Enforcement, not separation, is the issue

President Donald Trump climbed down on separating families at the border, but the underlying argument is not going away.

The central question at the border isn’t whether we should separate families — even most hard-liners in the Trump administration would prefer to hold families together — but whether migrants should stay in the United States or not.

Trump’s executive order ending family separation aims to salvage his “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting all illegal border-crossers by holding parents and kids together. The reaction among immigration advocates has gone from outrage about family separations to consternation about family detention, because their ultimate goal is to let the migrants come into the United States and stay.

It will surely be only a matter of weeks until the Nazi analogies made about separating kids from parents will be repurposed to apply to keeping kids and parents together.

This is not to deny that Continue reading “Enforcement, not separation, is the issue”

Why Republicans Should Want Scott Pruitt Out

It’s time to test the proposition whether it’s possible to roll back the Obama regulatory agenda without using government employees as glorified personal assistants.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt long ago acquired the moniker “scandal-plagued” in the press. None of his offenses are criminally corrupt — no one has found cash stuffed in his freezer.

But the corner-cutting and grubbiness are unworthy of a high-level government official, who should be ever mindful that the money and people at his command aren’t truly his. Public service should mean that you serve the public, not that publicly funded resources and personnel serve you.

It was possible to look beyond the initial bout of Pruitt stories. Sure, he had a sweet $50-a-night condo deal from the wife of an energy lobbyist, but maybe he was simply using a convenient arrangement as he first settled into Washington?

Yes, there was the security detail Continue reading “Why Republicans Should Want Scott Pruitt Out”

Trump is not destroying himself

Right now, Donald Trump is in the strongest political position since the initial months of his presidency.

He’s not in robust shape — he’s ticked up into the mid-40s — but the slow upward trend in polls has been evident since March.

Too much shouldn’t be read into the numbers, except for the basic conclusion that Trump hasn’t destroyed himself and isn’t going away. Trump may not even harm the interests of Republicans in the midterms any more than any other sitting president whose party holds Congress.

After 18 months of Trump, the GOP is possibly in position to retain control of both houses. Despite the constant low-level sense of crisis, despite the tweets, despite the Russia investigation, despite the Stormy Daniels scandal, despite the jaw-dropping message indiscipline (e.g., let’s talk about presidential self-pardons, even though there is almost no prospect of the president getting indicted and he Continue reading “Trump is not destroying himself”

Roseanne Barr Tells Us Nothing About America

Valerie Jarrett says that the Roseanne Barr train wreck should be a “teaching moment,” and so it should—about the poisonous kookery of Roseanne Barr.

Given the political freight piled atop the hit revival of her TV program, it was inevitable that Barr’s spectacular Twitter flameout would be interpreted as a portentous statement on President Donald Trump’s America.

Chris Hayes of MSNBC says that her “problem turned out to be that she far too authentically represented the actual worldview of a significant chunk of the Trump base.” Roxane Gay of the New York Times wrote a piece headlined, “‘Roseanne’ Is Gone, but the Culture That Gave Her a Show Isn’t.”

Activist Michaela Angela Davis said on CNN that Trump had enabled Barr—a common theme on the left—and then went all the way: Asked point blank if all Trump voters are racist, she said, “Yes.”

Nothing so perfectly encapsulates Continue reading “Roseanne Barr Tells Us Nothing About America”

Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

The Nobel committee will presumably be disappointed, but President Donald Trump should cancel his planned June 12 summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

The meeting is much more likely to serve Kim’s interests rather than ours and could well begin the unraveling of the pressure campaign that is our most reliable point of leverage against the regime. There is every reason for Kim to want a superficially successful summit in Singapore, and the easiest way to deny him one is to call the whole thing off.

The past week has shown that the North Koreans aren’t to be underestimated—something that is easy to forget because the regime is not just heinous and evil, but ridiculous. Pyongyang managed to wrap the president around the axle on “the Libyan model” and got him to go wobbly on rapid and complete denuclearization with just a few pointed statements.

