December 21, 2017: Trump Gets an A | MSM Tax Lies | No “1984” Redux at CDC
Good Thursday to you. Wednesday felt as if it might be a watershed moment to us. The passing of the tax bill may have been President Trump’s first legislative victory -- arguably a modest achievement for an administration whose party also controls Congress -- but across the conservative press it heralded a new acceptance of the president. The age of embarrassment in Trump took a breather. Not only were some former Never Trumpers singing his praises, but his remaining critics in the conservative media found themselves sharply rebuked. The message all around seemed to be to “get in line or get out.” In short, party officials and media commentators felt the power of owning both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and most liked it. As Trump’s support strengthens, we suspect, it will be ever more difficult to prosecute him for any sins.
But before we go too far, we should note there is still dissonance on the ground. The tax bill was polling poorly and Democrats led Republicans by a stunning 18 percent margin when registered voters were asked which party they would favor representing their congressional district, according to a CNN poll released yesterday. And even in the bright red state of Louisiana, one poll put Trump’s approval rating at 48 percent. So we shall see. As always, if you have comments or questions, please feel free to write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Trump's Report Card: 2017 A “Big Win”
What a difference one legislative win makes. The timing of the passage of the sweeping tax bill could not have been better for Trump. It comes at the end of the calendar year when journalists are in the mood for reassessing. Suddenly, many conservatives, including some former Never Trumpers, are feeling that the president has a series of pretty impressive accomplishments. Some go even further and suggest that those few Republicans who still dispute these accomplishments are being as petty and as biased against Trump as the liberal Mainstream Media.
The broad range of accomplishments being credited to Trump was succinctly summarized here, as the tax bill headed toward passage, by Byron York of The Washington Examiner.:
Something is happening in the final days of 2017. People are noticing that Donald Trump has gotten a lot done in his tumultuous first year in the White House. Assume that tax reform passes and is signed into law. If in, say, 2014, a Republican, of either the conservative or moderate variety, predicted that in 2017 a newly-elected GOP president and Congress would —
- Cut corporate and individual taxes.
- Repeal the Obamacare individual mandate.
- Appoint a highly-respected conservative to the Supreme Court.
- Appoint a one-year record number of judges to the circuit courts.
- Get rid of reams of unnecessary regulations.
- Destroy ISIS.
- Approve pipeline projects and new oil drilling.
-- then a lot of Republicans would probably have cheered. Loudly.
To get the full scope of the main talking points for Trump, we would add in recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
To measure just how much the tide has turned, consider Rich Lowry. In January, 2016, he edited National Review’s “Against Trump” issue. Earlier this week, his column in The New York Post has a glowing take on his first year in office:
As the year ends, President Trump is compiling a solid record of accomplishment. Much of it is unilateral, dependent on extensive executive actions rolling back President Barack Obama’s regulations, impressive judicial appointments and the successful fight against ISIS overseas. The tax bill is the significant legislative achievement that heretofore has been missing.
For much of the year, Trump’s presidency had seemed to be sound and fury signifying not much besides the welcome ascension of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Now it’s sound and fury signifying a discernible shift of American government to the right.
It’s hard to see how a conventional Republican president would have done much better, except if he had managed to repeal ObamaCare, which was always going to be a dicey proposition given the narrow GOP majority in the Senate.
While the tide of conservative commentary seems to have shifted to the president’s favor, there were a few holdouts. In a long and thoughtful article in Commentary, another bastion of Never-Trumpism, Noah Rothman says that his peers have “blinders” on. He argues that Trump’s reckless tweets have played to G.O.P.ers' paranoid side and worse.:
The damage done by Trump’s big mouth is not limited to Twitter. His habit of giving aid and comfort to the worst elements of American society is contributing to the odor about the GOP. Trump made Steve Bannon, the proprietor of a blog Bannon dubbed “the platform for the alt right,” his chief strategist. He preemptively pardoned Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who faced penalties for defying court orders. Trump endorsed Roy Moore in Alabama, who was also guilty of contempt for the law and bigotry. He spent a week publicly wrestling over just how forcefully to condemn the white supremacists who took to the streets in Virginia in August, one of whom killed a young woman.
