By Chris Stirewalt, ,
Published September 25, 2017
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On the roster: Can Trump tolerate being treated as a figurehead? - Trump promises fast federal funds for Harvey - Trump to kick off tax reform push Wednesday - Democrats get started down the 2020 road - Keep on rockin’
CAN TRUMP TOLERATE BEING TREATED AS A FIGUREHEAD?
One of the things people have liked best about Donald Trump since long before he was president is that he doesn’t seem to be tied up with a bunch of deeply held beliefs.
He is transparently transactional. And while that may trouble those with more developed ideologies, it actually comforts most people. The guy may be a little off the wall, but he’s not a nut. In business and politics, he postures himself as a pragmatic dealmaker.
The assumption goes like this: You might have to worry about someone like Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders acting recklessly or refusing to work with others because of an arcane belief structure, but not Trump. While you might have to be concerned about Trump being a hothead, you can count on him being more interested in getting a win.
Every politician changes opinions on subjects, but the sheer breadth of Trump’s stated policy positions on health insurance alone reminds us that this is a man who could with equal enthusiasm hawk frozen steaks and massive international real-estate developments.
It’s not the product, it’s the sale.
This has been a powerful dynamic in his young, tumultuous administration. Top economic adviser Gary Cohn summed it up in his remarks on why he chose to remain in the administration despite Trump’s claim that some “very fine people” had marched with the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis in the Charlottesville, Va. protest that ended with the apparent murder of a counterdemonstrator.
Cohn told the Financial Times essentially that he wanted to quit over Charlottesville, but thought it would be more important for him to stay – the implicit understanding being that only by remaining inside could he “grapple with” the worst instincts of the president and some other advisers.
Cohn is part of what the White House spelunkers at Axios dubbed “the committee to save America” – senior advisers, cabinet officials and senior lawmakers acting in loose concert to protect the president from himself and thereby keep the country from harm.
The informal claque is said to include White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as well as Cohn, a Democrat and former Goldman Sachs executive, and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, one of very few Bush administration returnees in the upper ranks of Team Trump.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson applied for at least associate membership this week when he told Fox News colleague Chris Wallace in no uncertain terms that Trump was not a spokesman for the values of the American people. “The president speaks for himself,” the former oil mogul said.
It would sound like an even more astonishingly arrogant point of view for subordinates to take if it weren’t for the fact that Trump actually seems to like playing the bad schoolboy kicking his schoolmasters in the shins.
At the same raucous rally last week where Trump hinted that he might pardon fellow birther and immigration hardliner, former Phoenix-area Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the president openly taunted his advisers as Trump attacked the state’s two sitting Republican senators.
“You know, they all said, ‘Mr. President, your speech [announcing a re-escalation of troop levels in Afghanistan] was so good... Please. Please, Mr. President. Don’t mention any names.’” Trump mocked. “So, I won’t. I won’t. No, I won’t. I won’t mention any names. That’s presidential, isn’t it? Very presidential.”
As you already know, Trump went on to make sure everyone know exactly who he was talking about, and in very disparaging terms. The message to his advisers: I say what I want. But for the members of the administration, these little embarrassments are a small price to pay for the chance to, in their minds, save America.
The idea commonly held in Washington is that we are living under something like a regency, in which the real power is behind the throne and the dauphin is just a ceremonial ruler. Don’t listen to what Trump says, believers in the regency would tell you, just watch what the administration does.
And given the conventionality of most of Trump’s choices, especially the troop surge in Afghanistan, re-certification of the Iran nuclear deal and go-slow approach on the North American Free Trade Agreement, it’s hard to discount the argument that the establishmentarians around Trump are steering the ship of state.
This has made unlikely heroes of these figures to many, even on the left. When Trump does something that not even his staunchest allies can defend, like pardoning Arpaio or talking about sending troops to Venezuela or musing about letting insurance subsidies lapse for millions of families in order to drive Democrats to the negotiating table, official Washington thinks “Thank God for Mattis,” or whichever adviser was tasked with blocking that particular shot on goal.
And maybe it will work. Maybe Cohn can get the tax plan across the finish line next month. Maybe Mattis and Tillerson can prevent nuclear war in Asia. Maybe Kelly can knock enough heads together to get a patch for ObamaCare before time runs out. And Maybe Trump will just tweet and riff at rallies and say wild things while the committee works its will.
