May 3, 2018: A Nobel for Trump | Fire Rosenstein | Kayne is ‘Brilliant’
Happy Thursday. Well, even by Trump's standards, his tweet storm this morning was a doozy. After denying for months that he knew anything about the hush payments made by his lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen to Stormy Daniels, Trump admitted that he not only knew about it, but that he reimbursed Cohen through monthly retainer payments. This confession was, of course, previewed during last night’s interview between Sean Hannity and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. It seems to be a new legal strategy on the part of the president. His team argues that because Trump used his own money, it is not a campaign violation.
Naturally, Democrats will see new grounds to attack Trump’s dishonesty. But, per usual, we suspect the latest revelation won’t shake his support. Trump’s backers seemed to have already priced in his roguish behavior and his approval ratings are on the rise. As always, if you have comments or suggestions please write us at email@example.com.
1. A Nobel for Trump
A Nobel Peace Prize for Donald Trump? On Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Trump was worthy of a Nobel Prize for hastening the peace talks in Korea that may lead to a denuclearization of the peninsula. The conservative press jumped on the idea that Trump’s threats of “fire and fury” and use of economic leverage scared North Korea and led to its decision to negotiate. Conservatives are still steamed, of course, that Barack Obama won the nobel in 2009, after less than a year in office, more on his promise of a less militaristic America than on any real accomplishments. And so, very piece of advocacy for Trump praised his efficacy in comparison to his predecessor's.
James S. Robbins, a former defense official in the George W. Bush administration and a contributor to USA Today and National Review, explained why Trump deserves the Peace Prize.:
Trump indeed deserves much of the credit for the breakthrough in relations. Trump was the first president to explicitly link U.S. trade policy with China to progress on the Korean Peninsula. Previous presidents had compartmentalized these issues, but Trump knows that the art of the deal is based on leverage. North Korea’s economy (such as it is) depends on China, and China’s well-being depends on trade with the United States. Beijing has much less interest in defending the right of its erratic Pyongyang ally to develop highly destabilizing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles than it does in maintaining its global markets. This reality was no doubt the framework for discussions in March between Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping, when Beijing told Pyongyang that the party was over.
Trump also made clear the potential consequences of not moving towards peace. … Trump said that any North Korean acts of war would “be met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.” Defense Secretary James Mattis laconically noted that if North Korea fired missiles towards the United States it would be “game on,” with all that implied.
The conservative historian Niall Ferguson, no fan of Trump, still used an op-ed in The Boston Globe to give Trump credit not only for Korea, but for a broad range of foreign-policy successes.:
Like the mutant Pikachu he (from a distance) resembles, Trump has one Pokémon superpower. Though in a state of permanent distraction, he retains an unerring instinct for the weakness of any counterparty. Jeb Bush believed he was entitled to the Republican nomination; Trump zeroed in on his “low energy.” Hillary Clinton believed she was entitled to the presidency; Trump accused her of high crookery.
The same has applied in the realm of foreign policy. European leaders — especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel — believed they were entitled to the American security umbrella, gratis. Then Trump hinted that the US commitment to NATO might not, after all, be unconditional. Immediately, those defense budgets increased.
The North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, believed he was entitled to test nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles to his heart’s content. Trump threatened him with “fire and fury,” while at the same time leaning on China to impose and enforce economic sanctions on Pyongyang. Lo and behold, “Little Rocket Man” crossed the demilitarized zone on Friday, taking the first steps toward peace on the Korean peninsula.
Yes, I know, Kim wouldn’t be the first North Korean leader to make a deal and then cheat on it. Still, even habitual critics of the president have been forced to acknowledge that he has made more progress on the Korean question in a single year than his predecessor made in eight. It turns out that the madman theory of diplomacy really works if the world seriously thinks you’re mad.
A Darker View:
Like so many of his actions, Trump’s embrace of North Korea’s “peace” offerings puts him at odds with most conservatives’ long history of skepticism towards the autocratic nation. The Wall Street Journal, which has been fairly Trump-friendly since the tax cuts in December, paused to offer a sharp debunking of the validity of the new truce.:
The leaders of North and South Korea met at the truce village of Panmunjom on Friday and proclaimed a new era of peace. President Trump said from Washington that “a lot of good things are happening over there, right now, as we speak.” But if that’s true they must be happening behind the scenes because the public diplomacy so far includes no breakthroughs.
