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Jason Linkins   |   February 16, 2017    2:23 PM ET

During the Obama era, GOP resistance to the Affordable Care Act (among other things) ran so hot and fevered that Republicans staged high-stakes hostage negotiations that threatened basic government functions and our ability to maintain our sovereign credit. Now, with Donald Trump in the White House and the Democratic base turned out in the streets in protest, a question arises: Should congressional Democrats indulge in similar recklessness?

No, they should not! But someone is going to have to remind Sen. Chris Coons of this, because in a recent interview, the Delaware Democrat seemed to suggest that he’d be comfortable pursuing a path of resistance that he once accurately decried as destructive.

I guess that someone is me, so best of luck to us all.

So, let’s start with the basics. Every so often, members of Congress go through this performative ritual where they acknowledge the expense of their legislative activity and affirm their willingness to make good on these obligations, so that we, as a nation, do not default on our credit. This ritual is called “raising the debt ceiling.”

And that’s too bad, because for many, “raising the debt ceiling” sounds like Congress is actively voting to take on new debt, instead of simply honoring existing debt. In fact, the past is filled with examples of congresspersons demagoguing the issue in this fashion, knowing full well that they are being disingenuous. Who could forget when then-Sen. Barack Obama gave a dumb and insincere speech about the debt ceiling in 2006? (Besides Barack Obama, I mean.)

In fairness, Obama was then operating in a more innocent era, when the periodic debt ceiling vote was understood to be a chance for the opposition party to do a little grandstanding about the president’s priorities ― safe in the knowledge that any votes against raising the ceiling would end up being purely symbolic, and that the measure would pass. This was all just sound and fury, and everyone knew the score.

But during Obama’s presidential tenure, debt ceiling grandstanding morphed into something less symbolic and more genuinely destructive. Ironically, Obama himself had a hand in this ― in 2011, he used the occasion of the debt ceiling vote as an invitation to bargain over long-term budgeting. Republicans were more than willing to seize the moment, and so we ended up in a new era where threatening the United States’ credit to try to overcome Obama’s veto power became normalized. And with that came more wild-eyed notions ― like the idea that failing to raise the debt ceiling wouldn’t hurt the economy. Or that if it did hurt the economy, it would actually be a good thing!

It was a pretty scary time to live through. And one of the loudest voices arguing against the insanity was Chris Coons, who continually denounced the whole idea of debt ceiling brinkmanship. In May of 2011, he penned an op-ed for The Hill titled “Debt-ceiling debate is not a game”:

Some call it a game of chicken. Some liken it to a game of Russian roulette. Whatever you call it, the potential for failing to raise our nation’s debt limit during this fledgling economic recovery should not be treated like the positioning of a political chess piece.

The question of whether to raise the debt ceiling is not a game.

See? Not a game, folks. As Coons went on to note:

When Standard & Poor’s took the unprecedented step of assigning the United States its first negative outlook in the nation’s rating history last month, it sent a ripple through the global market.

The next step — a reduction in our nation’s AAA bond rating — would send the dollar into a tailspin and stunt our economic recovery, undoing the real progress made over the last three years and shaking recent growth in critical market sectors. Our interest rates would soar, which would siphon more money out of our annual budget to pay the higher cost of borrowing. It would take years to rebuild the confidence of investors that we’d lose in the process, and might take generations to finally bring this crisis to an end.

In other words, this is one of those things that simply should not be messed with.

So you can imagine my surprise when Coons, during an interview with MSNBC’s Katy Tur on Wednesday night, abruptly took leave of his senses and started arguing that maybe Democrats should consider a round of debt ceiling brinkmanship to get to the bottom of l’affaire Michael Flynn.

During the interview, Tur pointed out that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had pooh-poohed the idea of an independent investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s communications with Russian officials. “How far should Democrats go to force this issue?” Tur asked.

Coons began by pointing out that the Senate Intelligence Committee is, in fact, “already underway” in taking up the matter. Indeed, as The Huffington Post has reported, it’s likely that several prominent Senate Republicans, including various committee chairs, are taking the matter very seriously. All well and good so far! But Tur, noting that such investigations could end up getting squelched, asked Coons if his minority party was prepared to “go nuclear on this.”

