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The guiltier Trump looks, the crazier the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page gets

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You can tell how much trouble Trump is in from the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. The worse things get for Trump, the crazier the columnists get. It’s hard, and getting harder each day, to defend his crimes, transgressions and lies, as Mueller ramps up the charges; but the Journal’s op-ed artists, under orders from Rupert Murdoch, do their best; and, lately, their attempts cross the line from hyperbole into outright comedy.

Let us stipulate, for starters, that Trump is in “deep doo-doo,” to quote a former Republican president. Mueller’s Monday knockout blow was extraordinarily severe, and everybody knows that more—much more—is on the way. So how do you defend the indefensible?

Not very convincingly. Here, for example, is William McGurn, one of the Journal’s most ideological ranters, less a journalist than a shill for Trump. Mueller’s indictments? “Manufactured,” he rails, “a sideshow.” Oh really? I’d wager that Manafort, Gates and Papadopoulos don’t think so. And then he trots out the inevitable shiny objects: “Obama,” “Susan Rice,” “Samantha Power,” and, yes, the shiniest of all, “Hillary Clinton.” Distraction time, kiddies! But this is all McGurn has: terrified of the looming Russia-Trump scandals, he reaches into threadbare pockets to create non-scandals. As a certain Twitterer might write, #Sad.

Not to be outdone is Holman W. Jenkins Jr., a Tucker Carlson wannabe, snider than McGurn, though less smart. His appointed target: the dossier. That document really freaks Republicans out: if the pervo sexual stuff turns out to be true, it will make defending Trump considerably harder, especially for the Christian family values crowd. So here’s Jenkins, casting red herrings on all sides. The dossier was “never exactly plausible.” (Really? Says who?) It “smelled of Russian disinformation.” Christopher Steele “might have made it all up in his London office.”

Yes, Steele might have. Perhaps Hillary Clinton wrote it, or Chuck Schumer, or Nancy Pelosi, or “the elites” whom Jenkins—as East Coast elite as they come–loves to ridicule. Well, the important thing, for Republicans, is to convince people that the dossier is fiction, even though large parts of it already have been proven. And Trump? “The people’s tribune.” This is what I meant by hyperbole morphing into comedy.

Finally, there’s Daniel Henninger, nearly as snide as Jenkins, but with a veneer of preppie respectability. His assigned target: Mueller, who is starring in “a grisly movie” (grisly only to Trump defenders, enlightening to everyone else). The best way to undermine Mueller’s findings is to remind “the American people” that they “are disgusted with Washington,” lest they start to believe the mounting evidence of collusion and nepotism in the White House. And, for good measure, Henninger throws in a few more shiny objects: “Tony Podesta” (as if anyone cares), “Hillary Clinton” and “the Swamp” that Trump promised to drain. According to Henninger, he’s done it, or would have, except for “K Street and the Beltway bandits,” all of whom, apparently, are Democrats.

Incidentally, it’s ironic, but not coincidental, that the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page follows closely along the same lines as Pravda’s—or perhaps it’s the other way around. Russiagate is “falling apart,” Pravda tells us; indeed, it is “smoothly evolving into Ukrainegate”—a bizarre definition, meaningless to almost everyone. Mueller “works for a certain order”; Pravda doesn’t spell it out, but the implication is the Democratic, liberal order. Meanwhile, “the impeachment of Donald Trump will…be postponed indefinitely.” That may well be the view, or the hope, in the Kremlin; it is emphatically not how Americans see impeachment. Forty-nine percent of us now “support impeaching Trump,” with only 41% opposed.

As the number of pro-impeachment Americans rises above 50%, the Republican Party is going to have to do some serious thinking. We’ve already seen senior Republicans testing how far they can go: Corker, Flake, John McCain. As Mueller releases more evidence, and more of the president’s men (and women) are indicted, or plead guilty, more and more Republicans will shift course and desert a president they already think is insane. But we can be sure of one group that will never change: the op-ed columnists at the Wall Street Journal. Unless and until Rupert Murdoch decides Trump is more trouble than he’s worth—and there’s no evidence he’s anywhere close to that–he will order them to defend Trump, come hell or high water. And those salaried, amoral lemmings will comply.

