Mr. President, stop attacking the press

John McCain, writing in the Washington Post:

After leaving office, President Ronald Reagan created the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award to recognize individuals who have fought to spread liberty worldwide. Nancy Reagan continued the tradition after her husband’s death, and in 2008 she bestowed the honor on human rights icon Natan Sharansky, who credited Reagan’s strong defense of freedom for his own survival in Soviet gulags. Reagan recognized that as leader of the free world, his words carried enormous weight, and he used them to inspire the unprecedented spread of democracy around the world.

President Trump does not seem to understand that his rhetoric and actions reverberate in the same way. He has threatened to continue his attempt to discredit the free press by bestowing “fake news awards” upon reporters and news outlets whose coverage he disagrees with. Whether Trump knows it or not, these efforts are being closely watched by foreign leaders who are already using his words as cover as they silence and shutter one of the key pillars of democracy.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 2017 was one of the most dangerous years to be a journalist. Last year, the organization documented 262 cases of journalists being imprisoned for their work. Reporters around the world face intimidation, threats of violence, harassment, persecution and sometimes even death as governments resort to brutal censorship to silence the truth.

The committee’s report revealed a bleak global climate for press freedom, as more governments seek to control access to information and limit freedom of opinion and expression. They do this not only by arresting journalists but also by fostering distrust of media coverage and accusing reporters of undermining national security and pride. Governments dub the press the “enemy of the people,” weaken or eliminate their independence, and exploit the lack of serious scrutiny to encroach on individual liberties and freedoms.

This assault on journalism and free speech proceeds apace in places such as RussiaTurkeyChina, Egypt, Venezuela and many others. Yet even more troubling is the growing number of attacks on press freedom in traditionally free and open societies, where censorship in the name of national security is becoming more common. Britain passed a surveillance law that experts warn chills free speech, and countries from France to Germany are looking to do the same. In Malta, a prominent journalist was brutally murdered in October after uncovering systemic government corruption. In Poland, an independent news outlet was fined (later rescinded) nearly half a million dollars for broadcasting images of an anti-government protest.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s attitude toward such behavior has been inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst. While administration officials often condemn violence against reporters abroad, Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets. This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit. The phrase “fake news” — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens. CPJ documented 21 cases in 2017 in which journalists were jailed on “fake news” charges.

Trump’s attempts to undermine the free press also make it more difficult to hold repressive governments accountable. For decades, dissidents and human rights advocates have relied on independent investigations into government corruption to further their fight for freedom. But constant cries of “fake news” undercut this type of reporting and strip activists of one of their most powerful tools of dissent.

We cannot afford to abdicate America’s long-standing role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world. Without strong leadership in the White House, Congress must commit to protecting independent journalism, preserving an open and free media environment, and defending the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression.

We can do this by encouraging our partners and allies to review their laws and practices, including the abuse of defamation and anti-terrorism laws, to better protect press freedom and ensure that they do not unduly shrink the space for free speech. We can authorize U.S. foreign assistance to support independent media outlets and programs that create greater media pluralism. We can do more to foster conditions in which freedom of expression and information can thrive, including working to change increasingly political attitudes toward journalism. And we can condemn violence against journalists, denounce censorship and support dissidents and activists as they seek to speak the truth.

Ultimately, freedom of information is critical for a democracy to succeed. We become better, stronger and more effective societies by having an informed and engaged public that pushes policymakers to best represent not only our interests but also our values. Journalists play a major role in the promotion and protection of democracy and our unalienable rights, and they must be able to do their jobs freely. Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom.

Why Senate Republicans are rushing to pass an unpopular tax bill, in one sentence

Amber Phillips, reporting for the Washington Post:

The small business lobby. AARP. The medical community. More than half (52 percent) of Americans. Democrats in Congress. They all oppose a tax bill Senate Republicans are hurtling toward passing, as soon as Thursday night.

Republicans are racing to pass this tax bill despite the fact they don’t know what will for sure be in it, nor how it would impact economic growth, nor how tax cuts directed mostly at the wealthy will play politically in next year’s midterm elections.

So then, why the rush to pass it? Because, this: “Failure’s not an option,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) in the halls of Congress on Wednesday.

In other words, Republicans have come to the conclusion failure is worse than passing an unpopular tax bill. Way worse.

In the breath before, Graham had indicated he’ll take pretty much anything that can remotely be called a tax bill: “Susan [Collins]’s got a concern, it’s a real legitimate concern. Ron Johnson’s got a concern. There’s a deficit concern. It’s like making a cocktail. If you’ve got to add more of this and less of that, I’m fine.”

Graham has been the most frank spokesman for how vital this tax bill is to the future of the Republican Party. Donors (who would benefit from this bill) would just stop giving to the party, he’s warned. Republicans could lose their majorities in Congress, he and others have warned. Failures to pass it “will be the end of us as a party,” Graham told the New York Times at one point during this process.

Behind closed doors, Republicans in Congress agree. The common wisdom is they need to prove to donors and voters they can deliver on major campaign promises, the sooner the better.

Their concern may be warranted: Republicans control all levers of government in Washington, and yet they are coming up on one year without a major legislative accomplishment.

After Republicans’ attempt to repeal Obamacare blew up in their face, donors and activists were aghast. Key conservatives —  even huge proponents of getting something, anything, done on health care — said it was time for Republicans to cut their losses and move on.