Amid hugs and toasts, Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in signed a joint declaration that committed the two sides to the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” But the important question is what Kim thinks that means. Far from being a concession, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a standard North Korean offer that it has used to resist demands to give up its nuclear program as long as the U.S. remains a nuclear power.
Over at The Federalist, Megan G. Oprea went one step further. She called North Korea's softening a stalling tactic as it develops more potent nuclear weapons.:
If Kim wants any hope of getting out from under crushing international sanctions and avoiding some kind of possible U.S. military action before he’s able to complete construction of a nuclear weapon, Kim has to persuade his adversaries that he really means what he says. The young authoritarian leader might be backed into a corner, but not in the way you think. He’s being forced to do more, say more, in order to convince the world that this time it’s the real thing.
An Antidote for Anti-Trumpers:
Although most liberals tend to support peace talks and denuclearization, many are having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that a president they hate so passionately might have actually spurred a detente through his reckless language. For those still struggling to cope, we recommend the Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank’s version of the acceptance speech Trump might give in Oslo if he won. Our favorite paragraph:
I was, like, really smart, when I made peace with Rocket Man. By calling him short and fat and saying I would totally destroy him with fire and fury from my big and powerful nuclear button, I got him to negotiate. He still hasn’t given up his nuclear weapons, but he has agreed to stop calling me a dotard. In exchange I have agreed not to attack him, and I have given California to North Korea.
2. Fire Rosenstein
On Tuesday, The New York Times published what it said were leaked questions that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller wants to ask Donald Trump. The president used the far-reaching questions as a chance to blast the investigation as out of control.
By yesterday, Trump was getting serious back up -- even from those who have not always been very sympathetic to him and his cronies. Writing in The New York Post, Seth Lipsky, who is from the relatively restrained and erudite wing of conservative pundits, said the questions proved that the president should never sit down with the special counsel.:
The questions special counsel Robert Mueller supposedly wants to put to President Trump make one thing clear — it would be folly for the president to sit for an interview with these jumped-up G-men. It’s not just that the questions badly undercut the claims that Mueller is not targeting the president. If, as the saying goes, a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich, Mueller appears to be building out of Trump a Dagwood special.
It’s also that for the president to sit down for an interview would be to acknowledge Mueller’s authority to begin with. Yet the more Mueller shows his hand, the more illogical his authority starts to look. That’s because the only authority the Constitution clearly grants to investigate a sitting president is the impeachment process. Before this fight is over, Trump may yet want to use that argument…….
But a bigger surprise came from Rich Lowry, editor-in-chief of National Review, a Trump skeptic who has been slowing warming to the administration. Of course, strident Trump supporters in Congress have called for the firing of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed the special counsel in the first place. But many moderate and traditional Republicans have warned against it, saying it would precipitate a constitutional crisis. In an article for Politico, Lowry says Mueller’s questions have convinced him that it is indeed time for Rosenstein to go. His reasoning could be controversial so we haveexcerpted it at length.:
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. How he feels about his attorney general.
This is a sweeping and intrusive inquiry that isn’t just about about official acts, but about the president’s state of mind. Mueller doesn’t just want to know what Trump did or what he said, but what were his thoughts in any given moment.
It’s an avenue of investigation that is literally boundless. Mueller wants to know what Trump did when the news broke in January 2018 that the president considered firing Mueller the year before. Perhaps now there will be a question about what Trump thought when the New York Times reported that Mueller wants to ask him about his thinking.
These queries grow out of an obstruction of justice probed centered, as far as we can tell, on Trump’s exercise of the legitimate powers of the presidency. Mueller is out to prove that Trump had ill intentions. But this is an inherently problematic inquiry that involves a subordinate second-guessing the president on highly political questions.
It is doubtful that a president can be guilty of obstruction of justice in exercising his official duties, precisely because passing judgment on the lawful acts of a president is not a matter for prosecutors or the courts, but for the political process (i.e., for the impeachment process if the acts are deemed abuses of power). It’s another matter if a president has engaged in actual criminal conduct, like suborning perjury or bribing witnesses, but there is no indication that Mueller is investigating anything of that nature.
