Worser ‘n worser. From the WSJ:
President Donald Trump expressed his disappointment in Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday and questioned the importance of Mr. Sessions’s early endorsement of Mr. Trump’s candidacy, but the president declined to say whether he planned to fire him.
… Mr. Sessions was the first U.S. senator to back Mr. Trump, a decision that was seen as a major blow to rival Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas). The endorsement came ahead of a handful of primary contests in Southern states with large numbers of evangelical voters—including Alabama, Mr. Sessions’s home—that Mr. Cruz’s campaign had banked on winning.
Mr. Sessions’s endorsement came at a rally in Alabama, one of the biggest of the campaign.
“When they say he endorsed me, I went to Alabama,” Mr. Trump said on Tuesday , recalling the endorsement . “I had 40,000 people. He was a senator from Alabama. I won the state by a lot, massive numbers. A lot of the states I won by massive numbers. But he was a senator, he looks at 40,000 people and he probably says, ’What do I have to lose?’ And he endorsed me. So it’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement. But I’m very disappointed in Jeff Sessions.”
Donald Trump won another major endorsement Sunday, surprising the political world when he walked onto the stage for a rally in Madison, Ala., with Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Two days ahead of Super Tuesday when 11 states will cast votes, Trump continues to dominate the national airwaves and demonstrate growing support from Republican elected officials.
While New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who threw his support behind Trump on Friday, is a pillar of the GOP establishment, Sessions is a tea party idol who helps validate the New York City billionaire with the conservative grassroots.
Sessions’ endorsement is a major blow to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose success may hinge on winning those Tea Party and evangelical voters — and who has so often cited Sessions as an ally in his fight against the 2013 immigration reform effort.
The pair of endorsements for Trump serves as an indication of a growing acceptance on both ends of the Republican Party that he, not Cruz or Marco Rubio or anyone else, is likely to be the GOP nominee.
Think about it: two days ahead of Super Tuesday, an important Tea Party figure endorsed Trump, gutting Ted Cruz. But according to Trump today, Jeff Sessions only endorsed him to jump on the bandwagon and to benefit himself.
Knifing Sessions like that — it’s just dirtbag behavior. Anybody who trusts Donald Trump from now on out is a fool.
Let’s not forget that Jeff Sessions was obliged by the law to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. As Ruth Marcus points out:
The facts: Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump and served as a close campaign adviser. That is conflict enough, but he piled conflict on conflict by meeting during the campaign with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and then omitting to inform the Senate Judiciary Committee of the meetings when questioned about it.
The law: Justice Department regulations provide that “no employee shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship” with the subject of the investigation or “any person or organization which he knows has a specific and substantial interest that would be directly affected by the outcome of the investigation or prosecution.” A political relationship “means a close identification with an elected official … arising from service as a principal adviser thereto.”
So Sessions’ situation and the question of whether he could oversee the Russia investigation isn’t a close call. As Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee last month, “That regulation states, in effect, that department employees should not participate in investigations of a campaign if they have served as a campaign adviser.”
In other words, it’s a no-brainer, at least if you understand basic concepts of conflict of interest. What Trump perceives as betrayal is Ethics 101.
Trump’s related argument — that Sessions at the very least should have given him a head’s up in advance so that he could have picked a different attorney general at the start — suffers from a similar flaw. A different attorney general might not have needed to recuse himself, but in the end that attorney general would have come to the same conclusion as the deputy left acting in Sessions’ place, that a special counsel was required to oversee the investigation.
Again, the law: Justice Department regulations require appointment of a special counsel when the attorney general, or someone acting in his stead, determines that investigation through the normal departmental processes “would present a conflict of interest for the Department.” How could this not be true of the Russia matter?
What realistic choice did Sessions have? And this is how Trump treats one of his most loyal advisers? A man who left his secure seat in the US Senate to serve as Attorney General! And we’re only six months into this presidency!
(You know what’s going to be funny? When Trump turns on his court Evangelicals. But then, they would have to challenge or otherwise displease him in some way. So they’re probably safe.)