The Hermit Kingdom Continue reading “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”

The Russia Temptation

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Democrat from Minnesota, uttered a forlorn sentiment at the Center for American Politics conference this week. She said Democrats can’t spend all their time bemoaning President Donald Trump’s existence and that her voters care more about soybean exports than Russian bots.

She’s right, but good luck getting anyone to listen. If Democrats have a disappointing November, their consuming Russian obsession will have something to do with it.

With special counsel Robert Mueller’s net allegedly closing in and the investigation having taken a lurid turn by broadening out to the Stormy Daniels affair, there are now reputable polls showing Trump at 44 percent. This doesn’t mean he’s in hale and hearty condition, but his standing is markedly better than six months ago, raising the question: Why didn’t he think of getting embroiled in a fight with a porn star earlier?

Scandal politics is always very tempting, and Continue reading “The Russia Temptation”

Donald Trump, Man of His Word

The instant analysis on cable TV of President Donald Trump’s decision to dump the Iran deal had a weary resignation to it: He said he would do this.

Indeed, he had. Trump repeatedly promised to pull out of the deal on the campaign trail and had made it a target from the time that Barack Obama first entered into it in 2015.

His exit from the agreement is another instance of the Trump paradox: The president who says more outlandish and untrue things than anyone who has ever occupied the office of the presidency is also extraordinarily determined to deliver on his big promises.

Trump often doesn’t mean what he says, but when he says what he means — watch out. The combined forces of international pressure, polite opinion, outraged New York Times editorials, resistant advisers and sheer inertia aren’t an obstacle.

Many of Trump’s loose promises in the campaign Continue reading “Donald Trump, Man of His Word”

Rod Rosenstein Jumps the Shark

Rod Rosenstein is doing a star turn as principled defender of the law, but he’s performed abysmally as deputy attorney general and President Donald Trump would be fully justified in firing him.

The leaked questions that special counsel Robert Mueller wants to ask Trump in a prospective deposition are, if accurate, a sign that Mueller has spun out of control on Rosenstein’s watch.

The questions suggest a free-floating investigation of the president’s motives, undertaken by a subordinate of the president. This is unlike any special-counsel investigation we’ve ever seen and represents a significant distortion of our system.

Per the questions, Mueller wants to know how Trump reacted to news stories in the Washington Post. What he thought of FBI Director James Comey during the transition. What was the purpose of a statement he made to Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network. What he meant by a various tweets about Comey. Continue reading “Rod Rosenstein Jumps the Shark”

The Last Special Counsel

Donald Trump shouldn’t fire Robert Mueller, but he should be the last special counsel.

The Mueller probe just took a Ken Starr turn with its lurch, via the Southern District of New York, into the Stormy Daniels affair.

After the Starr investigation in 1990s, there was a consensus that we weren’t doing that again, certainly not through the independent-counsel statute, which was allowed to lapse. The law put investigations on a hair trigger and carved out independent counsels, executive branch officials, from control of the chief executive in a constitutionally impermissible way. What resulted were endless politically fraught investigations that often exhibited a zeal disproportionate to the alleged crime.

It’s too early to render a verdict on Mueller’s work, not knowing the underlying facts, but he certainly appears to have become a kind of free-floating legal ombudsman.

In response to Trump’s blustery attacks on Mueller, a bipartisan group of lawmakers Continue reading “The Last Special Counsel”

The Last Special Counsel

Donald Trump shouldn’t fire Robert Mueller, but he should be the last special counsel.

The Mueller probe just took a Ken Starr turn with its lurch, via the Southern District of New York, into the Stormy Daniels affair.

After the Starr investigation in 1990s, there was a consensus that we weren’t doing that again, certainly not through the independent-counsel statute, which was allowed to lapse. The law put investigations on a hair trigger and carved out independent counsels, executive branch officials, from control of the chief executive in a constitutionally impermissible way. What resulted were endless politically fraught investigations that often exhibited a zeal disproportionate to the alleged crime.

It’s too early to render a verdict on Mueller’s work, not knowing the underlying facts, but he certainly appears to have become a kind of free-floating legal ombudsman.