“This is an epic failure by congressional Republicans,” Tim Phillips, president of the conservative Koch network-funded group Americans for Prosperity, told me at the time. “But it’s time to pivot to tax reform. There’s no time to pout.”

What better way to move on from a failure than by passing something Republicans have spent years dreaming of doing? Especially if that something cuts middle-class taxes, which GOP operatives say would be the easiest bill to sell to an American public already skeptical of the job Republicans are doing controlling Washington.

“Politically, this is, always has been and always will be the most important issue,” Corry Bliss, head of the House GOP super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, told The Fix this summer. “There’s nothing more important than having a good-paying job and being able to provide for your family.”

So, Republicans have come to the conclusion something is better than nothing. That’s really the driving force that could unify about 10 senators with competing concerns about the bill.

Here’s the problem: Something could still cost Republicans. By all past standards of how major legislation gets made, they are rushing through this bill. It would make the biggest changes to the tax code in 30 years, and they don’t have a lot of knowledge about what will happen next.

A key analysis by the Treasury Department the administration was expecting to use as evidence tax cuts at the top would rev the economy doesn’t exist, the New York Times reported — lending credence to Democrats’ and many mainstream economists’ criticism that trickle-down economics doesn’t work.

The Post’s Fact Checker found that millions of Americans would pay higher taxesunder the House’s version of the GOP tax bill, while President Trump would benefit. A nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report found poor people could see their taxes go up disproportionately under the Senate bill, while millions could be without health insurance. On Thursday afternoon, hours before votes were set to begin, the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation found the Senate GOP bill would add $1 trillion to the deficit over a 10-year period, undercutting Republicans’ arguments the bill would pay for itself.

In other words, this tax bill may not produce tax cuts for the middle class, that magic antidote to Republicans’ failure to repeal Obamacare. There are a lot of other, unforeseen ways passing this tax bill could backfire politically for Republicans.

As Graham has voiced, there’s one big reason it might pass anyway. Because of their past failures earlier this year, more failure is not an option.

McCain condemns ‘half-baked, spurious nationalism’ in clear shot at President Trump

Paul Kane, reporting for The Washington Post:

An emotional Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) launched a thinly veiled critique of President Trump’s global stewardship Monday night, using a notable award ceremony to condemn “people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”

McCain said that “some half-baked, spurious nationalism” should be considered “as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”

The 2008 Republican presidential nominee spoke with Independence Hall in his line of sight, having just been awarded the Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center, a nonpartisan institution built across the street from the spot where the Founding Fathers debated the nation’s future.

The award was presented by Joe Biden, the former vice president who served 22 years in the Senate with McCain. Biden is now chairman of the Constitution Center.

In his remarks, Biden paid tribute to McCain’s commitment as a captured Navy pilot refusing early release from his Vietnamese captors, to his bipartisan work in the Senate. Biden ended on a deeply personal note discussing his late son Beau’s admiration for McCain when Beau Biden went to Iraq on a tour of duty with the Army as a judge advocate general in 2008.

Beau Biden died of glioblastoma in 2015, the same form of brain cancer that McCain was diagnosed with in July.

McCain grew emotional at times during his remarks, recounting the 1991 speech of President George H.W. Bush on the 55h anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks. Bush is one of 29 recipients of the Liberty Medal. Last year the center honored Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

When it came to the portion of his speech about America’s place in the world, McCain gathered himself and delivered a blunt denunciation of the nationalist forces around the world, but most particularly of those at home:

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain “the last best hope of Earth” for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil.  We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.

The Daily 202: Trump’s DACA ‘deal’ is another humiliation for Jeff Sessions

James Hohmman, writing for the Washington Post:

THE BIG IDEA: Photographers caught a giddy Jeff Sessions cracking a satisfied smile last week as he prepared to announce that 690,000 undocumented immigrants who had been brought into the United States as minors would no longer be shielded from deportation.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program “is being rescinded,” the attorney general declared in the first line of his statement. “There is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws. … Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and even terrorism. … The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things, contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences. It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”

Fact checkers called these and other claims Sessions made about the immigrants known as “dreamers” dubious or outright false. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t take questions afterward. Regardless, the speech was widely covered as a triumph for the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and a sign that he was out of President Trump’s doghouse. Not only did Sessions get the outcome he wanted; he also got to deliver the news from the Justice Department briefing room.

Trump’s DACA decision last week seemed to validate Sessions’s decision to slog on through the summer even after being frozen out of the inner circle. From interviews to tweets, Trump repeatedly attacked his attorney general throughout July as “weak” and “beleaguered.”

The main reason Sessions chose to put up with indignities that might cause most people to quit was because he believed he could make a difference on immigration policy. That has always been his signature issue and animated his two decades in the Senate.

Much more here.

Steve Bannon’s damning admission about Trump firing James Comey

Aaron Blake, writing for the Washington Post:

2. WATCH: Bannon says firing of Comey was the biggest mistake in modern political history. Also, he refuses to answer if Kushner was for it. pic.twitter.com/d0zcZgowd1

— Yashar Ali (@yashar) September 11, 2017

There are few people who have believed in President Trump as firmly and unapologetically as Stephen K. Bannon, his former top White House adviser and top campaign strategist. And Bannon swore in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday that he would stand by Trump and fight, from the outside, against those he thinks are steering the president in a bad direction.