  1. Bob Rossi says:

    ““Obama,” “Susan Rice,” “Samantha Power,” and, yes, the shiniest of all, “Hillary Clinton.””
    I believe all of those people are now private citizens, not elected or appointed officials. Someone should mention that to McGurn.

  2. Yes, Steele might have. Perhaps Hillary Clinton wrote it, or Chuck Schumer, or Nancy Pelosi, or “the elites” whom Jenkins—as East Coast elite as they come–loves to ridicule.

    Sure, they all teamed up to concoct the entire thing, and then…. did nothing with it. David Corn published a story in October 2016, based on conversations with Steele, but it was a fairly limited account. The details of the dossier, including the much-discussed golden showers, weren’t published until Buzzfeed did it in December 2016, i.e. after the election. Quite the clever scheme that would have been.

    Bob Rossi — sure, they’re private citizens now. But three of them are women, and two of them are racial minorities, so they’re Fair Game.

  3. “Well, the important thing, for Republicans, is to convince people that the dossier is fiction, even though large parts of it already have been proven.”

    Steve, disabuse me of my ignorance, as I have not followed this story.

    Specifically, what parts of the dossier have been “proven”?

    Kindly proffer some links to media accounts I can read.

  4. Steve, quoting the “small print” from that cited Public Policy Polling survey on impeachment sentiment:

    “Public Policy Polling surveyed 572 registered voters from October 27th to 29th. The margin of error is +/-4.1%. 80% of participants, selected through a list based sample, responded via the phone, while 20% of respondents who did not have landlines conducted the survey over the internet through an opt-in internet panel.”

    Hmmm . . . in a nation of 200 million registered voters circa 2016 [1] (of which in excess of 126 million cast a vote in the 2016 presidential election [2]), I am less than comfortable with a survey that includes only 572 of those folks.

    When the Nielsen company calculates national broadcast TV ratings in primetime, they survey 20,000 TV households [3] out of a total of 118.4 million TV households [4].

    And TV industry professionals still carp and grouse about that low household number.

    [1] https://www.politico.com/story/2016/10/how-many-registered-voters-are-in-america-2016-229993

    [2] http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/11/politics/popular-vote-turnout-2016/index.html

    [3] http://clypd.com/nielsens-panel-expansion-and-national-ratings-modeling-whats-happening/

    [4] http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2016/nielsen-estimates-118-4-million-tv-homes-in-the-us–for-the-2016-17-season.html

  5. While I await my first comment to pass “moderation,” I thought I would undertake a cursory investigation into “who” Public Policy Polling is:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Policy_Polling

    I quote:

    “Public Policy Polling (PPP) is a U.S. Democratic[1] polling firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina.[2][3][4] PPP was founded in 2001 by businessman Dean Debnam, the firm’s current president and chief executive officer.[5]

    “In addition to political issues, the company has polled the public on topics such as the approval rating of God,[6] whether Republican voters believe President Obama would be eligible to enter heaven in the event of the Rapture,[7] whether hipsters should be subjected to a special tax for being annoying,[8] and whether Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer.[9][10]”

    I would say they have an intrinsic bias.

    Unlike other polling services that have no political affiliation.

  6. On the impeachment question, here’s a more credible survey as reported by Newsweek magazine (August 26, 2017):

    “TRUMP IMPEACHMENT IS MOST POPULAR SOLUTION AMONG AMERICANS, POLL SAYS”

    http://www.newsweek.com/trump-impeachment-most-popular-solution-americans-655556

    Excerpt from article:

    “Most people in a new survey said the best response to Donald Trump’s actions while president would be to impeach him or otherwise remove him from office.