TUR: It seems that all the Democrats can do right now is talk loudly about this. If it does come to the point where the Republicans are not going to get on board with an investigation that does lead to the full answers, are the Democrats willing to do things like block Neil Gorsuch’s vote, or with the debt limit expiring next month, essentially hold it up in order to get the Republicans to take this more seriously if it comes to the point where they are not?

COONS: Yes Katy, there is a range of things that we could do, but I don’t think that we should get there yet.

OK, man, but surely you are going to take the debt ceiling off the table, right? Right?

COONS: You just laid out a number of leverage points that might be able to get the attention of Republicans in the Senate.

TUR: So, they’re ones that you could potentially use, if you need to.

COONS: Yes.

No! Chris Coons, you had this right the first time.

Obviously, Coons isn’t committing anyone to debt ceiling brinkmanship. But for him not to rule it out is alarming ― and it suggests he doesn’t understand the lingering effects these stunts have had on the Republicans who previously attempted them.

The GOP didn’t advance any of its policy goals when it was flirting with default. But it did earn a ton of temporary public enmity ― comparable to the backlash after the 2013 government shutdown.

And over the long run, the Republicans’ debt ceiling shenanigans helped fuel a deep dysfunction that has done the GOP, and the country, no end of harm. A substantial part of their base came to believe that these kinds of nail-biting showdowns were necessary, and they began demanding them. A not-insignificant faction of the GOP caucus emerged to demonstrate fealty to this cause. And Republican leaders had to deal with the aftermath of what these unrealistic expectations ― and their accompanying apocalyptic tenor ― bred in their governing body: a paralyzing inflexibility that has kneecapped their ability to govern.

Even with one of their own in the White House, you can see Republicans struggling with the fallout of these choices to this day. Their inability to come to a decision on how to repeal the Affordable Care Act is a great example.

It’s clever to think that you can use a debt ceiling confrontation to break the will of a party unwilling to grant concessions. Someone like Coons might even be able to weather the obvious hypocrisy of telling the world he’s open to using the debt ceiling as a poker chip, after decrying such behavior when the political landscape was different. But actually following through with that tough talk would pave the way for ever-greater dysfunction. What’s more, using the levers of power to threaten to unleash economic destruction is a really bad look for Democrats, who are supposed to be the party that believes an effective government can help solve big problems.

Additionally, you have to think about who would really be hurt if the debt ceiling were breached, causing massive job losses and a tidal wave of economic turmoil. Here’s a hint: It’s pretty much everyone, including the people whose votes Democrats desperately need to court. When you take the debt ceiling hostage, you’re putting the lives of millions of ordinary people at risk. That’s not just dumb; it’s despicable.

Finally, there’s one thorny little matter that shouldn’t go overlooked: Literally nobody in the world will take the Democrats seriously if they suggest they’ll try to pull this stunt. It’s a 100 percent idle threat. If Democrats are really serious about the need to investigate Michael Flynn, they shouldn’t do things that are, intrinsically, unserious.

Remember that scene in “The Dark Knight” when the Joker is talking to a room full of crime bosses and he opens his jacket to reveal, like, a million hand grenades? Yeah, that was cool, but it’s not actually a good way to run a country. Democrats are not in a position right now where they can afford legitimacy crises, or afford to make promises to their base that they can’t deliver on. Threatening to use the debt ceiling as a leverage point won’t turn out well for anyone. So let’s nip this in the effing bud.

UPDATE, 6:40pm: Coons’ office responds like so:

Senator Coons does not believe that using the debt ceiling deadline is a reasonable option for forcing Republicans to investigate the Trump Administration’s ties to Russia. During the interview you referenced, he said that he was optimistic that the investigation underway in the Intelligence Committee was moving forward properly, and that he thought a number of options could get the Republicans attention. An honest reading of his comments is clear that he is not endorsing use of the debt ceiling deadline as a forcing mechanism.

Bud nipped, you’re welcome.