These actions undermine the GOP’s brand on race, which Republicans have spent years trying to repair. They render Republican legislative initiatives, like the reformation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and ending positive racial discrimination on college campuses, racially suspect and close persuadable minds to the GOP’s case.
He then argues this will come back to bite the Republicans at the polls as early as 2018.:
The Alabama special election demonstrated that Trump is no longer in control of his brand. His voters know Trumpism when they see it; prickly, provocative, and offensive to all the right people. This has made the GOP’s primary process a runaway train in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, Democrats are wildly over performing in both special and general elections. The GOP House majority is in serious jeopardy. The Senate may now be, too.
What We’re Watching:
We don't know if Rothman got any negative feedback from his fellow conservatives. But we can say that being a conservative and a Trump critic is increasingly likely to make you a subject of attack.
In The Atlantic, former George W. Bush speechwriter and neoconservative commentator David Frum, points out that failing to embrace Trump is an increasingly lonely place for anyone on the right side of the divide.:
“In the spring of 2016, National Review published its “Against Trump” issue.Twenty-one prominent conservatives signed individual statements of opposition to Trump’s candidacy. Of those 21, only six continue to speak publicly against his actions. Almost as many have become passionate defenders of the Trump presidency, most visibly the Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell and the National Rifle Association’s Dana Loesch.”
He points out that voices conforming to the Trump line have been pressured by fear of losing lucrative cable news gigs. (Fox News, apparently, drops anyone not 100 percent in Trump’s corner.) They feel the heat from readers but mostly from peers. He points, in particular, to a piece in National Review by editor Charles C.W. Cooke that he describes as a “savagely personal attack” on the conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin. The sub-headline on the Cooke piece gives you the gist of what he said: “The Washington Post columnist stands out among Trump-obsessed zealots who add nothing to our discourse.”
Frum argues that it is the opposite, that true conservatism cannot survive attacks on people like Rubin. He goes on to say that the act of defending Trump is actually changing conservativism to Trumpism.:
Donald Trump may not be the leader of American conservatism, but he is its most spectacular and vulnerable asset. The project of defending him against his coming political travails—or at least of assailing those who doubt and oppose him—is already changing what it means to be a conservative. The word conservative will of course continue in use. But its meaning is being rewritten each day by the actions of those who lay claim to the word. It is their commitment to Trump that etches Trumpism into them. And while Trump may indeed pass, that self-etching will not soon be effaced.
2. Tax Law Unpopularity: There Will Be A “February Surprise.”
It is hard to overstate the jubilation on the conservative side of the aisle over the passage of the tax bill. If you can imagine it as equal to the Democratic despair, you get the idea. However, if one thing still irks conservative pundits, it is that so far the the liberals have managed to control the public narrative of the bill as a tax break to millionaires and billionaires at the expense of the middle class. Much ink was spilled this week to blame the Mainstream Media and the Democrats for the unfairness of that impression.
The Washington Examiner flat out accused Democrats of lying on every aspect of the bill.:
Democrats are purposefully ignoring the actual tax cuts in the bill, and is relying on estimates about what will happen a decade from now, never mind that Washington is particularly bad at seeing 10 years down the road. This, Democrats say without explanation or blushing, is why the bill will raise taxes on "86 million middle-class families."
It was a theme seconded by The Federalist:
Why do so many Americans believe that middle class is getting a tax hike? Because those they trust are constantly lying to them. Both in framing and content, the coverage of the tax cuts has been impressively dishonest. “One-Third of Middle Class Families Could End Up Paying More Under the GOP Tax Plan” writes CNN (They won’t). The Associated Press says, “BREAKING: House passes first rewrite of nation’s tax laws in three decades, providing steep tax cuts for businesses, the wealthy.” And so on.
Meanwhile, the The Washington Free Beacon questioned the polls that find the tax bill unpopular, reverting to a standard criticism -- that the Mainstream Media and their university partners oversample Democrats.:
Polls commonly oversample Democrats. Quinnipiac surveyed only 26 percent Republican in a poll that found disapproval of the tax cut legislation. Monmouth University found 47 percent disapproval of the bill by surveying only 28 percent Republicans, compared to 41 percent independents, and 31 percent Democrats.