    “Harvard University’s Center for American Political Studies and research marketing firm Harris Insights and Analytics this week published the results of their monthly national poll, in which respondents were given three choices for how to deal with the president: 43 percent said he should be impeached or otherwise removed from office, while 42 percent said nothing should be done and 12 percent said he should be censured by Congress.”

    And here’s the press release from Harvard University’s Center for American Political Studies dated August 24, 2017:

    “CAPS – Harris Poll on the State of the Country”

    https://caps.gov.harvard.edu/news/caps-harris-poll-state-country

    The salient quote:

    “Among voters today, 43% of those polled continue to favor impeachment of the President vs. 42% who believe no action should be taken and 15% who say he should be censured by Congress. …”

  7. Excerpts from The Washington Post Online
    (October 25, 2017):

    “What the Trump dossier says — and what it doesn’t”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/10/25/what-the-trump-dossier-says-and-what-it-doesnt/?utm_term=.40e293d2e508

    By Philip Bump

    “We decided to evaluate the claims in the dossier as best we could to guide that debate. It’s certainly the case that we may have missed something; if so, let us know.

    . . .

    “Evaluating the claims

    We will evaluate the claims in each report individually. It’s critical to note that these claims are for the most part not verified, and should not be considered as such.

    . . .

    “Conclusion

    “The Steele dossier makes a wide range of claims, many of which are rumors that couldn’t be independently verified. Many other claims involve things that would have been publicly known at the time the report was apparently drafted. Although it’s impossible to say that the dossier is entirely inaccurate (there are some glimmers of accurate predictions), it is also impossible to say that it has been broadly validated.

    “That unsatisfying answer has a side effect: It gives either side of the political fight all the ammo that it might want.”

  8. On the sidebar discussion of Wall Street Journal “Opinion” page columnist Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., let me quote from his December 20, 2017 column (page A19) titled “Fast Rail Goes Awry in Seattle” (referring to the Amtrak passenger train crash):

    “Donald Trump tweeted that Monday’s accident on the same line proved the need for infrastructure investment. Actually, the line was a product of infrastructure investment, part of the high-speed rail package in the 2009 ‘stimulus’ bill. Will the president learn to get the facts before he tweets? Of course he will — when pigs fly.”

    Is it now “open season” on Trump by even “op-ed” page conservative/libertarian political pundits?

  9. White guy with flower tattoo from San Francisco disagrees with center-right opinions. In other new, water is wet. More at 7.

  10. This “Bob” is making a lot of assumptions about me. Would he like it if I assumed that he’s a poorly educated, under-employed white trailer trash racist, who lives in a county devastated by opioid use, diabetes, alcoholism and domestic violence? Because that’s your typical trumpite.

  11. Henry Tomlinson says:

    It’s Wed., April 24, 2019. …just read Holman Jenkins column in today’s WSJ. Don’t you just love hindsight, or maybe not so much. It couldn’t possibly have made this column in Politics more foolish.

  12. Bob Henry says:

    On the subject of impeachment, I proffer these two opinion columns.

    Even their length, one at a time . . .

    From The Wall Street Journal “Front Page” Section
    (April 30, 2019, Page A2?):

    “Impeachment Could Be a Trap — for Democrats”

    URL: https://www.wsj.com/articles/impeachment-could-be-a-trapfor-democrats-11556545076

    By Gerald F. Seib
    “Capital Journal” Column

    What if President Trump actually wants Democrats to try to impeach him?

    OK, so that isn’t likely. Nobody would wish to go through the embarrassment of impeachment in the House of Representatives and the public spectacle of a follow-up trial in the Senate.

    Still, the fact that the idea would even seem plausible illustrates the risks Democrats are running in considering a move toward impeachment. The backfire potential is large. It’s telling that the Democrats who lived through the last impeachment — and remember how that movie ended—are the least eager to move down that path now.