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat the Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   February 14, 2017    2:59 PM ET

At a recent town hall event in Cottonwood, Utah, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) got a chance to hear from his constituents, and they gave him an earful. Over the course of the evening, Chaffetz was subjected to a torrent of ire from crowds repeatedly chanting “Do your job!” ― a reference, of course, to Chaffetz’s role as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, where it’s up to him to make sure President Donald Trump uses his office as the Constitution intended, and not as a vehicle for self-enrichment.

Chaffetz has since attempted to portray those protesters as paid outside agitators. It’s a strange stance to take with his constituents, since if he’s wrong, they’ll remember ― and indeed, no one has been able to find evidence for this bizarre claim. Of course, Chaffetz has another option here; he could, simply and as requested by the people who pay his salary, do his job. It’s a job that he used to do quite zealously, until Trump came around. Now, the man who once relished his role as an attack dog has opted for a self-neutering.

This has been especially apparent these past few days. As questions swirl about recently cashiered national security adviser Michael Flynn and his communications with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak ― questions with potentially grave national security implications ― Chaffetz is telling reporters that the “situation has taken care of itself.”

In reality, the situation is still very much unfolding. It’s true that Intelligence Committee, not Oversight, has jurisdiction over the matter, but it’s still remarkable to hear Chaffetz downplay recent events. He’s announced that he will get to the bottom of whatever went down at Mar-a-Lago last weekend ― although it hardly takes a genius to deduce what happened.

Chaffetz has maintained that the president is not bound by conflicts-of-interest laws. While this is technically true, the president is bound by the emoluments clause of the Constitution. More broadly, the fact that the president is not subject to conflicts-of-interest laws really means that he or she is obliged to go above and beyond in setting a strong ethical tone for the White House ― because everyone else in the administration will follow their boss’ lead.

This was only recently put to the test in a way that actually forced Chaffetz to evince some alarm. Last week, Trump aide-de-camp Kellyanne Conway went on “Fox & Friends” and urged viewers to purchase items from Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. This was an absolute violation of an Office Of Government Ethics regulation barring White House staff from endorsing products. The OGE, having learned about Conway’s actions, contacted the White House.

For a brief, mad moment, Chaffetz remembered that he was from a proud species of vertebrates, telling reporters that Conway’s actions were “over the line” and that “it should never have happened, and [the White House] better learn this lesson very quick.”

Chaffetz was essentially ignoring the fact that Conway was only following the example of Trump, who had tweeted in support of his elder daughter’s business interests as well. It’s really no wonder that Conway, even after she was supposedly “counseled,” felt free to announce that the president “supports me 100 percent.” And if you were wondering if Conway felt any remorse over her ethics violation, she made it clear on Twitter that she did not:

One could call this a demonstration of pure contempt for Jason Chaffetz, except Chaffetz himself has gone out of his way to invite this contempt. In his one post-inauguration meeting with Trump, Chaffetz was told that the topic of oversight was not to be brought up. Had it been discussed, of course, the whole imbroglio over Conway’s promotion of Ivanka Trump’s clothing might have been avoided.

Chaffetz’s sudden lack of zeal is noteworthy. While he’s griping these days about people calling for “fishing expeditions,” it wasn’t long ago that he was telling anyone who’d listen that he was hard at work prepping his lures. Back when it seemed certain that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would become president ― and during those few hours that Chaffetz had “unendorsed” Trump, citing his daughter’s honor ― the Oversight chairman was loudly bragging about his plans to pepper the Clinton White House with investigations. As The Washington Post’s David Weigel reported in October:

Jason Chaffetz, the Utah congressman wrapping up his first term atop the powerful House Oversight Committee, unendorsed Donald Trump weeks ago. That freed him up to prepare for something else: spending years, come January, probing the record of a President Hillary Clinton.

“It’s a target-rich environment,” the Republican said in an interview in Salt Lake City’s suburbs. “Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”

And during the Obama administration, Chaffetz was more than willing to escalate the threat level where the White House was concerned. As CNN reported in May 2013:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz reiterated Tuesday that the impeachment of President Barack Obama is possible as the White House faces scrutiny over its role in responding to the terror attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.