But even Bannon thinks Trump got something very important wrong. Very wrong. Quite possibly wronger than any president in decades.

In his interview with Charlie Rose, Bannon strongly suggested that Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey was the biggest mistake in modern political history. And that’s not even reading too much into Bannon’s comments. He wasn’t baited into it, either; he clearly signed off on that characterization.

Here’s the exchange:

ROSE: Someone told me you described the firing of James Comey — you’re a student of history — as the biggest mistake in political history.

BANNON: That’s probably too bombastic even for me, but maybe modern political history.

ROSE: The firing of James Comey was the biggest mistake in modern political history?

BANNON: If you’re saying that’s associated with me, then I’ll leave it at that.

Wow.

Bannon has been willing to differ with Trump when Trump ran afoul of his nationalist ideals, to some degree. But there has been basically nobody more willing to sign off on Trump’s most controversial tendencies. In the same interview, Bannon defended both Trump’s response to recent violence in Charlottesville — which drew widespread GOP condemnation — and his hot-mic moment in that “Access Hollywood” tape talking about grabbing women by their … well, you remember.

Bannon sees the best in Trump, and when Trump tilts in the wrong direction, Bannon often views it as someone else’s fault — someone with undue influence on the president of the United States.

But even he sees the disaster that has emanated from the decision to fire the man who had been in charge of the Russia investigation. Even he recognizes the magnitude of the unforced error that was.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that if James Comey had not been fired, then we would not have a special counsel, yes,” Bannon said, moments before the comments above. “We would not have the [special counsel Robert S.] Mueller investigation. We would not have the Mueller investigation in the breadth that clearly Mr. Mueller is going.”

To give you a sense of the mistakes Bannon apparently believes this surpassed in modern political history — and please understand that whatever you think of Bannon, as Rose noted, Bannon has studied history — he’s suggesting that it was bigger than the Iraq War, the Vietnam War, the Affordable Care Act, Mitt Romney’s “47 percent,” Hillary Clinton‘s “basket of deplorables,” Iran-contra, Richard Nixon’sSaturday Night Massacre,” etc.

Bannon admitted that saying it was the biggest political mistake ever would be “too bombastic” even for him. But he clearly doesn’t think it’s so outlandish to suggest that it was bigger than lots of things in recent decades. And as a top Trump ally — and someone privy to the inner workings of the White House for its first seven months — that’s an astounding admission.

It also suggests that he knows this may not end well.

Trump babbles in the face of tragedy

Michael Gerson, reporting for the Washington Post:

One of the difficult but primary duties of the modern presidency is to speak for the nation in times of tragedy. A space shuttle explodes. An elementary school is attacked. The twin towers come down in a heap of ash and twisted steel. It falls to the president to express something of the nation’s soul — grief for the lost, sympathy for the suffering, moral clarity in the midst of confusion, confidence in the unknowable purposes of God.

Not every president does this equally well. But none have been incapable. Until Donald Trump.

Trump’s reaction to events in Charlottesville was alternately trite (“come together as one”), infantile (“very, very sad”) and meaningless (“we want to study it”). “There are so many great things happening in our country,” he said, on a day when racial violence took a life.

At one level, this is the natural result of defining authenticity as spontaneity. Trump and his people did not believe the moment worthy of rhetorical craft, worthy of serious thought. The president is confident that his lazy musings are equal to history. They are not. They are babble in the face of tragedy. They are an embarrassment and disservice to the country.

The president’s remarks also represent a failure of historical imagination. The flash point in Charlottesville was the history of the Civil War. Cities around the country are struggling with the carved-stone legacy of past battles and leaders. The oppression and trauma that led to Appomattox did not end there. Ghosts still deploy on these battlefields. And the casualties continue.

But Trump could offer no context for this latest conflict. No inspiring ideals from the author of the Declaration of Independence, who called Charlottesville home. No healing words from the president who was killed by a white supremacist. By his flat, foolish utterance, Trump proved once again that he has no place in the company of these leaders.

Ultimately this was not merely the failure of rhetoric or context, but of moral judgment. The president could not bring himself initially to directly acknowledge the victims or distinguish between the instigators and the dead. He could not focus on the provocations of the side marching under a Nazi flag. Is this because he did not want to repudiate some of his strongest supporters? This would indicate that Trump views loyalty to himself as mitigation for nearly any crime or prejudice. Or is the president truly convinced of the moral equivalence of the sides in Charlottesville? This is to diagnose an ethical sickness for which there is no cure.

There is no denying that Trump has used dehumanization — refugees are “animals,” Mexican migrants are “rapists,” Muslims are threats — as a political tool. And there is no denying that hateful political rhetoric can give permission for prejudice. “It acts as a psychological lubricant,” says David Livingstone Smith, “dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under normal circumstances, be unthinkable.”

If great words can heal and inspire, base words can corrupt. Trump has been delivering the poison of prejudice in small but increasing doses. In Charlottesville, the effect became fully evident. And the president had no intention of decisively repudiating his work.

What do we do with a president who is incapable or unwilling to perform his basic duties? What do we do when he is incapable of outrage at outrageous things? What do we do with a president who provides barely veiled cover for the darkest instincts of the human heart? These questions lead to the dead end of political realism — a hopeless recognition of limited options. But the questions intensify.

