Friday, February 03, 2017

Cruising the Web

Daniel Henninger is concerned that President Trump's "shock and awe" with his executive orders may provoke a counter response that not only united opposition to Trump (that is to be expected) but also bring in people who might not have been naturally opposed to Trump.
To be clear: The point here has nothing to do with whether Mr. Trump is right on the merits of immigration vetting; Barack Obama imposed visa restrictions on Arab countries twice as antiterror policy. The question is bloodless politics: Is the poor execution of this order and its aftermath putting more negative political forces in motion than the White House or Republicans will be able to control in this presidency’s first 100 days—and beyond?

All political battles are won or lost at the margin, including the 2016 presidential election. Just now, the Republicans’ margin of success for future initiatives looks tighter than it did two weeks ago. If this backlash siphons political capital from the administration’s ability to achieve pro-growth tax cuts, for instance, Mr. Trump’s presidency will be in trouble by fall.

It may be true that the forces arrayed against Mr. Trump now are predictable—Democrats, career progressives and the media. But the half-done visa order has politicized people the administration didn’t need among the disaffected.

That includes the management and employees of the entire tech industry and of many other American companies. It includes some Republicans and important staff in Congress, numerous U.S. universities and research scientists, ambivalent pro-Trump voters, and foreign leaders such as Theresa May,Angela Merkel and Enrique Peña Nieto. Not to mention the men and women now rethinking offers to take subcabinet positions after watching the public humiliation of an unprepared federal attorney in a Brooklyn courtroom Saturday.

One can minimize the importance of any of these alone. But allowing networks of disaffection to form and spread could start tipping the political scales away from the Trump government’s goals.

The Democrats, dead in the water before Inauguration Day, have been given new energy. The fundraising and organizing spigots, always dependent on free publicity, are opening for 2018. On Monday the Democratic campaign committee published a target list of 33 GOP House seats in districts Hillary Clinton won or lost narrowly.

It is early days for Mr. Trump. This storm may pass. But Lyndon Johnson, the most deft of politicians, was never able to get control of similar forces, which undid his presidency when the antiwar movement of the 1960s took on a life of its own. This White House should not want an anti-Trump psychology, inflamed by the limitless gasoline of social media, to compete with and weaken the president’s support.

The White House could argue that clarifying battle lines in the public mind is important, and doing what’s right will win. But you had better be sure the correlation of forces stays in your favor. The graveyards are filled with generals who thought they had the right idea, before they were overrun.

On the other side, Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen look at Trump's first two weeks and see his success in transforming both politics and policy.
Read the weekend papers, and flick through cable, and the unambiguous conclusion is that Trump's debut was pretty much a debacle. But was it?

If you examine what he did based on what he wants to do and ignore much of what he says for show, this was actually a remarkably productive start. By the White House's count, 13 presidential actions in first week tied to specific campaign promises.

No doubt, the fears of his critics are real and could easily be realized. We could see a trade war with Mexico, or retaliation for his ban on people coming from seven Muslim nations, or other leaders exploiting Trump's inward focus and impulses.

But from the point of view of the president's brain trust, he's getting his way, and, with each passing day, more Republicans and outside leaders seem to be falling in line, even as critics rage. This is more a bulldozer than a runaway train.
They point to his meetings with CEOs and labor leaders, many of whom didn't support him, but came away saying nice things about his willingness to listen to their concerns. He secured his base with those rallying for the March for Life and with his Supreme Court nomination. Republicans in Congress are supporting him or mostly keeping their mouths shut. He is driving the policy debate.

Jonathan Last builds on that argument. Last writes about how his actions, what Henninger refers to as "shock and awe," have been quite productive.
Trump's first two weeks were marked by several media crises, but under their cover his administration was ambitiously productive on the policy front: He withdrew from the TPP, re-started the two major pipeline projects, began reforming a host of federal regulations, met with the British prime minister, named a Supreme Court justice, and started making the first tentative moves on the Great Wall of Trumpia. And those are just the highlights. (Or lowlights, depending on your perspective.)
And Republicans in Congress are, as Allen and VanderHei pointed out, have yielded to Trump.
And in the process, congressional Republicans are caving to Trump on every front. This was utterly foreseeable. The people who argued during the campaign that the Republican Congress would hold Trump accountable to conservative ideals and Constitutional norms were always deluding themselves. Our politics is too polarized for our parties to police their own. And in any event, the presidency has grown too imperial to be tamed when it is held by someone who wants to use the office expansively and unilaterally. And whatever you want to say about Trump, it's clear that he has a genius for understanding and using power. (That was Obama's great talent too, by the way.)