“Look, it’s not something I’m seeking,” the Republican congressman from Utah said on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” “It’s not the endgame; it’s not what we’re playing for. I was simply asked, is that within the realm of possibilities, and I would say ‘yes.’ I’m not willing to take that off the table. But that’s certainly not what we’re striving for.”

Where did the passion go? At last week’s town hall in Cottonwood, Chaffetz told his constituents that he plans to take a wait-and-see approach to the river of potential emolument violations running through the White House. As Think Progress’ Laurel Raymond reported:

Before boos cut him off, Chaffetz also said that he won’t investigate the ways that Trump might personally profit from the presidency “until there’s evidence” that Trump has used his legal exemption from conflicts of interest to benefit his family. Politico reported Thursday that Trump has already received his first payment from a foreign government, the Saudis, for a room at his DC hotel.

In addition to the self-enrichment he’s already notched from the Saudis, it’s been reported that the Trump Organization is reviving “a long-dormant licensing deal involving a beachfront luxury resort in the Dominican Republic,” contravening Trump’s own pledge that his organization would pursue no further foreign development deals during his presidency. On top of that, one of Trump’s Indonesian business partners, Hary Tanoesoedibjo, recently appeared in a Jakarta-based magazine bragging about his access to Donald Trump, in a piece titled, yes, “I Have Access To Donald Trump.”

It is, as one might say, “a target-rich environment.” And yet Chaffetz seems to have hung up his guns.

What’s really puzzling about is that it’s not clear Chaffetz stands to lose very much by doing his job. In fact, if he wished to spin it this way, he could argue to voters that he’s doing the right thing while pursuing narrow partisan interests. If Chaffetz would like to see Trump have an effective presidency and win re-election, then he has a role to play in ensuring this. He should be discussing ethics and conflicts of interest with this White House, warning them about the consequences they could face and laying down the law by insisting that Trump set a proper tone and sign a strong ethics agreement with the OGE.

If Chaffetz were to do this ― which, again, is what he is paid to do ― he’d be helping Trump have a successful presidency, lessening the likelihood of scandal, and defanging some of the Democratic Party’s most potent talking points against the president. To pursue any other path is, frankly, bizarre.

Why would Chaffetz not want Trump to succeed? Why would he risk the wrath of his constituents by looking the other way? At some point, one has to wonder what Chaffetz is getting out of all this. For his sake, I hope it’s something big and shiny!

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat the Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   February 9, 2017    1:27 PM ET

This past Sunday, the editorial board of USA Today published a piece called “What Bannon shares with ISIL leader: Our view.” The item drew an alarming comparison between one of President Donald Trump’s closest advisers ― former Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon ― and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, leader of the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State. Both men, opined the editors, “harbor apocalyptic visions of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West.”

One wonders if Bannon would even object to the comparison. In just about every medium at his disposal, he has not only laid out his belief that the United States is steering headlong into such a “clash of civilizations,” but has gone to great lengths to explain how he arrived at this way of thinking. (Spoiler alert: It involves stuff like “saecula,” “Heroes,” “Nomads,” “Grey Champions” and other such “Game of Thrones”-ish esoterica. Exciting!) So you’d think that Bannon might actually relish the notion that he and Baghdadi are on some sort of eschatological collision course.

But someone had to raise an objection to this, I guess, and so Fox News’ Tucker Carlson took up the task, in a segment Wednesday with USA Today’s deputy editorial page editor David Mastio.

As you might imagine, Carlson was somewhat incredulous. Right off the bat, he presented Mastio with a novel defense of Bannon. “I want to play a quick game with you,” he said. “It’s called ‘Who Did It?’”

Hmmm. You know, I might quibble a little with this. It’s true that Bannon has not “declared a caliphate,” but he has called for something of a crusade ― for example, telling a 2014 Vatican City conference that the West is “at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism” and urging his audience to take up that fight. “It’s war. It’s war,” he said in 2015. “Every day, we put up: America’s at war, America’s at war. We’re at war.”

So there’s a certain willful obtuseness in Carlson’s approach. The USA Today editorial, obviously, does not attempt to demonstrate that Bannon and Baghdadi are literally alike. It merely observes that they are two sides of the same coin ― opposed to one another in certain ideological particulars, but gripped by the same accelerationist, apocalyptic instincts. (See also: “[Vladimir Lenin] wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”)

An unmoved Mastio told Carlson that Bannon “shares a dangerous idea that plays right into the idea of al Baghdadi.”