What makes Mueller different from previous special counsels is that his predecessors were given the mission of investigating specific alleged crimes. As my National Review colleague Andrew McCarthy has repeatedly pointed out, Rod Rosenstein mentioned no crimes in his initial order to Mueller, a violation of the special counsel regulations. He said only that Mueller should investigate collusion and anything related.
3. It’s Still the Economy, Stupid
Most signs are pointing to a blue wave in November after a string of strong Democratic showings in special elections and legislative races around the country. Young voters are expected to be part of the wave. But a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday paints a slightly different picture.
The online survey of more than 16,000 registered millennial voters (ages 18 to 34) showed that their support for Democrats slipped by about 9 percentage points over the past two years, to 46 percent over all. While nearly two of three younger voters polled said they do not like President Trump, this level of distaste did not extend to Republicans.
Why the shift? According to Reuters, it has to do with the fact that millennials increasingly say that the Republican Party is a better steward of the economy. Said one subject interviewed in Reuters coverage of the poll:
“It sounds strange to me to say this about the Republicans, but they’re helping with even the small things,” Hood said in a phone interview. “They’re taking less taxes out of my paycheck. I notice that.”
Conservatives were clearly pleased by the results, but still cautious in their coverage. Wrote Guy Benson of Townhall:
Democrats still enjoy an 18-point advantage over the GOP among this demographic, fueled by lopsided numbers among young voters of color, so conservatives may want to tone down the virtual high-fiving over these numbers. Serious, systemic challenges remain. But the double-digit swing on the economy is a particularly interesting data point, I think. The US economy is thriving, and Republicans are in charge. That hasn't gone unnoticed by a cohort of voters that isn't inclined to view the party favorably.
Noah Rothman of Commentary expressed the same reservations, but emphasized the impact that a strong economy has historically had on voters.:
The economy is relatively strong and stable (Trump’s efforts to undermine it notwithstanding). The foreign conflicts to which American troops are committed are not producing an intolerable number of fatalities. Divisive social issues have the power to galvanize the most motivated voters, but that motivation is fleeting and dependent upon exogenous events. Donald Trump’s imprudent tweets have become background noise. And his otherwise questionable conduct has not split his party. These circumstances may not last, but they prevail today…
Democrats insist upon Balkanizing the electorate while simultaneously projecting palpable discomfort over the prospect of appealing to Donald Trump’s voters. That strategy is only viable so long as Donald Trump continues to be the all-consuming and largely negative figure he was in the first year of his administration.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll also revealed that a growing share of voters between ages 18 and 34 years old said they were undecided, would support a third-party candidate or not vote at all. (If you remember, one million millennial voters who voted for Obama stayed home in 2016 and about 1 in 10 who did show up voted for a third-party candidate.)
Pew released the results of a different survey this week, which also revealed some interesting findings. According to the research, millennial Republicans are more accepting of political insults than older Republicans. Fifty one percent say political insults are sometimes fair game, whereas no more than 4-in-10 older Republicans express this view. Meanwhile, just 29 percent of millennial Democrats say political insults are sometimes acceptable.
4. Media Dirty Tricks
A famous aphorism holds that generals are always fighting the last war. The same might be said of media coverage of campaign dirty tricks. In 2014, the National Republican Congressional Committee bought up hundreds of URLs with the names of Democratic candidates and used them to slyly spread misinformation. In 2016, the nation was subject to the Russian invasion via Facebook -- which we only learned about after Trump was elected.
As we inch toward the 2018 midterms, we will be keeping an eye out for the new inventive ways to manipulate the media. In that spirit, we include an excerpt from New York Magazine on how conservative ideologues are bankrolling local news sites.:
In March, Congresswoman Diane Black, a top candidate for governor in Tennessee, put out a campaign ad that seemed at first glance to be utterly textbook: a scene of President Donald Trump embracing her played while a quote from a local news outlet is displayed in the foreground: “President Trump to Rep Diane Black: ‘You Came Through’ on Tax Reform,” it read, citing a headline from the Tennessee Star.
Close watchers may have had just one question: What is the Tennessee Star?