Or maybe Trump, who is a more avid news consumer than perhaps any modern president, will get sick of reading and hearing again and again how he really isn’t the president. Trump may love the fantastic press Kelly & Co. have been getting for calming the neurotic dysfunction of the West Wing, but there’s no way he likes the idea of him getting none of the credit.
Trumps’ recent acting out – the snarling repudiation of his scripted statement on Charlottesville, the Arpaio pardon, the attacks on members of Congress ahead of crucial negotiations, etc. – may just be part of an ongoing cycle of rebellion and acquiescence that has dominated Trump’s public life.
But one the core assumptions of those who believe we are living under the Trump regency – and perhaps some of his advisers, as well – is that original notion that Trump really doesn’t have ideas of his own and is content to be a pitchman and a figurehead.
It may be that as his administration comes to function better, Trump will find new ways to assert himself and continue to reveal his own worldview. Trump learned as a candidate. Why wouldn’t he as president?
Those who assume we are entering into a calmer, more stable version of Trumpism may be in for a shock.
THE RULEBOOK: FIRST THINGS
“The want of a guaranty, though it might in its consequences endanger the Union, does not so immediately attack its existence as the want of a constitutional sanction to its laws.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 21
TIME OUT: BIG SMALL SCREEN
New Yorker: “In 2002, in an article called ‘The Televisionary,’ Malcolm Gladwell told the story of the invention of television. The visionary in question was a man named Philo T. Farnsworth. … For decades, he was widely known as the inventor of television. The truth was that television was an incredibly complex technology; hundreds, even thousands, of engineers had contributed to perfecting it. … By the time TV became a commercial reality, in the late thirties, its many inventors had learned to accept that no one person could claim to have created it—that, as Gladwell put it, ‘the machine was larger than they were.’ That turned out to be true for the rest of us, too. For nearly a century, television, like the weather, has shaped our behaviors, our moods, and our desires in ways we don’t always comprehend. The New Yorker, which was founded in 1925, was there from the beginning, covering television from its invention onward.”
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Trump net job-approval rating: -18.4 points
Change from one week ago: down 1.8 points
[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]
TRUMP PROMISES FAST FEDERAL FUNDS FOR HARVEY
Wash Times: “As flooding intensified Monday in Texas and Louisiana, taxpayers are likely to be asked to pony up for a cleanup effort lasting years and costing tens of billions of dollars in federal assistance. President Trump said the cleanup will be expensive but he expects no difficulties from Congress. Democrats and Republicans were eager to promise full cooperation. ... Ahead of a Tuesday trip to get a firsthand look at the situation, Mr. Trump told a Texas reporter at a press conference Monday that the federal government will take care of the state. ‘You’re going to get your funding,’ Mr. Trump said. ‘We think you’re going to have what you need, and it’s going to go fast.’ It was too early for coherent estimates of cleanup costs for Harvey, but Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012 resulted in federal aid packages of roughly $100 billion and $50 billion, respectively.”
He shall return? - AP: “Trump, who is suffering through a long stretch of low approval ratings, has been particularly eager to seize the moment. He will visit Texas Tuesday — and may return to the region again on Saturday. The White House announced the first visit even before Harvey made landfall.”
TRUMP TO KICK OFF TAX REFORM PUSH WEDNESDAY
NYT: “Gary D. Cohn and Steven Mnuchin have spent months behind closed doors with Republican congressional leaders sketching the contours of an elaborate and politically difficult tax overhaul that is President Trump’s top priority. Mr. Trump hopes to jump-start the process on Wednesday, traveling to Springfield, Mo., for a speech calling for large tax reductions and a long-anticipated revamping of the code. But he has largely left it to Mr. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, and Mr. Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, both new to government, to devise and execute a winning legislative strategy. … Already, their ambitions have drifted from the president’s original mark: A 15 percent corporate tax rate proposed in April is now likely to move to the 20 to 25 percent range… a proposed 35 percent ceiling on the highest personal income tax rate could be shelved altogether, leaving the current 39.6 percent cap intact.”