Now, maybe you're alarmed by all of this. Or maybe you think it's all to the good. I'm not offering any value judgments at the moment. I'm merely suggesting that on the question of whether Trump wants to be transformative, or to just be popular and go along with the status quo, the answer now seems to be the former.
Last links to this Russ Douthat column about how difficult it is for analysts to figure out the Trump presidency. They can't figure out who is in control and the media have forfeited trust in their reporting.
Second: The establishment press, as I warned last week, is being pressured to lead the resistance to Trumpism, which makes it more likely to run with the most shocking interpretations (muzzled bureaucrats! mass resignations!) of whatever the White House happens to be doing. At the same time, the Trump inner circle clearly intends to lean into this phenomenon, to encourage the press-as-opposition narrative, seeing mainstream-media mistakes as a way of shoring up its own base’s loyalty. And then the technological forces shaping media coverage also encourage errors and overreach — a dubious story or even a misleading live-tweet of a press conference can go around the online world long before the more prosaic truth has reached your Facebook feed. (A self-serving suggestion: In such a climate, the discerning citizen may come to appreciate anew the tortoise-like pace of print journalism.)
Douthat posits that there is a fog covering Trump's presidency that is confusing his opponents and even his allies. And Trump and his supporters shouldn't assume that such a fog is a sign of strength.
But if the fog lifts in some cases, it’s likely to chronically shroud the policy-making process on issues (health care, taxes, infrastructure, more) where Trump needs his congressional allies to have certainty about their shared objectives. And it threatens to descend more dramatically — with Stephen King-style monsters screaming in the mist — with every unexpected event, every unlooked-for crisis, in which what the White House says in real time will matter much more than it does right now.

I ended last week’s column with a warning for the press corps, about their potential contribution to a climate of political hysteria. But this column’s warning is for the president and his advisers, some of whom clearly like the fog and seem to imagine that it will help them govern just as it probably helped them win.


They shouldn’t be so confident. For legislators, too much fog is paralyzing. For voters, it’s a recipe for nervous exhaustion. For allies, it’s confusing; for enemies, it looks like an opportunity.

Trump is not a popular president, he has not actually built an electoral majority, his team is not particularly experienced. If he can’t provide clarity and reassurance and a little light around his agenda, it will be very easy for a fog-bound presidency to simply run aground.

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Leftists are launching an all-out war against anyone who is insufficiently demonstrating their opposition to Donald Trump. They are furious that a Washington sandwich-shop owner dared to attend when Trump signed his executive order to tell federal agencies to repeal two regulations for each new one. They announced that there should be a boycott of his hoagie shop.
Mr. Patten posted a statement on Taylor Gourmet’s Twitter account that “America’s strength comes from our diversity, our freedoms and the opportunities which I and so many other small business owners and entrepreneurs have been afforded.” Mr. Patten said he discussed with the President how to “ensure these opportunities are available to even more people.” This sounds like the civility and dialogue the left claims to prize, but the vitriol kept coming. Mr. Patten says he attended similar meetings with the Obama Administration.

A similar internet microdrama played out over the weekend with #DeleteUber. The New York taxi union declared a strike at John F. Kennedy Airport to stand in solidarity with those detained while entering the U.S. How refusing to offer rides to stranded travelers sticks it to Donald Trump is not clear. And Uber responded by turning off surge pricing, which increases the cost of rides when demand is high, say, on New Year’s Eve.

In other words, Uber offered cheaper rides than supply and demand would have allowed. The company has been accused, somehow, of breaking the strike and trying to profit off President Trump’s immigration ban. The irony is that the moralists now deleting the Uber app will not be helping the thousands of immigrants who drive for Uber.

These outrages will soon be overtaken by others, but the damage to the left may last longer if boycotts and harassment make the public more sympathetic to Donald Trump.