Bizarre. Absurd. Ridiculous. Embarrassing. Trump.

Kathleen Parker, reporting for the Washington Post:

As the nation was preparing to celebrate its storied independence from the British crown, the president secured his place as history’s greatest jester.

Or America’s first toddler president. Take your pick.

Trump did so by tweeting a doctored video clip of himself from several years ago in which he takes down wrestling magnate Vince McMahon and gives him a good pummeling. The new version superimposes the CNN logo on McMahon’s head. Get it? In the 28-second clip, Trump walks away from the fray unrumpled with nary a hair out of place.

Bizarre comes to mind. Absurd. Ridiculous. Funny, perhaps, to a certain sort. Embarrassing in the extreme to many Americans who would describe themselves as perpetually appalled. What’s next, Trump in his tighty whities atop Trump Tower punching an inflatable Vladimir Putin?

It is baffling to think that Trump is proud of himself and such high jinks, to put it charitably. We get that he’s at war with the media, hardly an original concept at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But no one has ever seen a U.S. president behave in such an idiotic manner. Most adults have a pause button in their brains that shields civilized society from impulsive, inappropriate behavior. For the president, every impulse is apparently irresistible.

For good reason, many in the journalism world have expressed deep concerns about the effect the video might have. CNN’s response said in part: “It is a sad day when the president of the United States encourages violence against reporters.”

We’ve already witnessed one such event this year when Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte, now a member of Congress, assaulted a reporter for the Guardian, breaking his glasses. In a comedy, the audience might applaud the tough guy punching the obnoxious reporter, but this isn’t a comedy. Please, someone tell the president.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), whose recent book laments the absence of people behaving like grown-ups in America, reacted to the video-tweet in strong language, suggesting that Trump is trying to “weaponize distrust” toward the media. It’s not as though the country’s media-haters need much encouragement to act out Trump’s looney-tunes dreamscape. It only takes one.

All is not glum, however. There have been some truly humorous moments in the aftermath of the video’s viral reception, principally from those defending Trump’s cartoon presidency. The ever-earnest Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president “in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence.” How’s that? Isn’t this the same Trump who offered to pay the legal fees of anyone who got in hot water for punching out a protester at one of his campaign rallies?

To Trump supporters who find the wrestling video unobjectionable or, I suspect, hilarious in some cases, I would ask that they try to imagine the same video showing Barack Obama superimposing Fox News on someone’s face, punching him repeatedly and then smugly strutting away.

Very likely these same folks would have stormed the Mall demanding the president’s impeachment.

As an opinion columnist who draws plenty of threatening hate mail, I fear less for my personal safety than for the integrity and security of our country. I’ve covered politics off and on for 40 years, including writing a thrice-weekly column for the now-defunct Charleston Evening Post in 1980 leading up to the first Republican presidential primary in South Carolina.

Never during that time or since have I ever worried that a president’s behavior would embarrass the country on the world stage. Trump’s most unpardonable offense isn’t his implied threat to members of the fourth estate but his minimizing of the nation’s stature in the world. Our allies must shudder while our enemies devise new ways to celebrate. Trump may crack himself up, but he also shatters any pretense of our seriousness as a nation. So much for that shining city on the hill, not to mention the president as leader of the free world.

We look like fools because our president so convincingly plays one.

Trump, naturally, begs to differ. To his mind, he’s acting perfectly presidential. His Twitter habit is simply a “modern day presidential” way of communicating. To this thought, homeland security adviser Thomas Bossert added that Trump is a “genuine president expressing himself genuinely.”

Well, there’s that.

But the act of a president using modern technology doesn’t necessarily convey “presidential,” as most define it.

And being genuine in Trump’s case simply means he’s a genuine fool.

Is this it for Trump?

Kathleen Parker, reporting for the Washington Post:

For months, Trump watchers have wondered: What will it take?

Meaning: What would finally force Republicans to face the fact, so obvious to so many, that President Trump isn’t quite right? Not in the correct sense but in the head sense.

The answer, apparently, is Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“This is not normal,” people are finally saying in response to Trump’s latest Twitter attacks in which the president of the United States limboed under his own low bar and chastised Brzezinski and co-anchor/fiance Joe Scarborough with his usual knuckle-dragging flair. Applying his 140-character attention span, he squibbed:

“I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”

Classic Trump.

This probably isn’t the way Brzezinski would have preferred things to go, but in Trump’s vernacular, she’s been cruisin’ for a bruisin’ for a long time. That is, she’s been calling out The Donald with everything but an engraved invitation to duel at dawn.

And, high time, I might add. For months during the early part of Trump’s campaign, “MoJo,” as the show is nicknamed, was a welcome station for the celebrity firing squad. Around Washington, people had begun referring to the morning manfest, where Brzezinski gamely serves as reluctant den mother, as “Morning Trump.” This was also the period when then-candidate Trump constantly bragged that he hadn’t spent any money on advertising — and no one wondered why. He regularly called in to the show, essentially running his campaign from Trump Tower.

Trump had ample coverage elsewhere as well. When your strength is branding and your name is the brand, there’s little challenge to getting airtime. Cable television anchors and producers not only became Trump’s unpaid marketers but also bear some of the responsibility/blame for Trump’s election. Then, things got strange. Trump won. Then Trump became even odder than usual, even according to his friends and others inclined to like him. Always fiercely competitive, obviously, as well as flawed, Trump nevertheless was able to control his worst impulses before becoming president, Scarborough and Brzezinski co-wrote in a Post op-ed Friday.