    Everything about Mr. Trump’s history — before and since assuming the presidency — suggests he likes a clearly identifiable enemy, and he likes a fight. He is the famously self-proclaimed counter-puncher, defining himself by those with whom he is battling and distinguishing himself by the way he conducts the battle. In an impeachment fight, he could do exactly that.

    It’s illuminating to look at how Mr. Trump summarized the situation in an off-the-cuff remark at the White House on Friday. “Democrats are obsessed with hoaxes, delusions and witch hunts,” he said. “We can play the game just as well or better than they do.”

    In sum, Mr. Trump appears ready to portray himself as both a victim of his enemies, and the pursuer of them, in any impeachment battle.

    In such a scenario, Mr. Trump would have the opportunity to offer to his base—and for the president, it’s all about that base—the ultimate proof of the ultimate conspiracy theory: That the whole investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections was, from the beginning, a pretense to bring him down.

    One of the mysteries of the president’s political calculus remains why he exerts almost no effort trying to expand that base, which is a minority of the country and, it would seem, simply not enough to give him a re-election victory in 2020. Perhaps, though, the calculation is that his voters will care a lot more about stopping any impeachment effort than Democratic voters will care about pursuing one.

    If that’s the case, the intensity edge will be on his side in an impeachment fight, and that will translate into a similar advantage in the 2020 presidential election. And perhaps, in a close election, intensity can overcome the raw numbers.

    That thought leads to the broader, underlying risk for Democrats if they pursue impeachment: What if average voters just don’t care as much about the Russian interference/Mueller investigation saga as do Democratic party activists and the political intelligentsia in Washington? What if they think the fight is just too damaging to the country?

    Moreover, if Washington’s conversation becomes all about impeachment, nothing else will get done. By the 2020 election, Democrats would have fewer substantive accomplishments to tout after two years in control of the House. Meanwhile, it appears Mr. Trump will have a solid economy to tout.

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi already is complaining, justifiably, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Republicans in the Senate are simply ignoring legislation the Democratic-controlled House has sent on to them: election reform, net neutrality, violence against women and gun-background checks. Yet the effort to draw attention to those substantive Democratic actions would be drowned in an impeachment fight.

    Mrs. Pelosi and her Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, are set to meet with Mr. Trump on Tuesday to talk about ginning up some big federal money to spend on improving America’s infrastructure. That’s an issue where they might lure Mr. Trump into cooperating. But that opening also figures to close rapidly amidst an impeachment battle.

    Some Democrats believe they have a constitutional and civic duty to pursue impeachment regardless of the political calculations. Still, there’s no escaping a practical math problem. A president can be impeached with a majority vote in the House, which probably is achievable under Democratic control there. But then, two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to convict the president. That’s 67 Senators. There currently are 45 Democrats and two independents leaning Democratic in the Senate, meaning there would need to be 20 Republicans voting to convict Mr. Trump. Can anybody imagine that happening?

    This is where history comes into play. Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer were around to watch Republicans try to pull off this play against President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. The country was sufficiently unimpressed that Republicans actually lost seats in the House amidst the impeachment fight.

    Mr. Clinton was impeached in the House anyway, but then as now with Mr. Trump, there weren’t enough votes in the Senate to convict him. He survived. The man who lost his job in the process was his main pursuer, Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Mr. Clinton finished his term with a 66% job-approval rating. For the impeachers, it was not a happy ending.

    Write to Gerald F. Seib at jerry.seib@wsj.com

  13. Bob Henry says:

    From The Wall Street Journal “Opinion” Section
    (May 1, 2019, Page A15):

    “Impeachment Now Would Be Irresponsible”

    URL: https://www.wsj.com/articles/impeachment-now-would-be-irresponsible-11556663795

    By William A. Galston
    “Politics & Ideas” Column

    An insightful friend of mine remarked recently that before reading the Mueller report, he was sympathetic with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reluctance to pursue impeachment of President Trump, but by the time he finished the report he was convinced Congress has a duty to act.