Kimberley Strassel note
s some on the left who are advocating getting rid of Democratic politicians who aren't solidly with their agenda. They are threatening to primary any insufficiently progressive politicians just as they saw the Tea Party movement do.
The Democrats’ problem is that all their reliably liberal states and districts are already occupied with good liberals, who take orders. Those members will joyfully boycott and filibuster and protest and obstruct. There will be no need for primaries.

Those in the firing line are instead the Mike Castles of the Democratic Party. Joe Manchin.Heidi Heitkamp.Claire McCaskill.Jon Tester. These are Democrats in red states Mr. Trump won, up for re-election next year. They are the only reason Democrats remain within reach of Senate power. They will be tempted, for the sake of re-election, or their own convictions, to work with Republicans on nominations, health care, tax reform. The left’s tea party is threatening to make them pay for it by fielding ultra-left-wing primary candidates.

The question is how this accomplishes the progressive aim of an electoral wave that puts it back in power—a la tea-party conservatives. The left is banking that Mr. Trump and Republicans will blow this historic moment, and the public will revolt. That’s certainly possible. What’s less possible is that North Dakota voters—even if they are really mad at Mr. Trump—will vote to put an Elizabeth-Warren-like progressive in the Senate.

Democrats might also remember another woman from 2010: Blanche Lincoln. The two-term Democratic senator from Arkansas caused liberal hysteria in 2009 when she chose to reflect her voters and spoke out against both the public option for health care and a pro-union measure called card check. Left-wing Democrats pummeled her back home and subjected her to a grueling primary. She won that primary, only to lose to Republican John Boozman in a landslide. Even an unsuccessful progressive tea party could be deadly for Democrats.

The original tea party was about making conservatives in this center-right country act like conservatives again. The progressive tea party is about making Democrats in this center-right country act like Bernie Sanders. Have at it.

Charles Krauthammer blesses Harry Reid for activating the nuclear option.
Reid was warned that the day would come when Republicans would be in the majority and would exploit the new rules to equal and opposite effect. That day is here.
And now the Republicans are pushing through all of Trump's nominations. Quite a few of those nominees would never have survived filibusters. Trump's cabinet would look quite differently if the filibuster option were still available. And if they filibuster Neil Gorsuch, they'll whine in vain when the Republicans extend the filibuster ban to Supreme Court nominations. And we haven't even gotten to the people that Trump will nominate to lower court seats.
Reid never fully appreciated the magnitude of his crime against the Senate. As I wrote at the time, the offense was not abolishing the filibuster — you can argue that issue either way — but that he did it by simple majority. In a serious body, a serious rule change requires a serious supermajority. (Amending the U.S. Constitution, for example, requires two-thirds of both houses plus three-quarters of all the states.) Otherwise you have rendered the place lawless. If in any given session you can summon up the day’s majority to change the institution’s fundamental rules, there are no rules.

McConnell can at any moment finish Reid’s work by extending filibuster abolition to the Supreme Court. But he hasn’t. He has neither invoked the nuclear option nor even threatened to. And he’s been asked often enough. His simple and unwavering response is that Gorsuch will be confirmed. Translation: If necessary, he will drop the big one.

It’s obvious that he prefers not to. No one wants to again devalue and destabilize the Senate by changing a major norm by simple majority vote. But Reid set the precedent.

Note that the issue is not the filibuster itself. There’s nothing sacred about it. Its routine use is a modern development — with effects both contradictory and unpredictable. The need for 60 votes can contribute to moderation and compromise because to achieve a supermajority you need to get a buy-in from at least some of the opposition. On the other hand, in a hyper-partisan atmosphere (like today’s), a 60-vote threshold can ensure that everything gets stopped and nothing gets done.

Filibuster abolition is good for conservatives today. It will be good for liberals tomorrow when they have regained power. There’s no great principle at stake, though as a practical matter, in this era of widespread frustration with congressional gridlock, the new norm may be salutary.

What is not salutary is the Reid precedent of changing the old norm using something so transient and capricious as the majority of the day.

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Berkeley students today have come so far from the days when Mario Savio founded the Free Speech Movement. at their university. Instead they riot in the streets to block someone with whom they disagree.
Protesters tore down barricades, let off fireworks and set the campus ablaze during furious protests against a speech by conservative Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley.