I find it hard to separate the utter lack of character and judgment displayed by Trump in the Sessions matter from the same qualities on display in the Boy Scout speech. What a revolting spectacle! Full transcript here. A president with a shred of common decency (to say nothing of common sense) would have been ashamed to turn an appearance before the Scouts into a political rally.
My friend Ryan Booth is a white Evangelical, a former state GOP committee member, and one of the most sensible, upright people I know. After this Sessions insanity, he writes:
Hillary would not have been worse, folks. As some of you know, I didn’t vote for either. But Donald Trump is an unstable lunatic. If he lasts until 2020, then I’ll likely end up voting for a Democrat for the first time in my life.
I’m almost there with him. I believe the Democratic Party today wants to do as much damage as it possibly can to social and religious conservatism. I believe the Democratic Party would empower some of the worst people in America. But at least you know what they’re going to do. Trump really is an unstable lunatic whose word means nothing, and who sees no higher obligation than serving himself. If he will do this to Jeff Sessions, there is no reason at all to expect that his next SCOTUS nomination will be Gorsuch II. Maybe it will, but how do we know that?
Some years back, I read — maybe it was in a David Brooks column or book — about a psychological study comparing people who had been raised in an oppressive but stable environment with people who had been raised in a free but unstable environment. Those who grew up in the oppressive but stable environment were happier and had overall better life outcomes than the others. Why? The theory was that predictability had a huge effect on one’s inner state. People who did not know what to expect from day to day, and who therefore could never rest, were significantly less able to thrive.
I don’t know how you would measure this in terms of our political culture, but I suspect that the Trump presidency, whenever it ends, will have had an effect like this on the body politic. Plus there is the shredding of democratic norms of behavior that weren’t questioned before Trump took office. The longer this carnival continues, the more contempt the president invites onto his office, and onto Washington itself.
Look, I think it’s fair and accurate to say that the establishment — both Republican and Democratic — bear a huge amount of blame for the Trump presidency. They deserved to be badly disrupted. But every thoughtful conservative ought to have committed to heart the maxim that says before you tear down a fence, you had better understand why it was erected in the first place. As I’ve said before, Trump is not the cause of this disease, but a symptom. If we have forgotten why it’s important to keep certain basic norms of character and protocol in place, we will lose them — and indeed, have lost them.
Libertarian writer Julian Sanchez gets it:
This administration is, ironically, making me more conservative, in the narrow sense of appreciating the fragility of vital norms.
— Julian Sanchez (@normative) July 25, 2017
I just watched the entire Trump speech in Youngstown, Ohio, live on YouTube. If you only encounter Trump’s words on TV news, in print, on the radio, or via Twitter, you will not have gotten a sense of how incoherent he is. He was no different in today’s rally than he was on the campaign trail — but now he’s President of the United States. At least twice during the speech, protesters stood and yelled. The camera from the broadcast I was watching didn’t take its focus off the president, but it did show him walking away from the podium and watching as security (apparently) hauled the protesters away. I don’t complain about security removing disruptive protesters from a speech. What was unseemly about it was the obvious pleasure Trump took in watching the protesters removed. With the second one, he sneered something like, “That one looked young. I guess they’re taking him home to Mommy.”
Can you imagine Reagan acting that way? Can you imagine any American president behaving with such boorishness? Trump said in this rally that it would be easy for him to be “more presidential” than anyone who ever held the office, Lincoln excepted. Sucks to be you, Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Truman, Reagan… .
This presidency is a travesty. Trump told all those former steelworkers in hard-hit Youngstown that he was going to bring all the steel mill jobs back, and make their lives good again. Those poor people need hope, hope in something real, not this carnival barker who showed up ranting about immigrants, Muslims, the Fake News, lying Obama, and the rest. What are they going to do when they can no longer deny that Trump is a con man? Who will they blame then?