Or, perhaps, something is actually wrong with the guy. Plenty of physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists think so and have written me volumes in off-the-record diagnoses. A group of them have joined forces to co-write a book due out this fall.

It isn’t so much that The Donald always hits back, and harder, as his flacks boast. It’s that he’s so thin-skinned, such a political amateur — and so utterly lacking in the fine art of disregard — that he can’t let anything pass. This is the single greatest concern for the witted, not his idiotic tweets in the night. Impulsivity combined with narcissistic injury is a red flag to many for the man with access to the nuclear codes.

And so, as more and more Americans embrace “This is not normal” as the bumper sticker du jour, many are wondering again: Will this be it? Will the final straw be Brzezinski’s alleged badly bleeding face-lift, which she needlessly denied in the op-ed? She only tweaked some skin beneath the chin, she said. CNN’s Brian Stelter, meanwhile, has posted a photo of Brzezinski on the day in question and she shows no evidence of surgery and certainly not blood. What woman has a face-lift and goes bleeding to a famous club where tout le beau monde are partying?

To the point, is this it? My friends, don’t count on it.

Nothing will happen until GOP constituents start shouting and, remember, these are the same people Trump has taught to hate the media. Also, this is hardly the worst example of Trump’s errant charm. Yet, suddenly, his insulting Brzezinski, widely characterized as evidence of misogyny (what about “Psycho Joe”?), is supposed to send congressional Republicans into paroxysms of penitential rebuke-and-replace?

Brzezinski is wonder woman — smart, strong, wealthy — and engaged to marry her best friend. I seriously doubt she has been wounded by Trump’s pathetic second-grader taunts. But I get it. The most one can hope for these days is that enough Republican men can be shamed into defending Brzezinski, a woman many of them know personally — and who has thumbs-down power over potential guests on the show everybody in Washington watches.

Whatever works.

The GOP’s hard, messy options for destroying Trumpism

Michael Gerson, reporting for the Washington Post:

Nearly 150 days into the Trump era, no non-delusional conservative can be happy with the direction of events or pleased with the options going forward.

President Trump is remarkably unpopular, particularly with the young (among whom his approval is underwater by a remarkable 48 percentage points in one poll). And the reasons have little to do with elitism or media bias.

Trump has been ruled by compulsions, obsessions and vindictiveness, expressed nearly daily on Twitter. He has demonstrated an egotism that borders on solipsism. His political skills as president have been close to nonexistent. His White House is divided, incompetent and chaotic, and key administration jobs remain unfilled. His legislative agenda has gone nowhere. He has told constant, childish, refuted, uncorrected lies, and demanded and habituated deception among his underlings. He has humiliated and undercut his staff while requiring and rewarding flattery. He has promoted self-serving conspiracy theories. He has displayed pathetic, even frightening, ignorance on policy matters foreign and domestic. He has inflicted his ethically challenged associates on the nation. He is dead to the poetry of language and to the nobility of the political enterprise, viewing politics as conquest rather than as service.

Trump has made consistent appeals to prejudice based on religion and ethnicity, and associated the Republican Party with bias. He has stoked tribal hostilities. He has carelessly fractured our national unity. He has attempted to undermine respect for any institution that opposes or limits him — be it the responsible press, the courts or the intelligence community. He has invited criminal investigation through his secrecy and carelessness. He has publicly attempted to intimidate law enforcement. He has systematically alarmed our allies and given comfort to authoritarians. He promised to emancipate the world from American moral leadership — and has kept that pledge.

For many Republicans and conservatives, there is apparently no last straw, with offenses mounting bale by bale. The argument goes: Trump is still superior to Democratic rule — which would deliver apocalyptic harm — and thus anything that hurts Trump is bad for the republic. He is the general, so shut up and salute. What, after all, is the conservative endgame other than Trump’s success?

This is the recommendation of sycophancy based on hysteria. At some point, hope for a new and improved Trump deteriorates into unreason. The idea that an alliance with Trump will end anywhere but disaster is a delusion. Both individuals and parties have long-term interests that are served by integrity, honor and sanity. Both individuals and the Republican Party are being corrupted and stained by their embrace of Trump. The endgame of accommodation is to be morally and politically discredited. Those committed to this approach warn of national decline — and are practically assisting it. They warn of decadence — and provide refreshments at the orgy.

So what is the proper objective for Republicans and conservatives? It is the defeat of Trumpism, preferably without the destruction of the GOP itself. And how does that happen?

Creating a conservative third party — as some have proposed — would have the effect of delivering national victories to a uniformly liberal and unreformed Democratic Party. A bad idea.

A primary challenge to Trump in the 2020 presidential election is more attractive, but very much an outside shot. An unlikely idea.

It is possible — if Democrats take the House in 2018 — that impeachment will ripen into a serious movement, which thoughtful Republicans might join (as they eventually did against Richard Nixon). But this depends on matters of fact and law that are currently hidden from view. A theoretical idea.

A Democratic victory in the 2020 election would represent the defeat of Trumpism and might be a prelude to Republican reform. But Democrats seem to be viewing Trump’s troubles as an opportunity to plunge leftward with a more frankly socialistic and culturally liberal message. That is hardly attractive to Republican reformers. A heretical idea.