In response to Trump’s blustery attacks on Mueller, a bipartisan group of lawmakers Continue reading “The Last Special Counsel”

Don’t Talk to Mueller

The chief threat to Donald Trump at the moment isn’t that he’ll fire Robert Mueller, but that he’ll cooperate too readily.

The president’s legal team has been roiled and his White House advisers divided by his determination to sit down for a deposition with Mueller’s team of prosecutors. Rarely has someone who is supposed to be feeling the legal net closing in been so eager to run toward the netting.

Trump lawyer John Dowd reportedly quit over the dispute, and he was right. Trump shouldn’t walk into the same room with Mueller. He shouldn’t say “hello” to him. He shouldn’t follow him on Instagram or Twitter. He should treat him as an adversary who, even if he isn’t conducting “the witch hunt” that Trump alleges, would certainly be happy to nail him for the slightest misstatement.

Mueller was supposed to be conducting a counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the Continue reading “Don’t Talk to Mueller”

The Never Trump Delusion

Donald Trump is a dominant presence in our public life, although one that his adversaries have trouble accepting and processing.

The Left is still looking for scapegoats for his 2016 election victory, and the coterie of his critics among writers and activists on the Right—loosely referred to as Never Trump—often sound like they are in denial.

I’m friends with many of these Never Trumpers, admire most of them, and have often been numbered among them.

It’s true—obviously—that Trump has significant downsides. It’d be nice in a he said/she said between a porn star and the president to be able to believe the president. It’d be good if the president weren’t repellent to suburban women and millennials, perhaps doing long-term damage to the GOP. It’d be much better if the president didn’t run his administration like a reality TV show run by a mercurial and cruel executive producer. A cult of Continue reading “The Never Trump Delusion”

Don’t Bork Gina Haspel

President Donald Trump’s pick for CIA director is about to experience a good Borking.

No one doubts her professionalism. President Barack Obama’s CIA director, Leon Panetta, told CNN she’s “a good officer,” “who really knows the CIA inside out.” She has the endorsement of Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, and of Mike Morell, who served as acting director of the CIA twice under Obama.

Haspel’s career at the agency since the 1980s, including extensive work undercover in the field, is getting blotted out by her reported involvement in the CIA’s black-site interrogation program, which has become a warrant to say anything about her.

Her critics assert she should be in jail, instead of running free at the CIA, and The New York Times editorial page wrote about her nomination under the headline, “Having a Torturer Lead the C.I.A.”

Not to be outdone in demagogic Continue reading “Don’t Bork Gina Haspel”

Don’t Bork Gina Haspel

President Donald Trump’s pick for CIA director is about to experience a good Borking.

No one doubts her professionalism. President Barack Obama’s CIA director, Leon Panetta, told CNN she’s “a good officer,” “who really knows the CIA inside out.” She has the endorsement of Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, and of Mike Morell, who served as acting director of the CIA twice under Obama.

Haspel’s career at the agency since the 1980s, including extensive work undercover in the field, is getting blotted out by her reported involvement in the CIA’s black-site interrogation program, which has become a warrant to say anything about her.

Her critics assert she should be in jail, instead of running free at the CIA, and The New York Times editorial page wrote about her nomination under the headline, “Having a Torturer Lead the C.I.A.”

Not to be outdone in demagogic Continue reading “Don’t Bork Gina Haspel”

Trump is losing the trade war with China

There’s already a trade war, and it’s being waged by Beijing.

China’s ascension to the World Trade Organization nearly 20 years ago has failed in its large-scale strategic objectives. It hasn’t created a liberalizing regime or a free-market economy in China; in fact, it hasn’t even created a China ready and willing to abide by the norms of free trade.

The regime of Xi Jinping, who increasingly looks like president for life, hasn’t been pushed toward democratic reforms by a rising middle class. He has centralized power and written “Xi Jinping thought,” challenging Western liberalism, into the constitution.

China still champions state-led, rather than market-led, capitalism. It has no rule of law, and the government suffuses the economy such that the distinction between state-owned enterprises and purportedly private-sector firms is fuzzy. A country that has a “13th Five-Year Plan for Science and Technology” is probably not robustly free market.