… Launched in February 2017, the Star is part of a growing trend of opaque, locally focused, ideological outlets, dressed up as traditional newspapers. From the Arizona Monitor to the Maine Examiner, sites with names and layouts designed to echo those of nonpartisan publications — and with varying levels of credibility — have emerged across the country, aimed at influencing local politics by stepping into the coverage void left by the collapsing finances of local newspapers.
The Star has successfully gained traction among the Tennessee political elite, raising questions over whether the current news climate is ripe for these type of Breitbart-like local sites to proliferate across the country.
Critically, the Tennessee Star isn’t just posing as a local newspaper, it’s also executing the core function of one — or at least, the core function of a partisan paper in the 19th century:
Its coverage goes deep on local political news — with stories on a variety of races as well as legislative minutiae, alongside a healthy dose of commentary — all from an anti-establishment, right-wing perspective. For instance, Randy Boyd, Black’s more mainstream opponent in the Republican gubernatorial primary, has been mocked on the site as “La Raza Randy,” for his stance on immigration. The site has gained attention, in part, because cutbacks at mainstream outlets have limited what they can cover.
The outlet was founded by a pair of conservative activists who see the publication primarily as a tool for influence (as opposed to profits). And in the small world of Nashville politics, a site that garners 7 million page views per year can exert quite a bit. That makes the low-cost, low-overhead publication an enticing investment opportunity for well-heeled right-wing ideologues — while also attracting ad dollars from Republican campaigns.
The Star is already contemplating an expansion into Pennsylvania and Ohio.
5. Kanye is 'Brilliant'
The rapper and provocateur extraordinaire Kanye West had conservatives feeling rapturous after he tweeted praise for conservative activists and Trump himself. Even Republicans who acknowledge that West is a very questionable bedfellow and has said hateful things about Jews, couldn’t help rhapsodizing about the moment. Even the reliably Never-Trump Weekly Standard had this to say.:
It’s remarkable, too, that Kanye West—not a man history will remember for nuanced expressions of thought—is a more articulate proponent of free speech and open inquiry than such strongholds of high-minded liberalism as the New York Times and the Atlantic. At the Times, the mere presence of conservatives on the hallowed pages of New York’s newspaper of record—we’re thinking of our friends Bari Weiss and Bret Stephens—is cause for wrath and resentment on the part of the paper’s staffers and readers. The Atlantic, meanwhile, hires fiery conservative Kevin Williamson because he’s a fiery conservative then fires him because progressive agitators accuse him of being a fiery conservative. Ours is an age of formulaic thinking and thoughtless slander, and each day brings statements far dumber than those of Kanye West..
But over at The New York Post, the columnist Karol Markowicz warnedconservatives not to be “so thirsty” for praise from an erratic entertainer.:
Part of the danger is that the unpredictable West can reverse himself at any moment. … Plus, West isn’t espousing ideas on free markets or lower taxes; we have no idea what his actual political opinions are. As Ed Krayewski wrote in The Post last week, “West’s praise for Trump focuses largely on style not substance . . . The contrarian West is naturally attracted to the contrarian Trump.” And, in fact, over the weekend West tweeted that anti-gun activist Emma Gonzalez is his “hero.”
But Rush Limbaugh was having none of this take-one-step-back talk. What sparked Limbaugh's sudden admiration for Kanye? Well, the rapper’s bizarre tweet about slavery: "When you hear about slavery for 400 years ... For 400years? That sounds like a choice."
Limbaugh thought this was profound. No. He thought it was brilliant. So brilliant in fact that only he could translate its true meaning.:
It’s brilliant, but the problem is it’s gonna go over everybody’s head. It requires me to translate this today. … Well, very simply he’s saying, “Slavery? Are you trying to tell me there’s still slavery, 400 years? If there’s 400 years of slavery, at some point you gotta be choosing it because we had a civil war where it ended. We defeated slavery hundreds of years ago in this country. If you still think you’re a slave, you gotta be choosing it, because there isn’t slavery in America today, and, if you want to claim that you’re a slave or if you want to claim there is slavery, that’s ’cause you want to. You’re choosing it.”
It’s brilliant, I’m telling you, but, you see, it requires someone like me who knows exactly what he’s saying. Why didn’t he say it like I just said it? Who knows. … He’s right on the money!