Or Republicans and conservatives could just try to outlast Trump — closing the shutters and waiting for the hurricane to pass — while rooting for the success of a strong bench of rising 40-something leaders (Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Nikki Haley, Tom Cotton, Ben Sasse). This may be the most practical approach but risks eight years of ideological entrenchment by Trumpism, along with massive damage to the Republican brand. A complacent idea.

Whatever option is chosen, it will not be easy or pretty. And any comfort for Republicans will be cold because they brought this fate on themselves and the country.

The Trump presidency doesn’t seem sustainable

Ruth Marcus, reporting for the Washington Post:

So much for the notion that the second 100 days would be calmer or more reassuring.

As April drew to a close, and with it the artificial marker of the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, it was possible to conjure a relatively comforting scenario: It could have been worse.

After all, President Trump launched his administration with the dangerous duo of Michael Flynn as national security adviser and Stephen K. Bannon ascendant. The 100-day period ended with Flynn fired, Bannon diminished and the new national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, joining forces with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to provide a protective buffer against presidential impulsiveness.

Meantime, notwithstanding atrocities such as the immigration orders and the House health-care plan, Trump backed away from some of his most jarring and irresponsible campaign-trail promises and rhetoric, from declaring NATO “obsolete” to labeling China a currency manipulator to moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

A 70-year-old man does not change his character or basic approach. Still, the immense responsibility of the presidency molds its inhabitant. Thus, it was possible to detect some glimmers of maturation and even learning. Health care turned out to be more complicated than anyone knew. Heartbreaking photos of dead Syrian children killed by chemical weapons managed to evoke previously unseen empathy.

Not that the first 100 days had been even in the exurbs of normal, with the inaugural invocation of “American carnage”; the flood of ego-boosting untruths, from the inflated crowd size to the purportedly fraudulent popular vote; and the reflexive assault on enemies, including a “so-called judge” and the Obama administration for its supposed wiretapping plot.

Still, in resolutely optimistic moments, you could imagine a White House whose learning curve would continue an upward climb, however gradual and episodic, in which the New York moderates — Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, et al. — would elbow aside the America Firsters.

No longer.

True, the institutions of U.S. government and society have proved relatively robust. The courts and the media have risen to the constitutional occasion; Congress not so much, and intramural GOP dysfunction has so far prevented the worst from being legislated.

But Trump himself is turning out to be the full-fledged disaster of our worst fears. He understands nothing and is uninterested in learning anything — not just the dreary substance of things such as tax reform but constitutional values, governing norms and the United States’ unique role in the world.

He sees things only through the distorting prism of an all-consuming ego. There is only one Trump instinct — “fight, fight, fight,” he said at the Coast Guard Academy — and one Trumpian dichotomy: friend or foe. He is impervious to embarrassment, no matter how blatant his falsehood. The stain of his behavior spreads to taint anyone within range.

The past few weeks have presented an alarming parade of proof. Authoritarianism? Trump summarily fired his FBI director over “this Russia thing” — after, according to reports, James B. Comey resisted Trump’s demand that he pledge loyalty and declined Trump’s importunings to drop the Flynn probe.

Trump met unapologetically with yet another dictatorial thug, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and remained shamefully silent as Erdogan’s security goons beat up protesters on U.S. soil. No surprise there, from the candidate who urged his crowds to “knock the crap out of” protesters and as president reportedly pressed Comey to jail reporters for obtaining leaks.

Overweening egotism laced with self-pity? Trump used the occasion of the Coast Guard graduation to lament his treatment — “No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

Similarly, in the Trumpiverse, the Russia inquiry and the newly named special counsel represent “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” In fact, Trump has only himself to blame — Comey’s firing made the appointment inevitable, and the episode demonstrates the justice system working to allay public fears of political interference.

Dangerous ignorance and lack of preparedness for his post? Without evident forethought, heedless of consideration of the consequences, classically boastful, Trump blurted out code-word information about the Islamic State to the Russians at his Oval Office yuk-fest — and, according to the New York Times, derided Comey as a “nut job” whose firing relieved “great pressure” on him.

The national security and diplomatic establishment shudders at the thought of this man at loose abroad.

It is impossible to know how this disastrous episode in our history will conclude, or how grave the damage will be. But an adage from conservative economist Herb Stein comes to mind: If something cannot go on forever, it will stop. This situation does not feel sustainable for a full four years.

Trump turmoil is spreading far beyond Washington to state and local races

John Wagner, reporting for the Washington Post:

As a cascade of controversies consumes the White House, anxiety is rising among Republicans well beyond the Beltway that President Trump’s troubles could take a severe toll on the party heading into next year’s midterm elections and beyond.

With a near-daily string of new scandals and unfavorable headlines — including this week’s news of a special counsel to examine possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia — a growing number of Republicans across the country are watching dispiritedly as Democrats become further energized to turn out their voters in 2018, potentially tipping not only congressional contests but state and local races down the ballot.

“There were a lot of things that were promised to be done, and we’re just getting a lot of noise out of Washington,” said Marc Rotterman, a longtime Republican consultant in North Carolina who was a Trump supporter ahead of last year’s election. “It seems it’s Russia 24-7. When you’re reacting and defending, you’re not moving on your agenda. You’re not fixing day-to-day problems for average Americans.”