As Continue reading “Trump is losing the trade war with China”

John Kelly Shouldn’t Go Anywhere

If John Kelly didn’t exist, President Donald Trump would have to invent him, and he wouldn’t be able to.

The chief of staff has had a rocky couple of weeks — first it was the Rob Porter imbroglio, now stories of a brewing clash with Jared Kushner — but he is as close as it gets to an indispensable man in the Trump White House.

Where else is the president going to find someone whom he likes and respects (at least on most days), who can intimidate the White House staff into a semblance of order, who has experience in wielding responsibility in even more difficult circumstances, and who shares Trump’s instincts?

The last of these is the reason why, more than any other, there has been a major downdraft in Kelly’s press coverage. He went from “Trump’s Last Best Hope” per Time magazine last August to a bitter disappointment. Continue reading “John Kelly Shouldn’t Go Anywhere”

Yes, Throw a Parade

If you wanted to come up with a parody of the Trump years, it’d be hard to get any better than the president proposing a parade, and the opposition erupting in outrage.

The Pentagon has confirmed that it is in the preliminary stages of planning a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue — one of President Donald Trump’s fondest desires.

Trump was, understandably, impressed in a visit to France last July by the pageantry of the Bastille Day parade. Despite the disdain conservatives have long heaped on France as a country of pansies, it has a storied military tradition and a deep sense of national pride as one the world’s oldest nation-states, one that has always been at the center of Western civilization.

The Bastille Day parade dates back to the 1880s. Nothing that the U.S. comes up with will match its resonance or its beloved, unifying nature.

Trump’s motivation Continue reading “Yes, Throw a Parade”

Trump’s Unifying Nationalism

Donald Trump gave a notably unifying State of the Union address that didn’t back down an inch from his controversial nationalism.

This might sound like a contradiction. It’s not. It’s a step toward fulfilling the political promise of his style of nationalism that could appeal much more broadly than to Trump’s intensely devoted base.

Nationalism shouldn’t be synonymous with Trump’s crudity of expression. It doesn’t mean yelling at rallies, or tweeting inflammatory messages, or insulting political adversaries—all of which could more legitimately be pinned on Trump’s populism, or more fundamentally, his personality.

Rather, it is an American tradition that runs through Alexander Hamilton, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

A true American nationalism should be grounded in our common citizenship, champion popular sovereignty, and exult in our history, culture and ideals. It should the enemy of identity politics (“white nationalism” and “black nationalism” are contradictions in terms). It should be expressed Continue reading “Trump’s Unifying Nationalism”

Durbin-Graham Is the Problem, Not the Solution

After the experience of the past two weeks, it’s not White House adviser Stephen Miller and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton who should be expelled from immigration negotiations, but Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham.

The Illinois Democrat and South Carolina Republican teamed up for a comically inadequate immigration proposal that prompted President Donald Trump’s “shithole” blowup and then Chuck Schumer’s shutdown overreach.

The Durbin-Graham offer was advertised as a bipartisan compromise, which it was — among a group of six Republican and Democratic senators who broadly agree on immigration. Only in Washington would this be hailed as a major breakthrough and the statesman-like way forward.

To his credit, Graham long ago concluded that Trump isn’t going anywhere and it makes sense to try to have more influence over him, rather than less. His mistake was attempting to assimilate Trump into an elite consensus on immigration that the president ran straight into Continue reading “Durbin-Graham Is the Problem, Not the Solution”

Buy Off Trump With the Wall

There is a very easy way for Democrats to get major concessions from President Donald Trump on immigration: Give him his Wall.

This is the key to a deal codifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama-era de facto amnesty for a segment of so-called Dreamers. All it takes is giving Trump a plausible start to the Wall that the president can then, in his inimitable way, promote as the greatest structure built on a border since Hadrian began his famous handiwork at the northern limit of the Roman Empire in 122.

That the Democrats very likely won’t do this speaks to their irrational aversion to a Wall that they can’t view dispassionately any more than Trump can.

It used to be that enhanced security on the border, and yes, a physical structure that in places is effectively a wall, had bipartisan support. The Secure Fence Act of Continue reading “Buy Off Trump With the Wall”