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At the Wall Street Journal, new cracks in Trump’s support


Six days a week, I check out the Journal’s op-ed pages to see when their support for Trump will start to erode. So far, Rupert Murdoch’s writing puppies have been well-trained. They remain fixated on their “Jail Hillary, Kill Obamacare, Give Trump a chance, The Left loves terrorists” silliness. But this past week—the worst so far in Trump’s presidency—was so bad that even the Wall Street Journal is showing the strain.

First, on Wednesday, William A. Galston, a conservative Brookings Institution employee who had been a reliable apologist for Trump, in “A Turning Point for Trumpinology” hit Trump hard on foreign policy. All American presidencies for the past 70 years, he writes, have been united in running foreign affairs along “conventional postwar lines” upon which our allies could depend. Now, under Trumpism, “The true north of [American foreign policy] points to [Steve] Bannon’s truculent, aggressive nationalism,” making America “the epicenter of instability in the world.” Trump’s take on global affairs, Galston concludes, is “wrongly understood” [by him, not by us], and, in language shockingly inflammatory for a think-tank intellectual, Galston accuses Trump’s “enablers” (Rex Tillerson, James Mattis) of “helping him peddle this poison as medicine.”

Then, a day later, two more columns. Karl Rove’s “Political Death by 1,000 Tweets” concluded with remarks that have been widely quoted: “Increasingly it appears Mr. Trump lacks the focus or self-discipline to do the basic work of the presidency.” Pretty tough stuff for a Republican. Granted, Rove resented being shut out of Trump’s inner circle, but even so, with this piece, his criticism has reached an apex. “[C]hronic impulsiveness,” “sabotaging his own agenda,” “confused,” are jabs that could have come from Nancy Pelosi instead of from George W. Bush’s Brain. With the dire warning that the Trump administration’s existence is “at stake,” Rove’s shot across Trump’s bow is a not-so-distant early warning sign that the conservative base is nearing the limits of its patience.

In the same issue of the paper was Daniel Henninger’s “Can Trump Govern”? think piece. The title alone suggests his conclusion: “Yes, but the window is closing.” The White House, he charges, has been creating “an environment toxic to governing.” Henninger can’t bring himself to join The Resistance—yet. But you can feel his inner struggle: part of him wants to support the president, another part of him recognizes that “blood is in the water” and “the Russia story [is] becoming Trump’s Watergate.” Henninger is as good an example as there is of the anguish Trump supporters feel, as week after week brings more bad news. When Henninger writes that “The White House has arrived at a binary choice: Choose chaos or choose success,” what he’s really describing is his own inner dialectic: Support Trump, or bail.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest the Wall Street Journal is turning into the New York Times. Most of Murdoch’s puppies remain solidly revanchist, and will go down with the ship. Probably the last to admit she’s wrong—dead wrong—will be Kimberley A. Strassel, whose Friday piece, “All About James Comey,”—you won’t believe this—blames everything on, yes, Comey. And I do mean everything: RussiaGate, Trump’s obstruction, the Flynn affair, the hearings, the special counsel. “If only…Mr. Comey [had] chosen to retire in, say, 2015 to focus on his golf game,” none of this would have happened. If she believes that, I have a bridge in San Francisco I’d like to sell her. Well, I guess every about-to-expire regime has a Magda Goebbels, willing to take a bullet for her dead führer in the bunker.

Anyhow, Trump, Bannon and their cohort will blow off Rove-style criticism as the disgruntled last gasps of a dying Republican establishment, and no doubt Trump’s dwindling supporters in red districts will agree, telling themselves that all he’s doing is keeping his promise to “drain the swamp.” The problem for Trump is that his hardcore supporters don’t really think rationally: they’re reactionary (in all senses of the word), reacting to situations on impulsive, emotional bases—like Trump himself. Sooner or later, when the rightwing media they depend on begins to go south on Trump, the virus of doubt will infect them too: that’s how politics works. And all this will happen as the country gears up for the 2018 Congressional elections.