Rotterman said that “there still could be a course correction” but that if Trump and Republicans don’t make good on their promises, they risk losing support — particularly from the blue-collar voters who helped propel Trump to victory last fall. “They’re counting on him,” Rotterman said.

Trump arrived in Washington in an uneasy alliance with establishment Republicans, many of whom were willing to overlook his eccentricities if they still were able to make good on shared legislative priorities, including repeal of the Affordable Care Act and tax cuts.

While Trump has issued a flurry of executive orders and delivered on one key conservative agenda item — the confirmation of a successor to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — there is mounting fear that other marquee campaign promises will not be realized, making it harder for Republicans to win elections.

Since Trump’s controversial firing of FBI Director James B. Comey last week, the White House has been in full crisis mode.

“We cannot sustain this level of chaos from the White House and expect it will be anything less than a tragic outcome on Election Day,” said Jennifer Horn, a former chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.

Horn, who was accused of anti-Trump bias during her tenure as chairwoman, said she has noticed “a significant increase in the level of anxiety about the president and his behavior” from party leaders around the country over the past two weeks.

Some Trump boosters offer a more measured take on what has transpired, suggesting the drama in Washington will not be foremost on the minds of voters.

“The next election will have a lot more to do with jobs numbers than Russia,” said Barry Bennett, a Trump political adviser during last year’s election campaign. If the economy “keeps perking along,” he said, Republicans could do just fine.

Midterm calculus

While many Republicans are frustrated by what is going on in Washington, polls have shown that Trump remains popular with most members of the party and continues to be viewed positively by his base.

Trump also could try to energize his voters next year by blaming Washington’s problems on the hostile establishment he says he is fighting.

However, it remains an open question how many of the blue-collar and other nontraditional GOP voters who backed Trump will turn out for other Republicans when he is not on the ballot. At the same time, Democratic voters tend not to turn out as strongly in nonpresidential years.

The Trump factor already is being tested in several special congressional elections this year to replace members plucked from the House to join Trump’s Cabinet. All have shaped up to be closer than expected, and Trump’s troubles are a particular factor in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District — an affluent, ­Republican-leaning jurisdiction in suburban Atlanta.

“It’s a close race that shouldn’t be close,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who is working for GOP candidate Karen Handel, said of the June 20 election.

Ayres said that Trump’s troubles are clearly a factor in Handel’s race against Democrat Jon Ossoff, as well as in other upcoming contests.

“It certainly doesn’t make it any easier for Republican candidates in highly educated districts,” Ayres said. “The atmosphere in Washington and attitudes toward the president create a far more energized Democratic base than you’d otherwise have.”

Much more here.

Trump acknowledges ‘facts’ shared with Russian envoys during White House meeting

Ashley Parker, reporting for the Washington Post:

President Trump appeared to acknowledge Tuesday that he revealed highly classified information to Russia — a stunning confirmation of a Washington Post story and a move that contradicted his own White House team after it scrambled to deny the report.

Trump’s tweets tried to explain away the news, which emerged late Monday, that he had shared sensitive, “code-word” information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a White House meeting last week, a disclosure that intelligence officials warned could jeopardize a crucial intelligence source on the Islamic State.

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” Trump wrote Tuesday morning. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

Trump’s tweets undercut his administration’s frantic effort Monday night to contain the damaging report. The White House trotted out three senior administration officials — National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — to attack the reports.

The president’s admission also follows a familiar pattern. Last week, after firing FBI director James B. Comey, the White House originally claimed that the president was acting in response to a memo provided by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.

But in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump later admitted that he had made the decision to fire Comey well before Rosenstein’s memo, in part because he was frustrated by the director’s investigation into possible collusion between his presidential campaign and the Russian government.

At the time, Trump was surprised by the almost universal bipartisan backlash to his decision, and raged at his staff, threatening to shake-up his already tumultuous West Wing. His communications team — Communications Director Mike Dubke and press secretary Sean Spicer — bore the brunt of the president’s ire.

On Monday night, following The Washington Post story, the president again was frustrated with Dubke and Spicer, according to someone with knowledge of the situation.

But his decision Tuesday to undermine his own West Wing staff in a series of tweets is unlikely to help him bring stability to his chaotic administration, just days before he departs on a 10-day trip abroad.

Because the president has broad authority to declassify information, it is unlikely his disclosures to the Russians were illegal — as they would have been had just about anyone else in government shared the same secrets. But the classified information he shared with a geopolitical foe was nonetheless explosive, having been provided by a critical U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so delicate that some details were withheld even from top allies and other government officials.

More here.

From ‘build that wall’ to kick the can: Trump’s border promise might be hard to break

Jenna Johnson and Sean Sullivan, writing in the Washington Post:

Rush Limbaugh and listeners of his conservative radio show were not happy with reports this week that President Trump was, as Limbaugh put it, “caving on his demand for a measly $1 billion in the budget for his wall on the border with Mexico.”

Tim from Detroit called in to say he’s worried Trump will “kick this can down the road” like any other politician. Ray from Chattanooga, Tenn., wished he could tell Trump: “Be the man we elected you to be.”

And John from Polk City, Fla., added: “Number one, build the wall. Every time he spoke: Build a wall. I’m afraid he’s starting to dip his foot into the swamp. And, boy, I just don’t want to see that happen.”