Hundreds rallied against Yiannopoulos in a demonstration which turned violent and destructive on Wednesday night, with protesters vandalizing dozens of businesses and smashing storefront windows.

University police locked down all buildings and responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, according to witness reports.
Yiannopoulos's speech was cancelled amid the chaos and he was swiftly evacuated, according to a post on his social media.
Yes, because nothing says a protest against the supposed dangers of the Trump administration like vandalizing businesses that are most probably owned by people who despise Trump. But hey, there's a bank and Milo is coming to town - let's try to trash it. Sure. And let's move on to Starbucks.

The media whipped themselves into another mini-round of excitement over the story that Neil Gorsuch had supposedly started a club in high school called "Fascists Forever." But it all turned out to be a nothingburger of a story as Michael O'Loughlin writes in America Magazone, The Jesuit Review.
Mr. Gorsuch, who was nominated on Jan. 31 to the Supreme Court by President Donald J. Trump, participated in the informal debates, where he was routinely teased, accused of being “a conservative fascist.” No shrinking violet, he would shoot back, taking on the liberal ethos of the school and even arguing with religion teachers about the liberal theological trends in vogue at the time.

Political differences aside, Mr. Gorsuch was popular and respected, excelling at debate and being elected student body president.

When it came time to write his senior biography for the yearbook, he would make light of the divide between his conservative political beliefs and those of the more liberal faculty and students.

He wrote that he founded and led the “Fascism Forever Club,” though those with knowledge of the school back in the 1980s say there was no such club. The mention of it in the yearbook was a tongue-in-cheek attempt to poke fun at liberal peers who teased him about his fierce conservatism.

It was “a total joke,” said Steve Ochs, a history teacher at Georgetown Prep who was the student government advisor during Mr. Gorsuch’s junior and senior years at the Bethesda, Md., school.

“There was no club at a Jesuit school about young fascists,” he told America. “The students would create fictitious clubs; they would have fictitious activities. They were all inside jokes on their senior pages.”

(The yearbook’s mention of the club is not the only item on Mr. Gorsuch’s profile that is raising eyebrows in some circles: A sarcastic quote from Henry Kissinger about how to get away with unconstitutional activities appears in both his prep school yearbook as well as his Columbia University yearbook.)

Now as Mr. Gorsuch readies himself for what promises to be intense questioning from Democratic senators still upset that former President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court was never given a hearing, a bipartisan group of his prep school classmates are urging that he be confirmed.

“We are doctors, lawyers, lobbyists, businessmen, bankers, brokers, investors, consultants, government workers, entrepreneurs and, yes, the General Manager of a Major League Baseball team that has won the most World Series Championships in history,” reads a letter drafted by members of Mr. Gorsuch’s 1985 prep school class to be mailed to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“We are prominent and active Democrats, Republicans, Independents, liberals, conservatives and moderates,” continues the letter, signed by about 70 of Mr. Gorsuch’s 90 or so classmates. “Most important, however, we have been friends with Neil Gorsuch for over 35 years, and he has not changed since we chose him to be the president of our student body.”
There goes another attack route for leftists that will be closed off except for making demagogic tweets. What it does demonstrate is that Gorsuch was comfortable standing up for his beliefs as a teenager even when those views were unpopular among his peers. Good. That is the sort of firmness of beliefs that should help prevent his "growing" in office as he comes and hangs out with elites in Washington.

Well, this is certainly a sign of a party taking an open-minded and mature attitude toward Trump's Supreme Court nominee.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democratic Senate leaders refused to meet with Judge Neil Gorsuch Thursday.

The act appears to be revenge against Republicans for holding the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia open and not holding a hearing for Obama Supreme Court appointee Merrick Garland.

The White House requested that Gorsuch meet with Schumer, but aides said he declined in order to learn more about the nominee’s record, The Washington Post reported.

Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post isn't impressed
with the Democrats' claim that 60 votes is the standard for Supreme Court nominees.
Here are the votes for the last six nominees who were confirmed:

Elena Kagan: 63 to 37 (2010)
Sonia Sotomayor: 68 to 31 (2009)
Samuel A. Alito Jr.: 58 to 42 (2006)
John G. Roberts Jr.: 78 to 22 (2005)
Stephen G. Breyer: 87 to 9 (1994)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 96 to 3 (1993)

Hmmm, who was the seventh justice?