    Our times demand moral clarity. But equally, they require political clarity. When it comes to impeachment, these two imperatives might point Democrats in opposite directions.

    The argument that Congress has a duty to act is straightforward: Whether or not Mr. Trump has committed indictable crimes, he has acted in ways that offend the Constitution and degrade his office. Failing to pursue impeachment will make Congress complicit in the normalization of unacceptable behavior.

    Here’s the counterargument: The president’s re-election would be the ultimate normalization of his conduct. In the best scenario for Democrats, even a failed effort to remove the president from office would weaken his electoral prospects. But it’s also possible that such an effort would hurt Democrats by making them look aggressive and opportunistic. If the pursuit of impeachment makes Mr. Trump’s re-election more likely, it is well-intentioned folly.

    No one can know for sure which of these two outcomes is likelier. As Aristotle remarked, we do not deliberate about certainties. Political judgment is an inherently risky and contested business, but we can use evidence to narrow the indeterminacy and estimate probabilities.

    Not one major survey has shown a majority or even a plurality of the American people in favor of pursuing impeachment. To be sure, most people have a negative view of Mr. Trump’s conduct. In last week’s Washington Post/ABC News poll, 53% of respondents said that the Mueller report, which most regard as fair, did not clear the president of all wrongdoing. A plurality, 47%, believe that Mr. Trump tried to obstruct justice in the course of Mr. Mueller’s inquiry. Only 31% think that the president told the truth about the matters under investigation; 58% think he lied. Only 14% say that the Mueller inquiry has made them more likely to support Mr. Trump in 2020, compared with 36% who say less likely.

    One might think that these sentiments would lead most Americans to favor impeachment. But the survey finds only 37% favor impeachment while 56% oppose it. Among registered voters, opposition to impeachment is even higher at 60%. Not surprisingly, 62% of Democrats favor it while 87% of Republicans oppose it. But independents, who now constitute a plurality of the electorate, are against impeachment, 59% to 36%.

    Almost three quarters of white Americans without college degrees—Mr. Trump’s base—oppose impeachment. But anti-impeachment sentiment also runs high among college-educated whites, a group that has moved toward Democrats in recent elections. There is no evidence of a gender gap within this group: 66% of college-educated white men oppose impeachment, as do 65% of college-educated white women. Only nonwhite groups, including 69% of African-Americans, believe that impeachment is the right course.

    Though a majority of Democrats say they favor impeachment, reports from the grass roots suggest a lack of intensity on the issue. Congressional Democrats conducting town-hall meetings have found far more interest in health care, climate change and living wages than in removing Mr. Trump from office before the 2020 election. Freshman Rep. Katie Porter of Orange County, Calif., told the New York Times that, as a priority for her constituents, impeaching the president is not in the “top half dozen; it may be down at the No. 12 spot.”

    Public opinion could shift under the weight of an impeachment inquiry. But it seems more likely that most people have made up their minds about Mr. Trump and are trying to determine whether Democrats and their presidential nominee would be a better alternative. Pursuing impeachment would be unlikely to move undecided voters toward the Democrats.

    In his famous essay “Politics as a Vocation,” Max Weber distinguishes between the ethic of intention — doing the right thing without regard to consequences — and the ethic of responsibility, in which politicians take account of the probable consequences of their actions. There is no clash between moral clarity and political clarity—as long as Democrats eschew self-defeating high-mindedness and adopt Weber’s ethic of responsibility as their pole star. If they are politically serious, they will evaluate every choice—including not only impeachment but also the selection of their presidential nominee—in light of its impact on the 2020 election.

  14. Bob Henry says:

    The other column upload didn’t “take.”

    Once again . . .

    From The Wall Street Journal “Front Page” Section
    (April 30, 2019, Page A2?):

    “Impeachment Could Be a Trap—for Democrats”

    URL: https://www.wsj.com/articles/impeachment-could-be-a-trapfor-democrats-11556545076

    By Gerald F. Seib
    “Capital Journal” Column

    What if President Trump actually wants Democrats to try to impeach him?