It is possible that Hillary Clinton would have been worse, in her own way. I’ve believed that, even though I could not bring myself to vote for either one of them. But today, I’m just about where Ryan Booth is. I cannot say with confidence which one is worse, but I’m inclining toward Trump. Our country is in a terrible place now, and we’ve brought it onto ourselves. It is going to take a lot to put back together what Donald Trump has broken, and I don’t trust politicians in either party to do it.
Here are short excerpts from the “reactionary” (his preferred label) historian John Lukacs’s 2005 book warning about the threat from populism. I posted them on this blog in January 2016. I want to recall these three today:
Meanwhile, we ought to consider the tendency of journalists and of political commentators throughout the Western world: their extreme sensitivity to every manifestation suggesting the appearance of so-called right-wing political phenomena anywhere. That sensitivity is not comparable to anxieties about a resurgence of the extreme Left. It is not attributable to “political correctness” (a stupid phrase) either. It reflects, instead, anxiety and fear about the potential mass appeal of populist nationalism in the age of popular sovereignty.
In our times … toward the end of the Modern Age, the difference — indeed, the increased discrepancy — between fame and honor has become so large that in the characters of presidents and in those of most public figures in all kinds of occupation, the passion for fame has just about obliterated the now remote and ancient sense of honor.
The “Left” has been losing its appeal, almost everywhere. It may be that in the future the true divisions will be not between Right and Left but between two kinds of Right: between people on the Right whose binding belief is their contempt for Leftists, who hate liberals more than they love liberty, and others who love liberty more than they fear liberals; between nationalists and patriots; between those who believe that America’s destiny is to rule the world and others who do not believe that; between those who trust technology and machines and others who trust tradition and old human decencies; between those who support “development” and others who wish to protect the conservation of land — in sum, between those who do not question Progress and others who do.
This prediction has not aged well. I think today, the Right is divided into three basic factions: 1) Those who hate liberals more than they love anything else; 2) those Republican establishment regulars who think that everything can and should go back to being how it was before the Trump aberration; and 3) a motley crew of conservatives, traditionalists, and religious folks who still hold on to the old ideals, but despair that there are few if any people in national public life who embody them.
Our political future is either Democratic establishmentarianism (whoever Hillary Clinton’s successor is), left-wing populism (whoever Bernie Sanders’s successor is), Republican establishmentarianism (Mike Pence), or Trumpian populism. There is no fifth option. Like I said, the country is in a bad way. If Trump’s treatment of Jeff Sessions isn’t a canary in the pro-Trump conservative coal mine, nothing is.
Dave Torrance, from Hermitage, Pa., had left early in the morning with three of his friends to see Trump. Torrance, 71, wore a blue ball cap with “American Patriot” embroidered across the top and a navy T-shirt with an American flag across the front.
Torrance, who is black, says he gets his fair share of criticism from folks when they find out who he supports. He got more when he told them he was driving to see him in person at the rally.
“They don’t understand why I think he is doing OK,” he said. “They don’t think because I am black that I should support him. I am polite about it, but I tell them that politics isn’t about color, it is about accomplishments, and I think Trump is doing the right things.”
His friend, Roxanne Jewell, of Orangeville, Ohio, is tired of all of the news focused on Russia.
“Yes, of course we need to look into things, but I am tired of the information being delivered in a way that says to me the only reason you voted for Donald Trump was because the Russians interfered,” she said. “That is so far from true. I had made my mind up on my own, not by any misleading Internet ads.”
Youngstown is a good representation of the towns that feel left behind in America for the past few decades. Trump has punctuated that in the three previous visits he has done in Mahoning County since announcing his bid for the Republican nomination.
Each time he comes here has drawn supporters from nearby Ohio cities, as well as West Virginia and Pennsylvania; all areas filled with struggling former manufacturing towns down on their knees but not down for the count.
“Trump has shown that he is interested in these people, they represent the people of the Youngstowns across the country that he connected with during the campaign and still connects with today now that he is president,” said Paul Sracic, a political science professor at Youngstown State University, who was standing in the crowd watching the festivities.
“This is like a tailgate before a Steelers game,” he said.