In his bumpy first three months in office, Trump has reversed himself on campaign promises now seen as impractical or unnecessary, from repealing and replacing Obamacare in a single day to labeling China as a currency manipulator.

But Trump’s promise to build an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall” paid for by Mexico was special. It was his most vivid campaign promise, and its proposed height grew with every obstacle thrown in Trump’s way, from naysayers saying it wasn’t possible to the Mexican government saying it wouldn’t foot the bill. The most popular chant at campaign rallies became “Build that wall!”

Failing to quickly follow through on a wall carries real political risks for Trump, whose success is due in large part to his embrace of hard-line positions on immigration. There is also peril for fellow Republicans — who have been split for years on how the United States should reform its immigration system — in not taking the idea of the wall seriously enough.

Mark Krikorian, the longtime executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that advocates reduced immigration, said that he has never considered a border wall a top priority.

But now that the wall has taken on a life of its own, Krikorian said that Trump and Republicans have to make some sort of progress in securing a chunk of the border with a wall or heavy-duty fence — or else blow the opportunity to show Americans the party is ready to take action to crack down on illegal immigration.

“Following through on wall construction is one of the ways that the political class can win back trust on this topic,” Krikorian said. “It’s a tangible thing. You can take pictures of it and imagine it in your head.”

He added: “Even if the border wall did no good at all to control immigration, it would be important to build . . . Even if it did nothing, even if it was completely ineffective, it’s important politically.”

To Trump, the wall is a concrete symbol of his commitment to cracking down on illegal immigration. To many lawmakers, it’s a fantastical joke that they have to carefully navigate.

Since Trump took office, many lawmakers have been trying to steer him toward more practical solutions for the border involving fencing, increased border patrols and technology. They argue that constructing a wall would cost tens of billions, still wouldn’t solve many of the country’s border problems and could create whole new challenges as well.

“I think we’re all recognizing that his message is one that he wants a secure border. I think at one point that he may have very well thought that that was the best way to do it,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

Even at the White House, aides have been shifting their messaging to the broad topic of “border security,” with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus using the phrase six times on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday while only saying the word “wall” twice. The next day, Trump softened his demand to include wall funding in a must-pass spending bill — a comment widely viewed as caving to pressure from the same lawmakers that Trump once bragged he could outsmart.

More here.

The number of Americans who think Trump keeps his promises is plummeting

Jenna McGregor, reporting for the Washington Post:

President Trump‘s setbacks on campaign promises such as repealing the Affordable Care Act and his shifting positions on other stances look like they’re catching up with him — bigly.

A new poll from Gallup released early Monday finds that a majority of Americans no longer view Trump as keeping his promises, with poll numbers on that question falling from 62 percent in February to 45 percent in early April, a stunning tumble of 17 percentage points. The drop was seen across every demographic group: women, men, millennials, baby boomers and people with political leanings of all kinds. While numbers sank the furthest among respondents who identified as a Democrat or liberal, independents who said they thought Trump kept his promises fell from 59 percent to 43 percent; even among Republicans, the numbers fell, from 92 percent to 81 percent.

The poll, which was taken between April 5 and April 9, showed that Trump’s ratings fell on all six presidential leadership characteristics that Gallup measures. The percentage who think he is a “strong and decisive leader” also took a big hit, falling from 59 percent to 52 percent. So did the share of people who think he can “bring about changes this country needs,” which fell seven percentage points, too, to 46 percent. Just 36 percent see him as “honest and trustworthy,” compared with 42 percent in February.

On two other measures, whether Trump “cares about the needs of people like you” and “can manage the government effectively,” the president’s numbers also fell, although Gallup noted those declines were not statistically significant.

The ratings dive was most stark when it came to women who think Trump keeps his promises — just 40 percent now say he does, compared with 65 percent in February, a striking 25 percentage-point plunge. In a write-up of the results, Gallup explained that the numbers came after Trump’s defeat over repealing the Affordable Care Act, as supporters have become unhappy he hasn’t done more on taxes and immigration while detractors are upset he hasn’t protected middle- and working-class Americans.

What may be most remarkable is that the poll was performed before Trump dramatically flipped his positions on multiple other stances in the days that followed, as The Post’s Fact Checker column recounted last week. After saying he’d move on to tax reform after the GOP‘s stinging defeat on its health-care bill, Trump said in a Fox Business Network interview on April 11 that he would “do health care first.” And in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said guidelines on rewriting the tax code would come only after a new health-care bill passes, although his budget director later said the two were “on parallel tracks.”

* * *

“Strong and decisive leadership” is the only characteristic in the Gallup survey for which a majority of U.S. adults (52 percent) still give Trump positive grades. But even that majority is slim, dropping seven percentage points from February. It followed other polls that have shown a similar trend. For the past three weeks, the Economist/YouGov poll has found that just 50 or 51 percent of U.S. adults said Trump was either a “very strong” or “somewhat strong” leader in a question about leadership qualities, down from 61 percent in the results after his inauguration.

That attribute — a leadership style that’s “strong and decisive” — was said to be extremely important to voters in at least one poll after the last election. A Morning Consult/Politico exit poll from November showed that voters said being a strong leader was the most important characteristic they used when choosing a president, with 36 percent saying it mattered most, compared with just 18 percent who said the same in 2012.

More here.