    OK, so that isn’t likely. Nobody would wish to go through the embarrassment of impeachment in the House of Representatives and the public spectacle of a follow-up trial in the Senate.

    Still, the fact that the idea would even seem plausible illustrates the risks Democrats are running in considering a move toward impeachment. The backfire potential is large. It’s telling that the Democrats who lived through the last impeachment — and remember how that movie ended — are the least eager to move down that path now.

    Everything about Mr. Trump’s history — before and since assuming the presidency — suggests he likes a clearly identifiable enemy, and he likes a fight. He is the famously self-proclaimed counter-puncher, defining himself by those with whom he is battling and distinguishing himself by the way he conducts the battle. In an impeachment fight, he could do exactly that.

    It’s illuminating to look at how Mr. Trump summarized the situation in an off-the-cuff remark at the White House on Friday. “Democrats are obsessed with hoaxes, delusions and witch hunts,” he said. “We can play the game just as well or better than they do.”

    In sum, Mr. Trump appears ready to portray himself as both a victim of his enemies, and the pursuer of them, in any impeachment battle.

    In such a scenario, Mr. Trump would have the opportunity to offer to his base — and for the president, it’s all about that base — the ultimate proof of the ultimate conspiracy theory: That the whole investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections was, from the beginning, a pretense to bring him down.

    One of the mysteries of the president’s political calculus remains why he exerts almost no effort trying to expand that base, which is a minority of the country and, it would seem, simply not enough to give him a re-election victory in 2020. Perhaps, though, the calculation is that his voters will care a lot more about stopping any impeachment effort than Democratic voters will care about pursuing one.

    If that’s the case, the intensity edge will be on his side in an impeachment fight, and that will translate into a similar advantage in the 2020 presidential election. And perhaps, in a close election, intensity can overcome the raw numbers.

    That thought leads to the broader, underlying risk for Democrats if they pursue impeachment: What if average voters just don’t care as much about the Russian interference/Mueller investigation saga as do Democratic party activists and the political intelligentsia in Washington? What if they think the fight is just too damaging to the country?

    Moreover, if Washington’s conversation becomes all about impeachment, nothing else will get done. By the 2020 election, Democrats would have fewer substantive accomplishments to tout after two years in control of the House. Meanwhile, it appears Mr. Trump will have a solid economy to tout.

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi already is complaining, justifiably, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Republicans in the Senate are simply ignoring legislation the Democratic-controlled House has sent on to them: election reform, net neutrality, violence against women and gun-background checks. Yet the effort to draw attention to those substantive Democratic actions would be drowned in an impeachment fight.

    Mrs. Pelosi and her Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, are set to meet with Mr. Trump on Tuesday to talk about ginning up some big federal money to spend on improving America’s infrastructure. That’s an issue where they might lure Mr. Trump into cooperating. But that opening also figures to close rapidly amidst an impeachment battle.

    Some Democrats believe they have a constitutional and civic duty to pursue impeachment regardless of the political calculations. Still, there’s no escaping a practical math problem. A president can be impeached with a majority vote in the House, which probably is achievable under Democratic control there. But then, two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to convict the president. That’s 67 Senators. There currently are 45 Democrats and two independents leaning Democratic in the Senate, meaning there would need to be 20 Republicans voting to convict Mr. Trump. Can anybody imagine that happening?

    This is where history comes into play. Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer were around to watch Republicans try to pull off this play against President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. The country was sufficiently unimpressed that Republicans actually lost seats in the House amidst the impeachment fight.

    Mr. Clinton was impeached in the House anyway, but then as now with Mr. Trump, there weren’t enough votes in the Senate to convict him. He survived. The man who lost his job in the process was his main pursuer, Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Mr. Clinton finished his term with a 66% job-approval rating. For the impeachers, it was not a happy ending.

    Write to Gerald F. Seib at jerry.seib@wsj.com

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