Of course, the Mainstream Media is really lying. Most Americans will have big tax cuts in their paychecks by February and this could eventually bring good news for Republicans at the polls -- at least according to The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman, an assistant editor of the editorial page. He wrotethat the tax cut will become popular by late winter when voters see “their taxes go down and their wages go up.”
3. ‘1984’ Redux? Not So Fast.
Last week, The Washington Post reported that Trump administration officials had given staffers at the Centers for Disease Control a list of seven words they should not use in budgetary documents, including “fetus,” “evidence based” and “transgender.”
The story was very disturbing, and the agencies were widely condemned for being Orwellian. (You may recall that in his classic “1984” George Orwell describes a totalitarian government that enforces an innately deceptive and limiting language called Newspeak.)
Yuval Levin, a respected conservative writer, said he was also disturbed. So he did his own investigation for National Review and found that the “impression” created by the Post story was not “accurate.” According to his article, several of the words were not “banned” but rather discouraged in a style guide because they were overused. The other words were eliminated by career staff (not political appointees) looking to avoid offending a conservative Congress.:
In other words, what happened regarding these other terms (“transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based”) was not that retrograde Republicans ordered career CDC officials not to use these terms but that career CDC officials assumed retrograde Republicans would be triggered by such words and, in an effort to avoid having such Republicans cut their budgets, reasoned they might be best avoided.
So this became yet another example of the conservative press calling out the Mainstream Media for overplaying a threat to democracy.
Conservative journals also downplayed a story with similarly totalitarian overtones at the Environmental Protection Agency.
On Monday, The New York Times reported that E.P.A. employees who had complained about Trump were the target of record searches by a firm specializing in digging up dirt on GOP opponents. To make things uglier, this firm is affiliated with another firm actually employed by the agency to follow coverage in the media.
The editors at The Weekly Standard insisted there was nothing oppressive about this behavior because it targeted only staffers who are trying to “impair” E.P.A.’s new direction and the leadership of its chief, Scott Pruitt. Moreover, the op-research firm used Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, which are a legal means of getting records, rather than just having Trump appointees grab them.:
There is no scandal here. The lawfully appointed head of an agency has every right to find out if employees are actively undercutting his mission and getting paid to do so. Pruitt is loathed by the environmental militants inside the EPA (to understand why, read Fred Barnes’s feature story in the December 25 WEEKLY STANDARD).
The use of FOIA requests is an open and lawful way to deal with those who aren’t simply voicing legitimate policy differences but actually impairing the agency’s director. Definers only used public information to file its requests, not internal documents (an important point ignored by the Times in both the original story and a follow-up).
That Pruitt’s team dealt with the problem of internal opposition not by secret purges but by use of open-records requests shows a reverence for transparency and the rule of law. If an “authoritarian” regime wanted to “hunt down ideological subversives,” it wouldn’t use FOIA requests. It would just fire them.
4. Obama’s Blind Eye: Iran Nuclear Accord at Any Cost
On Monday, Politico’s Josh Meyer broke a story about how a decade-long Drug Enforcement Administration campaign targeting Hezbollah’s billion-dollar cocaine trafficking and other criminal activities collided with the Obama administration’s desire to smooth the way for a nuclear deal with Iran, the group’s ally. As a result, according to the report, the campaign, which was called Project Cassandra, was thrown an increasingly insurmountable series of roadblocks by the Obama administration.
The article details how the Obama administration declined to apply serious pressure on the Czech government to extradite Ali Fayed, a Lebanese arms dealer and suspected top Hezbollah operative, or go after another top Hezbollah operative and cocaine trafficker nicknamed the “Ghost.” Additionally, when Project Cassandra agents and other investigators sought repeatedly to investigate and prosecute Abdallah Safieddine, Hezbollah’s longtime envoy to Iran, the Justice Department refused.