Clarence Thomas: 52 to 48 (1991)

The remaining justice on the court is Anthony M. Kennedy, who was confirmed 97 to 0 in 1988. Antonin Scalia, whom Gorsuch would replace, was confirmed 98 to 0 in 1986.

So, two of the justices currently on the Supreme Court were confirmed with votes that did not achieve 60 votes.

The Pinocchio Test

Democrats are being slippery with their language. Sixty votes is not “a standard” for Supreme Court confirmations, as two of the current justices on the court did not meet that supposed standard.

There is a separate issue of whether Republicans will have to invoke cloture to end a filibuster — and whether Gorsuch could meet the necessary 60 votes to proceed to a confirmation vote. In Supreme Court nominations, that’s a rarely used parliamentary tactic that is certainly available to Democrats to establish a threshold for confirmation. But it’s not “a standard.”
Hmmm. Notice a trend in those most recent six nominees? Republican senators were willing to vote for a qualified nominee even though they ideologically disagreed with that nominee's positions. Democrats willing to do so are much fewer.

Kevin Williamson has some thoughts about the real power in the Democratic Party.
The economic interests attached to the Democratic party are fairly easy to identify: people who work for government at all levels. You may come across the occasional Ron Swanson in the wild, but when it comes to the teachers’ unions — which are the biggest spender in U.S. politics — or the AFSCME gang or the vast majority of people receiving a taxpayer-funded paycheck, the politics of the public sector is almost exclusively Democratic. And what they care about isn’t social justice or inequality or diversity or peace or whether little Johnny can use the ladies’ room if his heart tells him to — they care about getting paid.

Here’s an interesting point of comparison. When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he opposed gay marriage. So did Hillary Rodham Clinton, but Obama’s opposition was especially interesting in that he cited religious doctrine in support of his position: “My faith teaches me . . . that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. For me, as a Christian, it is also a sacred union — God’s in the mix.” George W. Bush, who was derided as a fundamentalist bigot by lifestyle liberals, never said anything like that. (Dick Cheney was well to the left of the Democrats on the question.) But there was barely a murmur of opposition to Obama’s staking out this ground “on the wrong side of history.” Social issues are for the naïfs.

During the 2008 Democratic primary, Obama gave an off-the-record speech to a group of Wall Street financial executives in which he shared his frustration with the sclerotic and bureaucratic state of American education, and declared that he was close to publicly endorsing a nationwide school-choice program. (This is according to one of those in attendance.) The moneymen were enthused by this, but nothing ever came of it. In fact, Obama went hard in the opposite direction, working to gut the school-choice program in Washington, D.C., a popular program, which benefited urban black families almost exclusively. You don’t have to be a hard-boiled cynic to suspect that this has to do with the manpower and money-power of the teachers’ unions, who could have done a great deal more than they did to elevate Hillary Rodham Clinton over Barack Obama that year.

Think about that: If you are the candidate of the Left running in the party of the Left, you could, in 2008, run against equal rights for gay people — but you could not, if you had any sense of self-preservation, run in favor of school choice. Justice is one thing, but getting paid is the real issue.

That probably explains why Betsy DeVos is getting the business and Jeff Sessions really isn’t.

Democrats are in an awful position just now. Hillary Rodham Clinton was beaten by Donald Trump; Republicans control the Senate; Republicans control the House; Republicans are about to put an Antonin Scalia–style constitutionalist on the Supreme Court, a development made possible by the Democrats’ weak position in the Senate; Republicans control 34 of 50 governorships; Republicans control the great majority of state legislative houses. What, exactly, are the Democrats up to? Dressing up as vaginas and inviting Madonna to rile up the rubes with empty speeches in D.C. while the real power in the party — the public-sector unions — concentrate their fire on . . . Betsy DeVos, who believes that there should be some choice and accountability in public education.

What is the Democratic party? Is it a genuine political party, or is it simply an instrument of relatively well-off government workers who care about very little other than securing for themselves regular raises and comfortable pensions?

If I were a progressive, I’d be curious about that.


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Whether you're pulling for the Patriots or the Falcons, this is the sweetest story of how Patriot rookie Malcolm Mitchell joined a reading club of middle-aged women while he was at the University of Georgia. I can't imagine any other young football star doing that in college.