I know that three columns on two consecutive days in the Wall Street Journal do not make for an irresistible tide. They do, however, signal a shift in the prevailing winds, providing us tea leaf readers some insight into how things are going on the right. And, from here on the left, I have to say I like the direction.

  1. Bob Henry says:

    From The Wall Street Journal “Opinion” Section
    (June 6, 2017, Page A16):

    “The Buck Stops Everywhere Else”


    By Editorial Board
    “Review & Outlook” Section

    Some people with a propensity for self-destructive behavior can’t seem to help themselves, President Trump apparently among them. Over the weekend and into Monday he indulged in another cycle of Twitter outbursts and pointless personal feuding that may damage his agenda and the powers of the Presidency.

    Mr. Trump first expressed solidarity with the British people after the London terror attack, before managing to convert the mass murder into a referendum on his favorite subject, Donald J. Trump. He assailed London Mayor Sadiq Khan for supposedly minimizing the threat, though what Mr. Khan said was that there was no reason to be alarmed by an enlarged police presence after the rampage. “Pathetic excuse,” Mr. Trump called it.

    World leaders who stoop to attack municipal politicians in foreign cities look small, not that we can recall a precedent. If Theresa May has an opinion about Bill de Blasio she’s kept it to herself, though the Prime Minister was compelled to say Mr. Khan is “doing a good job. It’s wrong to say anything else.”

    In a humiliating coup de grace, the mayor’s office put out a statement saying he “has more important things to do than respond” to Mr. Trump’s social-media insults. The U.S. Commander in Chief also has better uses of his time than making himself look foolish.

    Mr. Trump’s more consequential eruption was against Mr. Trump’s Justice Department. He was evidently responding to a segment on MSNBC’s “ Morning Joe ” about his executive order temporarily suspending immigration entry from six countries with a history of terrorism.

    “People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want,” Mr. Trump wrote. “I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” Mr. Trump added that “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.”

    These comments are reckless on multiple levels. The original blunderbuss order was rolled out on the Friday night of Mr. Trump’s first week as President with zero public explanation and little internal vetting. White House staffers from the Steve Bannon wing preferred the stun-grenade approach, but Mr. Trump’s legal team convinced him to sign a legally bulletproof revision in March because they preferred to win in court.

    The new order wasn’t “watered down” on substance but did make pragmatic exceptions for, say, permanent residents with green cards and military translators. Had the White House done such legal due diligence in the first place, the travel ban might not have become a political bonfire — not least because the President enjoys wide constitutional and statutory discretion over immigration and national security.

    If Mr. Trump’s action is legal on the merits, he seems to be angry that his lawyers are trying to vindicate the rule of law. Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be justified if he resigned, and this is merely the latest incident in which Mr. Trump popping off undermined his own lawyers. The White House spent days explaining that the President fired James Comey on the counsel of Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, only for Mr. Trump to tell an interviewer that he planned to dismiss the FBI director in any case. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has also suggested that the temporary visa shutdown is not an “immigration ban.”

    If this pattern continues, Mr. Trump may find himself running an Administration with no one but his family and the Breitbart staff. People of talent and integrity won’t work for a boss who undermines them in public without thinking about the consequences. And whatever happened to the buck stops here?

    Mr. Trump is also sabotaging the legitimate legal basis for the travel ban, and the stakes are bigger than the ban itself, which we think is counterproductive and unnecessary. He is exercising core presidential powers over foreign affairs that the courts may restrict if Mr. Trump keeps daring them to do so.

    Two appellate courts have ignored the order’s text and cited legally irrelevant campaign statements to rule that the ban is really intended to discriminate against Muslims. And now President Trump has given liberal judges Twitter evidence to conclude that his motives may be suspect. At the very least he is making it harder to corral a Supreme Court majority.

    In other words, in 140-character increments, Mr. Trump diminished his own standing by causing a minor international incident, demonstrated that the loyalty he demands of the people who work for him isn’t reciprocal, set back his policy goals and wasted time that he could have devoted to health care, tax reform or “infrastructure week.” Mark it all down as further evidence that the most effective opponent of the Trump Presidency is Donald J. Trump.

