Amnesty Don Never Wanted a Wall

by Cinzia Croce

For months I have been wondering why Donald Trump was not aggressively pursuing funding for his big, beautiful border wall. Even setting aside the question of whether Mexico will pay for it — Trump could have pushed for legislation taxing remittances to Mexico, or demand that a down payment on the wall be part of the continuing resolution funding the government last spring — Trump seemed quite happy to delay the appropriation for his signature issue until “a later date”. The same is true of DACA. Despite promising to end it on Day One of his presidency, the administration kept issuing new work permits for over seven months. It was also baffling that Trump filled the White House with individuals who do not agree with his campaign stance on illegal immigration, while those who did left the administration (except Stephen Miller). After the events of the last few days, I believe I finally have my answer: Trump was never serious about building the wall or having illegal immigrants leave the country. He only used his immigration stance to win the election, and ever since he reached the White House, he has been buying time while working to find a way to ditch his campaign commitments without losing his base.   Continue reading

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On Tax Reform, Trump’s Chasing Another Dead-End

by Cinzia Croce

The Mooch warned us. After his departure from the White House, Anthony Scaramucci granted his first interview to George Stephanopoulos and declared that Trump needed  “to move away from that sort of Bannonbart nonsense”  and “…move more into the mainstream. He’s got to be more into where moderates are and the independents are.”

A week later, we got the first taste of what a more “mainstream” Trump will be like. In his Afghanistan speech, he announced that he was going to turn his back on his instincts and campaign promises and send more troops to Afghanistan to “seek an honorable and enduring outcome.” Yesterday, we got the second taste of the New Trump, when he delivered a speech calling for tax reform that could have easily been delivered by Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan. It was full of the old Reagan Republican buzzwords like “growth” and “opportunity,” and stale, crusty talking points like “Americans know better than Washington how to spend their own money.” Trump the rebel, the insurgent candidate that took Washington by storm, is slowly morphing into just another traditional Republican politician promising more tax cuts and wars. Continue reading

How Steve Bannon Walked Away a Winner

by Cinzia Croce

As the resident populist commentator, I actually welcome the departure of Steve Bannon from the White House, and am not at all surprised by it. Months ago, I came to the conclusion that Bannon would be more effective on the outside — where he doesn’t have to worry about keeping a low profile just to appease the president’s ego, or watch his back in the midst of all the palace intrigue. For the past year, Bannon has cleverly used his association with Trump to build his brand — through magazine covers, books, and documentary profiles like the one done by Frontline. He now enjoys international fame, and his publication Breitbart is set to become the premier voice in Republican politics, while old standbys National Review, the Weekly Standard and even Fox News will continue to fade, which is the price they pay for making the wrong bet. Reporters from all over the world will look to Breitbart for reactions to everything the Trump administration does going forward. Does Bannon approve or disapprove of the latest policy decision? Does Bannon believe the president is staying true to his promises? On top of this, his enemies no longer can scapegoat him for any failures of the Trump administration. Bannon personally could not be in a better strategic position than if he had carefully planned it.

No one should be surprised by Bannon’s departure. On several occasions, Trump has signaled his displeasure with Bannon receiving so much credit for his victory. During his last press conference, Trump (once again) pointed out that Bannon joined his campaign late, and only after he had defeated seventeen Republican primary opponents — many of whom were considered the best and the brightest the party had to offer. Of course, the president conveniently ignores that it was Bannon who built a large, receptive audience for Trump, given his stances on immigration, trade and foreign intervention. It was Breitbart that enthusiastically backed his candidacy when more mainstream conservative publications were publishing “Against Trump” symposiums and Fox News was trying desperately to convince their audience that Marco Rubio was the future of the Republican Party. Nevertheless, it was clear that the media portraying Bannon as The Brain and Trump as The Performer was simply too much for the president to bear. Trump is a proud man, and the thought that Bannon would also receive the credit for any future successes must have been intolerable. Continue reading

Does the Conservative Brand Need a Reset?

by Daniel Clements

Journalist Bill Kristol tweeted recently that conservatives should consider rebranding themselves as “liberals” to distance themselves from Trumpism, noting they’re for “liberal democracy, liberal world order, liberal economy, liberal education…”. The pro-Trump pundits immediately took this admittedly flippant remark as another indicator of the Establishment™️’s conspiracy to unseat the president. Of course, “conservatives” in the US would typically be described as “liberals” in Europe (and if the US had a more European-style ideological spectrum, the Republican Party would be a coalition of a liberals, Christian Democrats, and nationalists). Lacking a feudal past and being founded on (classical) liberal principles, it follows that to be conservative in the US is to be liberal, though the term now has a different meaning in common speech.