Since the story broke, the Right has been hammering the Obama administration. On Fox on Tuesday, Jesse Watters expressed outrage.:
Lebanese arms dealer, Ali Fayed, tried to kill Americans. We got him in the Czech Republic. Instead of bringing him back, Putin said, no, no, no, keep him in the Czech Republic. And Obama said alright, we aren’t going to lift a finger. The guy is now out and selling Russian artillery to the Syrian government. So, basically, Putin’s favorite arms dealer… Obama let him go. Imagine if Trump had done that?
Then you have this other guy, the ghost. Huge cocaine trafficker… also tried to kill Americans. Obama let him off the hook too. Now what’s he doing? Selling chemical weapons to Basher-Assad that he used to kill his own people.
And it is not just low-level ideologues that said this… this was Obama-era treasury official Katherine Bower, on the record, testified to Congress, under the Obama administration, this was tamped down for fear of rocking Iran and jeopardizing the nuclear deal.”
Meanwhile, Breitbart reported that Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC), a longtime advocate against Hezbollah’s activities in Latin America, sent a letter to the House Oversight Committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) urging him to investigate the allegations in the Politico report. And Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) also told The Washington Free Beacon yesterday that he and other lawmakers are looking at evidence that could implicate top Obama officials, notably a deputy National Security Council advisor, Ben Rhodes. In the same article, Rep. Peter Roskam (R- Ill.) also said Congress must investigate the Obama administration’s actions.:
"The report alleging the Obama Administration turned a blind eye and allowed Hezbollah to pump drugs into the United States to fund its terror campaigns in the Middle East is not surprising," Roskam said. "Hampering the DEA's investigation of Hezbollah would be emblematic of the previous administration's fixation to strike a nuclear accord with Iran at any costs."
Like the Uranium One Deal, expect to hear more of this story and see it used as evidence that the Obama administration -- not the Trump administration -- was in cahoots with Russia.
5. Young Conservatives Gather, Talk Trump, Get Advice From Their Elders
Speaking of the future, 4,000 young conservatives age 15 to 25 gathered on Tuesday for the third annual Student Action Summit, a four-day gathering in West Palm Beach. The organizer was Turning Point USA, a self-described non-profit “Student Movement for Free Markets and Limited Government.” It was founded by Charlie Kirke when he was just 18 years old. Turning Point USA has close ties to Breitbart and is also known for its “Professor Watchlist,” which names college professors it believes are on a mission to discriminate against conservative students.
The speaker line-up is a Who’s Who of Conservatives, including Ben Shapiro, Dennis Prager, Donald Trump Jr., Anthony Scaramucci, Charlie Kirk, Jesse Watters, Judge Jeanine Pirro, the documentarian and author DiNesh D’Souza, and Breitbart’s editor-in-chief, Steve Bannon. In its excited coverage, Liberty Conservative, a D.C.-based libertarian political news website, even hinted Bannon might be upstaged by President Trump (due to arrive at the nearby Mar-a-Lago on the 22d for the holidays).
On Tuesday, in his summit speech, Donald Trump Jr. said the system is rigged and that forces were working against his father. Trump Jr. then referred to a cryptic anti-Trump text exchange between a former high-level F.B.I. investigator on Robert Mueller’s team, Peter Strzok, (who has since been dismissed from the Russia probe) and an F.B.I. lawyer, Lisa Page, that many conservatives say links the F.B.I. to the infamous Steele dossier, which was leaked to Buzzfeed and contained unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives.:
Imagine what would happen if we rolled back the clock to 2008 -- and a conservative director of the FBI... wrote an email about an insurance policy, the dossier, in the unlikely event that Barack Obama was elected president. What do you think would happen? Do you think the media would cover that? Do you think it would be brushed under the rug? There would be revolution in the streets… there is and there are people at the highest levels of the government that don’t want to let America be America.
Meanwhile, yesterday, Fox’s Watters spoke. He addressed the 2016 presidential election, explaining that people thought it would originally be Jeb Bush against Hillary Clinton. He joked that they were “the two most boring people on Earth, until Donald Trump entered the race” and then continued to deride Clinton. According to Turning Point News, the website of the summit’s sponsor, he then ended with three key pieces of advice for his listeners:
First, to “hold all politicians accountable” (adding that “they’re all crooked.”)
Second, to “stay informed,” because “we are all in a bubble.” And third, that “ridicule is very effective.”