I’m dusting off the old playbook and dropping a Quick Hit Friday to cap off yet another incredible week in presidential politics. Let’s do this.
Oprah. OPRAH! Her rousing Golden Globes speech had Democrats from Hollywood to New York fawning over the possibility of a presidential run. Yikes. One would think that Democrats, like PPFA, think President Trump has struggled in part because he was perceptibly, if not Constitutionally, unqualified. That was, after all, an argument deployed by the left in the 2016 election. To then reverse course and support Oprah — against a man who will, at that point, have much more relevant experience — smacks of disappointing, if predictable, hypocrisy.
Of course, we do understand the buzz. Two Novembers ago, Trump won a popularity contest (kind of). That’s what elections are. Since most politicians make our eyes glaze over and/or have an assailable political record, massive celebrities who can throw stones will attract enormous interest from not only the average voter, but the average non-voter, too. Pro-Oprah Democrats want to tap into that (despite her sketchy anti-science background that should bother most liberals). Though Oprah is considerably more “self-made,” the similarities between the two — they both are billionaire business-leaders who employed many people on their way to becoming charismatic television titans — are obvious. Democrats desperate to take down Trump see her as an opportunity to fight fire with fire, or at least fire with ice. Whereas we once thought relevant experience was important in a candidate, not only is it now deprioritized in favor of intensity and charisma, but experience can even be considered a demerit. (And let’s not pretend this trend started with President Trump. We’re only a decade from Barack Obama’s nebulous hope and change strategy wiping out the far more experienced John McCain.)
However, the ability to win a popularity contest does not necessarily translate to the ability to run a government. It’s a glaring flaw of a democratic republic. Though we hope candidates of quality and qualification can convert their knowledge and experience into popularity and victories, it didn’t happen in the 2016 Republican Primary or the general election, and Oprah following Trump might be a sign it won’t happen again any time soon. After all, nerds never win the class presidency. The popular kids do. If our next election is a reality TV star against a talk show host, Adams and Jefferson might lead a much deserved zombie apocalypse. It’s dystopic either way.
Democrats run the risk of nominating that which they fought against: a novice. A classier one with whom Democrats might more agree, perhaps, but a novice nonetheless. Don’t do it.
Tuesday: Speaking of novices, our President met with lawmakers to discuss the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, specifically on whether to renew it or tie it to comprehensive immigration reform that might include Trump’s promised border wall. A rare example of public negotiation involving the president and leaders from both parties, it’s been speculated that this unusual move was an attempt to show the President, despite the suggestions from Michael Wolff’s controversial book, is actually mentally fit and perhaps even a very stable genius who’s, like, really smart.
Nice try. What we instead witnessed was another confirmation of our suspicions: Trump rarely knows what he’s talking about. He sent several mixed, even contradictory, signals. The beauty of it is that the decision to televise the meeting has given us wonderfully entertaining video, like when we see the President, so easily swayed by an argument, allow Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) to steer him toward the Democratic position (“a clean DACA bill”), which the President agreed was what he wanted (“I have no problem with that. . . . Yeah, I would like to do that”) before Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy interrupted to remind him of the GOP’s position, back toward which Trump awkwardly tacked. The only excuses for Trump’s initial response to Feinstein is that he’s ignorant of the issues or he couldn’t muster the focus to listen to her in the first place (or both).
In either scenario, his efforts to dispel the conclusions of Wolff’s book did not go well. His reputation as a great negotiator might have been deserved in real estate, but when he’s this clueless on policy issues, a negotiation is impossible. (It was almost comforting to see the White House, nearing the one-year anniversary of Sean Spicer telling us we were counting wrong, still attempting revisionist history when their official transcript initially omitted the President’s agreement to Feinstein’s plan. To their credit, the First Transcribers corrected it a day later.)
In real time, the President’s anti-immigration base grew visibly worried. Ann Coulter called the meeting a “DACA lovefest,” and Breitbart ran with James Woods’s warning that if Trump softens on immigration he’d be a “one-term president.” Of course, once the cameras turned off and the doors closed, Trump’s team got everything back on track. I suspect, however, that our elected leader probably returned to his “executive time” as he let other people do the job for him. His main contribution to saving face was informing us of the “letters of congratulations” he received from network executives who called it “one of the greatest meetings they’ve ever witnessed.”
I never said he wasn’t funny.
Wednesday: Influential Congressman Darrel Issa (R-CA) — the former Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and second wealthiest member of Congress — announced he won’t run for re-election. A giddy CNN swears this is because Republicans are “sprinting for the exits” under this President. They might have a point: Issa is the 31st Republican House member to announce they aren’t running for re-election, which is a record. The previous record-holder — the 1994 Democrats with 28 — were swept out of power when they, too, had a struggling first-term president. Bad omen for Republicans in 2018.
Thursday: Then, yesterday, we once again felt a cool breeze from the oscillating fan we elected to the Oval Office. This time, the subject was the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a controversial spying technique that targets foreigners abroad but can in the process, through its Section 702, unintentionally collect private American information without a warrant. You might remember the President using the program’s actions as erroneous vindication after his allegation that President Obama ordered someone to tap(p) Trump’s wires.
FISA faced reauthorization yesterday and, despite pressure from the far right and left, plenty of mainstream Congressmen and women pushed it through the House. Before the vote, however, the President criticized the program, tweeting at 7:33 AM that FISA “may have been used . . . to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration.” This left some Republicans confused about what their president wanted from them; the White House was reportedly inundated with inquisitive Congressmen wondering what the heck was going on.
Then, after a spell of — once again — needing others to point him in the right direction, he tweeted of FISA: “We need it! Get smart!” Excellent advice, Mr. President. Please start taking it. Perhaps more troubling what may have caused the surprising first tweet; it was yet another link between something he saw on Fox — in this case, Judge Andrew Napolitano questioning why Trump would want reauthorization — and the forming of his opinion. Regardless, it was another day of mixed messages.
And another typical week of the Trump Administration.
(Author’s note: All of this was written yesterday afternoon before the eruption of Shitholegate. I can’t… keep… up.)