans haven’t just embraced Trump’s nativism and politics of resentment because it’s politically expedient. Many Republicans have peddled anti-immigrant sentiment for years, and a return to Goldwater’s principles probably wouldn’t remedy that; the rejection of free trade agreements also has complex roots.

But Flake doesn’t like Obamacare and the current rickety pileup of broken promises that make up our health insurance system. Why does it undermine his criticism of Trump to vote to get rid of the status quo? And don’t think we didn’t notice that casual use of “anti-immigrant sentiment” to label opposition to illegal immigration, Times editors.

Another New York Times critic trashed Senator Ben Sasse’s book earlier this year, on similar grounds, sneering that he had nothing to say about America’s systemic oppression of groups and “It must be nice to be Ben Sasse, in a position to pick and choose the hardships one will adopt in order to learn some life lessons — and to feel morally superior for having triumphed over phony adversity.”

The lesson here is no conservative critic of Trump should look for useful support from any major institution on the Left. The general perspective of the Times, or at least their literary critics, is that all human virtue is found on the political Left, and adherence to conservative views is a reflection of greed, bigotry, selfishness, small-mindedness, and repression. A free-market, Russia-hawk, traditional-values conservative criticism of Trump scrambles their sense of right and wrong. This is why liberal critics of Trump rarely spend much time dwelling on his past agreement with them on abortion, his current support for affirmative action, his hiring of immigrant workers at his resorts, his long history of donating to Democrats . . . 

Arrivederci, Scaramucci

Removing Anthony Scaramucci from the White House staff was like ripping off a Band-Aid. You can do it fast, or you can do it slowly, but it is going to hurt either way. Many will conclude that because the pain is the same, it’s better to get it done quickly.

Scaramucci was just about the last person any president or administration would want in a role like White House communications director. Recall that what started much of this brouhaha was Ryan Lizza’s report that Scaramucci had dined in the White House with the president, First Lady, Sean Hannity, and the former Fox News executive Bill Shine.

Interesting, but hardly a state secret. But as Jonah noted, Scaramucci treated it like a leak of the nuclear launch codes. “You’re an American citizen,” he told Lizza. “This is a major catastrophe for the American country. So, I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it.” I can hear the scoffing about the futility of appealing to the patriotism of a journalist, but the relevant question here is what is at stake. There are plenty of reporters who will withhold particular information if the government makes a compelling case that publishing it will put lives at risk. Reporters who cover the intelligence agencies withhold information fairly regularly. But it’s just about impossible to argue that the leaking of the Trump-Scaramucci-Hannity dinner represented a threat to American national security. That sort of leak is an annoyance to the White House, not a reason to move to DEFCON 1.

When Lizza wouldn’t name his source, that’s when Scaramucci launched his obscene tirade against the rest of the White House staff, either not remembering that he was still speaking on the record to a reporter for The New Yorker or not caring.

Anyone whose judgment is that spectacularly bad from the get-go is unlikely to climb the learning curve fast enough to meet the administration’s needs. On Friday, I noted that Scaramucci’s defenders argued he was performing for an audience of one, the president. But the problem with that approach is that everyone else can see that performance, and many others were appalled — including, it seems, new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

If you feel like one of the biggest threats to this administration is the president’s own impulsive decision-making, and failure to recognize the long-term consequences of his actions — like, say, firing the FBI director, or trashing his own cabinet members in public — anecdotes like this one are reassuring:

Raised voices could be heard through the thick door to the Oval Office as John Kelly — then secretary of Homeland Security — offered some tough talk to President Donald Trump.

Kelly, a whip-cracking retired general who was sworn in as White House chief of staff on Monday, had demanded to speak to the president alone after Trump complained loudly that the U.S. was admitting travelers from countries he viewed as high risk.

Kelly first tried to explain to Trump that the admissions were standard — some people had legitimate reasons to visit the country — but the president insisted that it was making him look bad, according to an administration official familiar with the exchange about a month ago.

Kelly then demanded that other advisers leave the room so he could speak to the president frankly. Trump refused at first, but agreed when Kelly insisted.

It was an early indication that Kelly, a decorated retired Marine general who served three tours in Iraq, is not afraid to stand up to his commander-in-chief.

You know what’s really great about that anecdote? That Kelly didn’t want anyone else seeing him disagreeing so strongly with the president. Judging from this, when Kelly thinks the president is making a mistake, he’s going to make his views exceptionally clear, but not in a way that undermines the president or implies insufficient respect for the office. Considering how temperamental Trump can be, and the fact that this blunt exchange didn’t lead to Kelly’s dismissal, we should also recognize that perhaps the president is more willing to listen to strong disagreement than his reputation suggests.

Baltimore Ravens: Hey, Fans, Should We Sign Colin Kaepernick?

The Baltimore Ravens are contemplating signing social justice activist/quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and they’re doing something rather unusual. Rather than hiding from the controversy, they’re acknowledging it and inviting their fans to weigh in.

“I hope we do what is best for the team and balance that with what is best for our fans,” Bisciotti said in response to a question from a fan about how signing Kaepernick could ‘damage your brand.’ “Your opinions matter to us . . .  We’re very sensitive to it, and we’re monitoring it, and we’re trying to figure out what’s the right tact. So pray for us.”

The Ravens have been inundated with phone calls at their Owings Mills headquarters since Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters following the team’s first full-squad workout on Thursday that the team was considering signing Kaepernick to help a currently shaky quarterback situation.

I have no idea if the movie Concussion is any good, but it featured a good line in the trailers when a lawyer warns, “A corporation that has 20 million people on a weekly basis craving their product, the same way they crave food. The NFL owns a day of the week, the same day the Church used to own. Now it’s theirs.”

And yet . . .  Colin Kaepernick managed to get a small but noticeable percentage of NFL fans to turn off their televisions — as did players who get in trouble off the field for domestic violence. (Former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice might be the highest-profile example of that infamous figure.)

The NFL enjoys the largest fan base in the country — one that is significantly older and more conservative than, say, the fan base of the NBA. To hear some commentators tell it, the NFL and its players have some sort of duty to change the minds or alter the perspectives of the fans. But the fans don’t become fans because they want to tune in to Monday Night Consciousness-Raising.

ADDENDA: Congressman Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican, is calling for Robert Mueller to resign:

Bob Mueller is in clear violation of federal code and must resign to maintain the integrity of the investigation into alleged Russian ties. Those who worked under them have attested he and Jim Comey possess a close friendship, and they have delivered on-the-record statements effusing praise of one another.

No one knows Mr. Mueller’s true intentions, but neither can anyone dispute that he now clearly appears to be a partisan arbiter of justice. Accordingly, the law is also explicitly clear: he must step down based on this conflict of interest.

Already, this investigation has become suspect – reports have revealed at least four members of Mueller’s team on the Russia probe donated to support Hillary Clinton for President, as President Trump pointed out. These obviously deliberate partisan hirings do not help convey impartiality.”

Until Mueller resigns, he will be in clear violation of the law, a reality that fundamentally undermines his role as Special Counsel and attending ability to execute the law.

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