Burke

The negative reaction from Trump supporters is surprising, as they largely openly rejected conservatism, both as a label and ideology—asserting that limited government and the free-market are non-issues, especially in comparison to cultural and civic cohesion. I for one always found arguments over what is genuinely “conservative” to be pointless semantics: the ideas being signified are more important than the signifiers. It’s doubtful that conservatives need to undergo a rebranding in the same way liberals embraced the moniker of “progressives.” I suspect, to the extent Americans have a distinct idea of “conservatism,” they associate Trump less with whatever that is and more with the terms “populist” and “nationalist.” Though Mr. Kristol was clearly not making a serious proposal, conservatives should still focus more on advancing their ideas and policies instead of playing with words. Namely: they should be willing to work with Trump and his faction on common ground, yet hold fast when the occasion calls for it—just as they should with moderate Republicans and Democrats.

The more significant brand issue is with the label of “Republican,” and it’s yet to be seen whether American voters will equate the party as a whole with Trump. In 2006, voters took out their frustration with George W. Bush on the GOP and the brand became toxic. The same country would reelect Barack Obama shortly after, while thoroughly routing the Democrats at the state level in election after election — not to mention both chambers of Congress. If recent history is a guide, the president’s image can hurt his party, but not help. In this case, Republicans, both conservative and moderate, should be willing to distinguish themselves from the president — although it appears that he is already doing that for them.

Notes On the Alt-Right From the Satanic Girlieman Who Saw It Coming

by Alex Knepper

I.

Seven years ago, on our way en route to CPAC 2010, I got into an argument with current alt-right poster boy Richard Spencer — then just a measly freelancer and activist like yours truly — about race, politics, and the meaning of Western values. I was a 19-year-old college sophomore at the time; he was 32. I recounted the tale on David Frum’s website Frum Forum shortly after Spencer opened his own website, ‘Alternative Right,’ for the sake of exposing the ‘alt-right’ label, which he had just coined, as nothing but a thinly-veiled euphemism for white nationalism:

Tim Mak is right: the website Alternative Right is run by a white nationalist, for white nationalists.

I happen to intermittently know Richard Spencer, the site’s director. Through a couple of mutual contacts, I met him in the midst of CPAC 2009 and received a ride from him from Washington DC’s Dupont Circle, where we were each protesting the censorship imposed upon Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, to the Marriott Hotel where the convention was being held.

Along the way, things got a little testy. We somehow got into discussing biological differences between the races. Our ideological differences soon emerged…

“Show me one black nation that’s ever been run competently,” he challenged me…

“This is not Western,” I said. “How can you possibly claim to stand for Western civilization? What’s brilliant about our values is that they stand for the individual, not the supremacy of the group. You come to America, you’re judged by your merits — not by what you look like.”

After a few more back-and-forths, we arrived at our destination, and as our car-mates went ahead, he told me to stay with him for a minute so he could talk to me. As the others faded into the background, he moved just inches away from my face, gave me a menacing look and yelled: “You little child. How dare you talk to me — me! — about the West! You don’t know the first thing about the West! You’re a little twelve-year-old who thinks he knows shit. Don’t you ever talk to me like that again or I will beat your face into the fucking ground!”…

I let him walk ahead of me, and it ended there. But that is the real Richard Spencer: a white nationalist, a bully, and an intellectual coward.

He replied to this by, essentially, denying the incident happened. (I stand by my account.)

Through other mutual contacts, I met a few other white nationalists at CPAC, and decided that I was interested in talking to more of them directly, so I could pick their brains and write something about what they were up to. One particularly blockheaded alt-right groupie failed to perceive me as hostile to his cause, and inexplicably invited me to visit a meeting held by a white nationalist group he was interested in, the ‘Wolves of Vinland.’ I did so, and wrote a trollish piece saying that these were the people Spencer, who had a sophomoric interest in Nietzsche (who, by the way, once proclaimed that he wanted to have anti-Semites shot and expressed gratitude toward the Jews), thought were the ‘supermen‘ who should form the new vanguard of the right:

Continue reading

Mike Pence Is Useless

by Cinzia Croce

I was never a fan of Vice President Mike Pence. I thought his addition to the presidential ticket brought nothing to the table, and I and feared that his hardcore social conservatism would derail the Trump campaign. Thankfully, my fears never materialized. Social issues remained marginalized, and for most of the campaign Pence was invisible. The one time the he was under the spotlight — the vice-presidential debate — Pence passed his test with flying colors. I was so impressed with his performance that I offered a mea culpa and declared that I was thrilled to have been wrong. Looking back, it wasn’t so much that Pence shined but more that Tim Kaine dimmed in his lousy attempt to play the attack dog. Nevertheless, now that I have had six months to evaluate Pence’s contributions to the Trump administration, I can confidently say that my initial assessment of him was right on target: he is a dead weight.