  2. Bob Henry says:

    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Opinion” Section
    (June 8, 2017, Page A15):

    “Can Trump Govern?”


    By Daniel Henninger
    “Wonder Land” Opinion Column

    We are into the sixth month of the Trump presidency, and of 558 key positions requiring Senate confirmation, 427 have no nominee, according to the tabulation by the Partnership for Public Service. . . .

    . . . What top lawyer or professional at this juncture will join an administration whose ability to calm the political storms, execute policy or support its own people is in doubt?

  3. Bob Henry says:

    Headline from The Wall Street Journal “Main News” Section
    (June 6, 2017, Page A1ff):

    “Jeff Sessions Offered to Resign Amid Tension With Donald Trump”

    By Aruna Viswanatha and Del Quentin Wilber
    Staff Reporters


  4. Bob Henry says:


    “. . . What top lawyer or professional at this juncture will join an administration whose ability to calm the political storms, execute policy or support its own people is in doubt?”

  5. The real crack to watch for will be if actual Republican members of Congress truly speak out. I say “truly,” because I don’t count the occasional furrowed-brow expression of “concern” by the likes of McCain or Sasse, who then promptly go back to carrying the Trump Administration’s water. Collins just tiptoed up to the line by saying that Trump was “wrong” to speak to Comey the way he did, while still insisting that there was no obstruction of justice.

    The only thing that matters is votes. Votes in Congress to hold impeachment hearings. Or the people voting in a new Democratic House majority in 2018. Or a new President in 2020. The rest of it — all the editorials and op-ed columns and tweets by GOP commentators, conservative intellectuals, or retired officials — doesn’t mean a damn. (I mean, good on those GOPers who are speaking out, because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s not really moving the needle.)

  6. Jim B, you’re right about congressional repubs being craven. However, don’t overlook this fact: If one of the Committees (probably the Senate) or Special Counsel Mueller reports he obstructed justice, or violated campaign laws, or otherwise engaged in unlawful acts against America, the republicans will no longer have a choice. Their base may hate them for it, but they have sworn to uphold the Constitution. And with each passing day, I believe more strongly that Trump broke multiple laws and is going to have to answer for his acts.

  7. Mueller might issue such a report. Actually, he probably will, assuming Trump doesn’t fire him first — his media flunkies are already floating that trial balloon. But I’m skeptical that the Republican half+ of Congress will care. for the most part, they’re still more scared of being primaried if they piss off the base by opposing Trump than they are of losing to a Democrat. Until that changes, they’ll continue to make excuses for him. Gosh, those campaign laws are so complicated! He’s not an experienced politician, who can expect him to follow all of those! And really, isn’t the bigger question not obstruction of justice but LEAKS LEAKS LEAKS by the DEEP STATE?

    As for a Senate committee…. you understand that the GOP has a majority on every committee, right? Which of those exemplars of courage are you counting on to do what’s right, and more importantly, what on earth have they done to justify that faith?

  8. Well we just don’t know at this point but we have to hope for the best. If trump ends up proven to be a felon — and the republicans do nothing — we will be much closer to fighting in this country.

  9. Bob Henry says:

    Recalling The Wall Street Journal editorial board observation above:

    “If this pattern continues, Mr. Trump may find himself running an Administration with no one but his family and the Breitbart staff. People of talent and integrity won’t work for a boss who undermines them in public without thinking about the consequences. …”

    Let me proffer this . . .

    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Opinion” Section
    (March 9, 2018, Page A13):

    “Après Cohn, le Deluge?”


    By Kimberley A. Strassel
    “Potomac Watch” Column

    “But the bigger risk to Mr. Trump is that the exodus extends to higher levels. To the extent the Trump presidency functions at all, it is due to a handful of seasoned and sober conservatives — wise to both policy and politics. Many already felt beaten down by the daily feuds, leaks and drama, and some view the Cohn departure as another good reason to get out. Imagine a Trump presidency without Mr. Kelly, H.R. McMaster, Jim Mattis, Don McGahn, Mick Mulvaney, Kevin Hassett. Consider, too, that no one as good is likely to replace them — now having seen how the White House works.”

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