The Morning Jolt

White House

Trump’s Words Don’t Mean Much Anymore

Take a moment today to tell someone you appreciate them — you never know when the chance to do it will be taken away from you. National Review lost Mike Potemra a few days ago. For a lot of my pieces over the years, I would turn in eh-okay-I-guess text, and Mike would reorganize it, trim it, polish it, and make it ten times better. He was sending back edits just a few weeks ago — maddening for someone like that to be gone so suddenly, without warning.

A slew of my colleagues are offering remembrances and fuller portraits of the greatly-missed Mike: Rich Lowry, Nat Brown, Kathryn Lopez, Andrew Stuttaford, Jay Nordlinger.

The Consequences of Trump

William Kristol laments, “I don’t want to interrupt conservative cheerleading on judges and deregulation, but is everyone fine with a president of the United States attacking our ‘Criminal Deep State?’ But not to worry. Because today’s ‘conservatives’ have decided ideas or words have no consequences.”

I don’t know if words and ideas have no consequences now. But I do think that the words of this president have . . . fewer consequences than a typical president, and I doubt Kristol would disagree. Trump says a lot of things. Sometimes he means it at the time and later changes his mind — almost like his words come with an expiration date! — and sometimes it’s pretty clear he’s BS-ing everyone; sometimes it’s clear he’s exaggerating with the inflated words of a car salesman — “You have 40 days until the election. You have 40 days to make every dream you ever dreamed for your country come true” — and sometimes it’s obvious he’s just raging and blowing off steam.

Anyone who has watched Trump over the years knows that what he says may or may not reflect what actually happened, and what he says will happen may or may not happen. (The most infamous New York Post headline about him came from his calling up Post editor Jerry Nachman, complaining, and nudging Marla Maples to concur with his own superlative self-assessment of his amorous skills.) His explanation of why he fired FBI director Comey changed several times. He suddenly became a fan of the Chinese telecommunications company ZTE. He announces steel and aluminum tariffs, then exempts the biggest exporters. He tells advisers he wants an immediate pullout of all troops from Syria, then orders new airstrikes in the country. He threatens to veto the omnibus spending bill, then relents and signs it into law.

I’d argue one of his worst moments in the past year was his sudden, on-camera embrace of a slew of Democrats’ gun control ideas, like a new assault-weapons ban, dismissing concealed-carry reciprocity, and “take the guns first and go through due process second.” But gun-control advocates didn’t get their hopes up, and the NRA didn’t really go to DEFCON One. Everyone knew Trump would change his position after someone talked to him and explained the ramifications.

I’d rather not have a president whose words don’t really mean much, but the people chose him, and until he’s defeated for reelection, impeached, or he heads off into retirement, he’s the president. If a having a bad temper and lashing out through furious words was enough to justify impeachment, Lyndon Johnson would have had a short presidency, Richard Nixon would have never served six years in the Oval Office, and Bill Clinton would never have served eight.

When Trump calls those investigating him a “criminal deep state” . . . does Kristol think it changes the mind of anyone who didn’t already feel that way? Was there anyone who thought the investigation of the president and those around him was legitimate until Trump started complaining?

Of course, Trump’s going to accuse anyone investigating him of being a “criminal deep state.” In Trump’s mind, they’ve proven their malevolent intent and moral corruption by the fact of their interest in investigating him. That trait of self-righteousness and instinctive demonizing of those investigating possible crimes isn’t a good trait, but it’s also not all that rare in a politician. Few elected officials warmly praise the men who scrutinize them. Ask Ken Starr. Ask Comey if Democrats welcomed his investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.

And there’s just enough reason to think, if there’s not a “criminal deep state,” then corner-cutting and groupthink were unnervingly pervasive in certain high-level law enforcement circles.

  • Would Attorney General Loretta Lynch have met privately with the spouse of a Republican candidate under investigation, the way she met with Bill Clinton? It’s just about unthinkable.
  • Would Lynch have insisted that the FBI Director not use the term “investigation” when discussing a GOP candidate?
  • In his memoir, Jim Comey describes an unnamed FBI lawyer worrying that mentioning the reopening of the investigation to Congress “may help elect Donald Trump president.” Would that lawyer have expressed the same concern if the parties were reversed?
  • The FBI could have specified more about the Steele dossier in its application to the FISA court and chose not to mention its ties to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC.
  • Just how much faith should the public have in the fairness and good judgment of high-level FBI officials like Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, and Lisa Page?

Trump might have a fair gripe, which is hard to see if you’ve already decided that he’s the devil and the root of all evil in American politics. Trump can be every bit as bad as you think he is and still have been treated unfairly by those at the highest levels of law enforcement and intelligence in 2016. The flaws of one side of our politics don’t wipe away the flaws of the other side.

Finally . . . yes, it would be better to live in an America with a president who had a verbal filter, who had impulse control, and who didn’t relish denouncing anyone who criticized him in the most incendiary manner. But I’m not sure I believe that our character as citizens is so easily shaped by whoever’s sitting in the Oval Office at any given moment. We’ve had moments of great charity and grace with not-so-great men serving as president, and we’ve had worsening social problems and egregious scandals with honorable men serving as commander-in-chief. To blame Trump for the moral climate of the country is to let the general public off the hook for its own decisions and actions.

I see 61 percent of Republicans believe the FBI is framing Trump, and 47 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable feeling towards the FBI.  You think those Americans will stop cooperating with law enforcement or federal investigations?

You Think Georgia Is Itching to Embrace Progressivism?

Meet the Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia: “[Stacey] Abrams owes more than $200,000 in debts, including about $54,000 to the IRS. She has said she’s on payment plan to pay back the debt, and has sought to frame her struggles as evidence she understands the problems that Georgians face.”

I’m sure a lot of Georgians grumble about paying taxes. But how many voters have the problem of . . . not paying $54,000 in taxes?

In an interview, Abrams said, “Managing your finances doesn’t mean you don’t have debt. It means that you never shirk your responsibilities, and you meet your obligations.” (All of the people who are owed money by Abrams may see that as shirking responsibilities and not meeting obligations.)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, “The Democrats largely abandoned centrist talk to appeal instead to left-leaning voters with a promise of implementing gun control, increasing financial aid for lower-income families and taking steps toward the decriminalization of marijuana.”

Georgia Republicans will have a primary runoff election between Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp July 24.

Also yesterday in Georgia, Democrats selected neither Richard Winfield nor Chalis Montgomery but . . . Tabitha Johnson-Green, who raised all of $5,340 as of the end of March. By comparison, Winfield raised $62,658 and Montgomery raised $90,917 through May. What’s all of this talk about money buying elections?

Not All That Much Blue in the Yellow Rose of Texas

Yes, yes, Beto O’Rourke walks on water, he’s Texas Democrats’ great white hope, he’s a fundraising phenom, he’s got the perfect biography . . .

But if this is the year for the big comeback by Texas Democrats, why was their turnout in the runoff election the smallest since 1920? Yes, O’Rourke wasn’t on the ballot, but there was a fairly hard-fought gubernatorial runoff.

ADDENDA: Over in the Washington Post, Alyssa Rosenberg observes that the Obamas’ deal with Netflix means their projects will never really “flop,” no matter how many or how few people watch them: “On Netflix, the Obamas have a layer of protection from that outcome. The streaming service can float any one of a number of metrics to paint the Obamas’ projects as a success, and for all media reporters can question what those figures really mean, it’ll be impossible to render a meaningful judgment to the contrary.”

Almost like the Obamas’ entertainment projects are . . . too big to fail?


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