DEMOCRATS GET STARTED DOWN THE 2020 ROAD
Politico: “Just like that, the 2020 retail campaigning for president began right here in a strip-mall campaign headquarters Monday, when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti showed up for what he called ‘the most important race in the country.’ … On Tuesday, Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), the only one to have already officially announced, will be here for a two-day trip, trying to get attention for his long-shot bid. On Labor Day, both Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jason Kander, the Democrat who narrowly lost his U.S. Senate bid in Missouri last year, will be back. … And on Thursday, Sanders — who was in Indiana and Michigan last week — will be in Iowa, along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon will be there in October. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who made his own teasing stop here in Manchester at the end of April, is headed to South Carolina in September.”
Bannon backs Moore in Alabama Senate race - Politico: “Just-departed White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is breaking from President Donald Trump in the closely watched Alabama Senate special election. During a closed-door meeting with powerful conservatives in Washington last week, Bannon declared that he's supporting former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore over Trump-endorsed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, according to two people who were present. Bannon, who just over a week ago left the White House to rejoin the conservative website Breitbart News, said he is looking to activate the conservative base to Moore’s cause.”
Rep. Lou Barletta to announce Senate bid Tuesday - The Hill: “Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) will announce his entrance into the Pennsylvania Senate GOP primary early Tuesday morning, Times Leader reported Monday evening. The announcement will be through a video statement, the report said. Barletta, who was an early backer of President Trump, will enter a race that so far includes two Pennsylvania Republican state representatives. The winner of the primary will ultimately face off against incumbent Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).”
MUELLER INVESTIGATING TRUMP'S ROLE IN DON JR. MEETING
The Hill: “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is allegedly investigating President Trump’s part in responding to reports about the meeting his advisers had with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential race. NBC News reported Monday that investigators are trying to determine what Trump knew about the meeting and if he tried to hide its purpose. Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort were all in attendance at the Trump Tower meeting. ‘Even if Trump is not charged with a crime as a result of the statement, it could be useful to Mueller's team to show Trump's conduct to a jury that may be considering other charges’ a source told NBC. … Mueller, who was appointed by the Justice Department to oversee the federal government's response into Moscow's meddling in the presidential election, is probing if Trump helped construct a ‘knowingly false statement,’ according to NBC.”
Meanwhile, Rep. DeSantis looks to kill probe - Politico: “Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is pushing an amendment to severely curtail special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. DeSantis has put forward a provision that would halt funding for Mueller’s probe six months after the amendment’s passage. It also would prohibit Mueller from investigating matters that occurred before June 2015, when Trump launched his presidential campaign. The amendment is one of hundreds filed to a government spending package the House is expected to consider when it returns next week from the August recess. The provision is not guaranteed a vote on the House floor; the House Rules Committee has wide leeway to discard amendments it considers out of order.”
BATTLE OF BERKELEY WILL RAGE ON
Fox News: “More than a dozen people were arrested in Berkeley, California, after members of the Antifa movement allegedly attacked peaceful protesters over the weekend -- and one of those protesters opened up to Fox News on Monday about the violent threats she heard. ‘They came with black masks, they carried weapons, they were pounding people down with their fists and their feet,’ Berkeley College Republican Ashton Whitty said on ‘The Story with Martha MacCallum.’ … ‘I find out then that Antifa actually had several people posted around Berkeley tracking us and telling people our location by social media.’ More than 100 hooded protesters, with shields sporting the words ‘no hate’ and waving a flag identifying themselves as anarchists, broke through security lines to reach the conservative protesters. ‘I was willing to discuss anything,’ Whitty said. “I held up a poster that said ‘let’s just have a conversation.’ … And, everything was great until Antifa showed up.’”
Eli Lake: Play amongst yourselves - Bloomberg: “As America feels like it's coming apart at the seams, I have a modest proposal. The hard-right and hard-left activists who so enjoy protesting one another should meet every few weekends in a large national park and have at it. The rest of us could begin to treat this wave of street agitation as the sideshow it is. After all, this is not a fight for the soul of America. Neither the Tiki-torch Nazis nor the masked anarchists represent a viable American future. They are simply engaging in nostalgia, a scarier version of Civil War battle re-enactments. Lumping them together does not equate two unequal sides. The cause of anti-fascism is noble, whereas the racists marching in Charlottesville are telling journalists like me I should be sent to the ovens. I'm not talking about the folks on the left who are nonviolent and unmasked, showing up to protest the fascists.”
