The Morning Jolt

White House

How Responsible Is Trump for the Bad Advice He’s Getting?

President Donald Trump talks to reporters in Washington, D.C., January 9, 2019. (Jim Young/REUTERS)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Chris Christie rips the White House staff advising Trump, but leaves open the question of where the buck stops; Senator Kirsten Gillibrand throws her hat into the ring and gets thunderous applause for slogans worthy of a Hallmark card; Beto O’Rourke hints he’s not sure the U.S. Constitution still works; and a few quick notes about writing profiles of presidential candidates.

Christie: Trump’s Surrounded by Amateurs, Grifters, Weaklings, and Felons

Over at Axios, they have a preview of Chris Christie’s new book, where the former governor of New Jersey declares that President Trump is surrounded by a “revolving door of deeply flawed individuals — amateurs, grifters, weaklings, convicted and unconvicted felons — who were hustled into jobs they were never suited for, sometimes seemingly without so much as a background check via Google or Wikipedia.”

Assume this is true. (How many would dispute it?) At what point is it fair to hold President Trump accountable for this continued set of circumstances? How many times can White House problems be blamed on bad advice from bad staffers with terrible judgement and negligible competence? When does it become safe to conclude that this is a reflection of the guy at the top who hired all of those bad staffers with terrible judgement and negligible competence? When Trump makes a decision that his usual supporters can’t defend, the reflexive conclusion is, “He’s getting bad advice.”

  • Tom Massie lamented that Trump was getting bad advice on how to replace Obamacare.
  • Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana said Trump was “getting some very, very bad advice,” on some lesser-known judicial nominations.
  • Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump was getting bad advice on immigration policy.
  • Anthony Scaramucci said Trump was getting bad advice on the policy separating families at the border.
  • Corey Lewandowski insists Trump is getting bad advice from his political advisors.
  • The Washington Examiner contends that Trump is getting bad advice about trade policy from Peter Navarro.

It’s this endless series of “If only the czar knew.”

We know the score. All of the above folks want to stay in Trump’s good graces, so this is a safe way of criticizing a presidential decision without really criticizing the president. Trump would have made the right decision, if it wasn’t for that darned Iago whispering in his ear.

If a leader consistently has trouble sorting out good advice from bad advice, he’s not that good of a leader!

Oh, Hey, Look, Another Democratic Presidential Candidate

New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced that she’s running for president on Stephen Colbert’s late-night program. I may not get around to writing a “Things You Didn’t Know” piece on Gillibrand, because in late 2017 I dissected a glowing profile of Gillibrand in Vogue that contended that she was an economic centrist, an iconoclast, and a campaigning powerhouse with cross-party appeal. You will probably not be surprised to learn that there’s little evidence that she’s any of those things.

That article, among others, gushes about Gillibrand’s retail-campaigning skills and charisma. Your mileage may vary; you can watch her appearance on Colbert here. The audience gives her wild applause for some really anodyne pledges: “As a young mom, I will fight for other people’s kids as hard as I fight for my own.” “Health care can be a right, not a privilege.” “I believe we should have better public schools for our kids, because it shouldn’t matter what block you grew up on.” (She sent her children to the private Capitol Hill Day School, where the 2018 tuition for a sixth-grader was $32,100.)

Beto O’Rourke’s Second Thoughts about the Constitution

Our Kyle Smith notices a rather stunning comment from Beto O’Rourke in the last two paragraphs of an otherwise long and uninteresting interview/profile in the Washington Post:

Johnson doesn’t record her question but it was something about how O’Rourke is torn between a “bright-eyed hope that the United States will soon dramatically change its approach to a whole host of issues” — not a partial host! — “and a dismal suspicion that the country is now incapable of implementing sweeping change.” Sounds like a totally neutral framing of where matters stand.

O’Rourke blathers on. It takes a moment for it to sink in that he isn’t sure the Constitution still works. “I’m hesitant to answer it because I really feel like it deserves its due, and I don’t want to give you a — actually, just selfishly, I don’t want a sound bite of it reported, but, yeah, I think that’s the question of the moment: Does this still work? Can an empire like ours with military presence in over 170 countries around the globe, with trading relationships…and security arrangements in every continent, can it still be managed by the same principles that were set down 230-plus years ago?” (Emphasis mine.)

The Constitution was ratified 231 years ago. There’s not much doubt what he’s referring to. Beto O’Rourke’s take on the Constitution is, “Does this still work?”

What principles in the Constitution does O’Rourke think no longer work? There’s popular sovereignty, a limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances, judicial review, republicanism — meaning the use of elected representatives, not the party — federalism, as well as unenumerated rights (the notion that if a right isn’t mentioned in the Constitution, the government doesn’t automatically have the power to restrict it, like the right to privacy) . . .

My suspicion is that O’Rourke is feeling a variety of Thomas Friedman’s “China for a day” fantasy, where for the greater good, his preferred policies could be rammed through and enacted into law without concern for popular support, the level of opposition, the rule of law, or the consent of the governed. “What if we could just be China for a day? I mean, just, just, just one day. You know, I mean, where we could actually, you know, authorize the right solutions, and I do think there is a sense of that, on, on everything from the economy to environment.” What Friedman and other adherents hand-wave away is that no ruler ever adopts that approach for just one day.

A Quick Note about Campaign Profiles

If you’re wondering why I’m using the “[Insert Number here] Things You Didn’t Know About [Insert Candidate Here]” format these days, it’s because I contemplated writing traditional long-form profiles of these candidates and decided I didn’t want to re-hash all the stuff that usually has to be in pieces like those. You already know about Bernie Sanders and the 2016 campaign and how the DNC was trying to help Hillary Clinton the whole time. You already know about Elizabeth Warren and her claims to Native American heritage. The best part of these long-form profiles of a political figure is all of the “Hey, I didn’t know that” details. (See here, here and here.)

These lists are a way to cut straight to the good stuff.

When you’re right-of-center and you write about Democratic presidential candidates, a lot of cynics think you must be getting “opposition research” from rival campaigns or committees. So far, I haven’t talked to a single official of either party or any campaign consultant for these pieces; everything I’ve written about was found by going through old books, interviews, newspaper archives, and other sources, almost all of which I link to in the pieces. None of these are “oppo dumps” arranged by any sinister cabals. The claim that a list of a candidate’s past statements, positions, decisions, votes and scandals is a smear is, itself, a smear.

I’m a right-of-center guy and these are left-of-center candidates, so to me, they’re all pretty bad. But I can still find aspects of them intriguing or appealing. Bernie Sanders is sort of hilariously authentic; we can tell there’s no artifice to the man because no one would try to look that disheveled and always speak a little too loud, with Howard Beale bulging-eyes intensity. I think it’s fascinating how Elizabeth Warren was, for a short time, a much-less partisan figure dabbling in household financial advice on the Dr. Phil program. As for Kamala Harris, I’m much less interested in Willie Brown’s marital problems and much more interested in his appointment of Harris to well-paying jobs on state boards during their relationship.

ADDENDUM:My donor is not walking away.” Billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, discussing the possibility of a self-funded presidential campaign.

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