Mike Pence

The Pence pick was hailed by conservatives primarily for two reasons: first, he would appease the GOP establishment and help unify the party behind Trump; second, as a former member of the GOP congressional leadership, he would be able help Trump get his agenda through Congress. He has spectacularly failed on both counts. The GOP establishment has never united behind Trump. During the campaign, they made repeated attempts to push him out of the race — most notably, by overreacting to the Billy Bush tape — and, since the inauguration, have tried to damage the president politically by aggressively pursuing the Russia-collusion investigation and vehemently defending special counsel Robert Mueller. As far as helping the president get his agenda through Congress, the administration has not been able to score one major legislative victory in six months. Pence has made several trips to the Hill and has nothing to show for it. His latest humiliation was his unsuccessful last-ditch effort to convince John McCain to support the so-called Obamacare “skinny repeal”. Only legislation in which there is clear common ground between Trump and the GOP establishment — e.g. reducing regulation, judicial appointments and improving healthcare delivery to veterans — is getting through Congress. Funding the president’s signature issue, the wall, has been postponed until the fall, and Republican senators are already making noise that they may never support building it. Continue reading

Sorry, Cinzia, But the Rot Comes From the Top

by Alex Knepper

Cinzia’s latest stream of columns are bold and full of confidence, despite a series of recent high-profile defeats for the president. They are best interpreted, however, as typical of the desperate blame-shifting occurring among Trump’s core supporters as his presidency falls into disarray.

She has convinced herself that the blame for the humiliating Obamacare repeal fiasco rests at the feet of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, and that they must go — as if any Republican on the planet is capable of uniting the Cruz-Paul-Lee faction of the GOP with the Collins-Murkowski one. The simple fact is that the Republican Party, despite its recent electoral successes, is still very much confused about its direction and very much internally divided — and its Senate majority, while real and useful, is simply too narrow to pass truly controversial legislation. One would think that Cinzia would look to our president — the man who styles himself as the master of ‘the deal’ — the man who united the national party in last year’s election — the man who launched his campaign with a rousing speech in which declared that we needed a president “who wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.'” But the man who ‘wrote’ ‘Art of the Deal’ was nowhere to be found when he should have been leading the way. He was a follower, not a leader — but Cinzia prefers to blame Reince Preibus for advising Trump to dance with the ones who brought him — Republicans, who also elected the Republican Congress — rather than blaming Trump for taking on a job for which he was obviously not prepared.

Cinzia blames the media for focusing on gossipy leaks, which Trump incompetently cannot stop — even as she spent months in 2016 justifying the constant press coverage of illegal WikiLeaks hacks on the basis that what’s really important is not the leaking itself, but the information contained in the leaks; that, since Clinton is an important public figure, the people deserve to know about what’s in them and that therefore her campaign and supporters had no right to complain. The point here is not that Clinton was treated unfairly — the point is that Cinzia has one set of rules for Trump and another, completely different set of rules for everyone else. She relies on ad hoc logic to defend Trump because he cannot possibly be seen in a positive light if he is judged by ordinary standards.

TrumpRot

Instead of focusing on leaks and legal troubles, Cinzia would rather the media cover Trump’s supposed accomplishments. Of course, Trump cut his teeth in the campaign season by going to war with the media, so it’s sad and ironic that she would blame the press for not trying to prop him up in his hour of need. But more importantly, he really has not accomplished much of anything. To my mind, the only substantive policy shift so far has been his backing out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership: a win for China, which can now make a legitimate claim to forthcoming economic supremacy in that zone of the East. Backing out of the non-binding Paris Accord was all noise since it had no enforcement mechanism to begin with. The piecemeal chipping away at regulations are more about quantity than quality, and it is telling that Trump loyalists never offer any specifics. The ban on transgendered people in the military is completely made-up (the Pentagon does not consider a tweet a policy order). The vaunted ‘travel ban’ was so thin as to be practically non-existent. There has been policy change regarding NATO or NAFTA. We continue to be hostile toward Russia, Obamacare stands. Rates of illegal immigration were declining long before Trump took office. It is absurd to give the young Trump Administration credit for positive economic news (the president gets too much credit or blame for the state of the economy generally, besides). His management style is perceived more as that befitting his reality-TV past than as ‘modern-day presidential.’ His approval rating is in the toilet. He appointed a quality conservative justice in Neil Gorsuch — but that is no different than what Jeb Bush or John Kasich would have done, so there’s nothing Trump-specific to report in that instance. Continue reading