WSJ Ed. Board: Left should denounce violence - WSJ Editorial Board: “This weekend two right-wing groups sought to hold peaceful rallies. Their leaders—Patriot Prayer’s Joey Gibson, a Japanese-American, and Amber Cummings, a transgender Trump supporter—explicitly denounced racism. Amid fears of violence, both cancelled their events. Antifa showed up anyway, outnumbering and terrorizing any right-wingers or Trump supporters who dared show their faces. Antifa views itself as fundamentally reactionary, as a necessary opposition to corrosive ideologies. But because your foe is a really bad guy doesn’t mean you’re inherently a good one. Movements are defined not merely by what they oppose but by what they do. Antifa’s censorious criminality resembles the very political behavior it claims to fight. The mainstream left ought to denounce it as much as the right should reject white supremacists.”
Trump says understaffing of executive staff is intentional - Politico
Trump fires longtime event organizer George Gigicos after Phoenix speech - Bloomberg
Poll: Republicans divided in views of Trump’s conduct - Pew Research Center
House Ethics Committee reviewing charges against Rep. Chris Collins - WaPo
“Only morons pay the estate tax.” – White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, quoted by the New York Times, at a meeting with Senate Democrats.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Just watched you and the ladies [on “Outnumbered”] besmirch the pardon of Joe Arpaio, as a garbage pardon. I seriously don't recall your reaction to the Chelsea Manning pardon. Let's see, as a NH State Representative when President Obama came into office, the first thing is Justice Department did was let us all know in state government that his administration was going to look the other way and not enforce many "non-violent" crimes. Funny, the office of the Presidency is to uphold the laws on the books. As Secretary Sessions has said repeatedly, if you don't like the laws, change them, until then, they will be enforced. It is my understanding that the Sherriff was not given his 6th amendment right to a trial by jury and that the Judge refused to hear witnesses. The verdict was not given to the defendant directly and he only learned of it by the news outlets. So what was garbage, the trial or the pardon? I guess you think it's a good thing to put an 85 year old in jail for protecting citizens and enforcing laws on the books. Perhaps it's time you read some of Greg Jarrett's columns on how those individuals in authority who don't follow the immigration laws on the books are eligible for jail terms themselves.” – Doreen Howard, Newmarket, N.H.
[Ed. note: You make an excellent case for the president’s choice to pardon Arpaio, at least from a political point of view. Trump’s political strategy is all about maintaining maximum intensity among his most ardent followers. And I can certainly feel your intensity on this one! At the time that Obama commuted the remaining years of Manning’s pardon I said, in essence, was that it was a lot of cynical pandering to his own base. Especially given the role WikiLeaks would play in disrupting the 2016 election on behalf of the Kremlin, pardoning Manning seemed all the more indefensible from a policy standpoint. It was pure identity politics. And so is this one. Trump said he did it to coincide with high ratings for hurricane coverage. A court ordered Arpaio and his department to stop racially profiling Hispanic people to try to enforce federal civil immigration laws not subject to his jurisdiction. Whether you think that right or wrong, it was a lawful court order which Arpaio ignored unto the point of contempt. Rather than appealing and working through the system, he got a reprieve from a powerful political benefactor, an ally he had made back when they were both in the trenches of trying to prove Obama was a secret Kenyan. Arpaio hadn’t been sentenced and was in no discernable immediate danger of being jailed and Trump didn’t even follow internal protocols of his own administration’s to prevent abuses. This pardon was an symbolic swat at the federal judiciary and a new low for a process that has become quite rotten over the years. Jonathan Turley referred to the Arpaio pardon as the “dregs left at the bottom of a now depleted and despoiled process.” But it will surely achieve its aim of keeping the president’s mad-as-hell base, some of whom have been with him since the birther business, fired up.]
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KEEP ON ROCKIN’
USA Today: “For decades, Ray and Wilma Yoder traveled across the country on a unique quest — to visit every Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in the country. They ate their favorite meals — meatloaf and pancakes and grilled chicken sandwiches — in the most obscure of places: Duncan, S.C., and Layton, Utah, and Baraboo, Wis. Along the way, they stopped at national landmarks like the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty, and they visited local wonders like the Opryland Hotel. … By 2015, they had visited more than 600. … Monday — as they walked into their very last Cracker Barrel in Tualatin, Ore., outside Portland — they could say they had officially called on all 645 Cracker Barrel locations in 44 states. … The company flew the couple out to Oregon from their home in Indiana for the event. And they gave them the royal treatment. It was a great end to a 40-year, millions-of-miles quest.”
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.