MASTIO: Al Baghdadi wants the war in the Middle East to be between all of Islam and all of the West. We’re at war with a psychotic death cult ― a fringe of the Islamic world, and Bannon agrees with Baghdadi that it is a war between Islam and the West. We don’t need to give Baghdadi that propaganda victory.

Carlson contended that Bannon’s comments about global war were metaphoric in nature ― which, for the time being, is true: Steve Bannon has not literally committed the atrocities that Baghdadi has authored in the Islamic State’s despotic slice of the world.

But hey, the presidential term is young!

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat the Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

 

 

 

Jason Linkins   |   February 2, 2017   10:28 AM ET

Lest we forget, the U.S. is not the only player in the zany, rake-stomping farce that is the Donald Trump administration. The entire planet is along for the ride, and if recent reports are any indication, all it takes is a phone call from Trump to touch off some sort of Armando Iannucci set piece. This week, it’s apparently Australia and Mexico’s turn to “climb the mountain of conflict.”

So what is happening? As near as anyone can tell, Trump is calling up world leaders and not all of these calls seem to be going so great. Details leak, denials are issued... everyone seems to have their own story. It’s like a literal game of telephone, the nip and pull of global diplomacy reduced to some sort of tween-age slumber party caper. Only, ha ha, there are real things at stake!

We begin with a Washington Post report from Wednesday night, describing a phone call between Trump and his Australian counterpart, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Australia is one of the United States’ staunchest allies and a key member of an intelligence-sharing coalition known as the “Five Eyes” ― an alliance that also includes Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. This sort of call should be a layup for any new president, but somehow or other, Trump bricked it. Per The Washington Post:

President Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refu­gee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.

At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladi­mir Putin — and that “this was the worst call by far.”

What made this call so “the worst,” apparently, is that Turnbull and Trump had a disagreement over a refugee deal forged during the Obama administration ― one that would see the United States taking in “1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center.” As the Post reported, Trump “complained that he was ‘going to get killed’ politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the ‘next Boston bombers.’”

The Post goes on to report that the White House offered no formal comment on the matter, though it provided an official read-out of the exchange that the paper characterizes as “sanitized.” An anonymous “senior administration official” confirmed that the call to Turnbull was “hostile and charged,” but added that it was an outlier amid more “productive” calls. Australian officials, according to later reports, denied that the call ended in Trump hanging up on Turnbull, but nevertheless confirmed that the Post’s story was “substantially accurate.”

What may be less substantially accurate, however, is that the call with Turnbull really was an outlier. That’s because The Associated Press reported that it obtained “an excerpt of a transcript” of a phone conversation between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. During that call, Trump said ― per the AP ― that “he was ready to send U.S. troops to stop ‘bad hombres down there’ unless the Mexican military [did] more to control” said “bad hombres.” Which would really be a significant change in U.S. foreign policy.

Here’s the thing about this Associated Press report, though. The source of the excerpt of the call is unknown, as are many other pertinent details. The AP acknowledges this high up in its story:

The excerpt of the call did not detail who exactly Trump considered “bad hombres,” nor did it make clear the tone and context of the remark, made in a Friday morning phone call between the leaders. It also did not contain Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s response.

And Mexican officials subsequently denied up and down that any talk of sending troops to Mexico ― or indeed, any hostile conversation at all ― had happened. Mexico’s foreign relations department called the report an “absolute falsehood.” Eduardo Sanchez, a spokesman for Pena Nieto, told the AP that the conversation was neither “hostile” nor “humiliating,” and that it was “absolutely false that [Trump] threatened to send troops to Mexico.” (The White House did not respond to the AP’s requests for comment.)

And The Washington Post, which originally mentioned this AP report in their story about the Turnbull call, removed mention of the Mexico call after the fact. An editor’s note appended to that Post piece indicates that someone had second thoughts about the thin sourcing: “This article has been updated and a reference to an AP report on the details of a phone conversation between President Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto removed because they could not be independently confirmed.”

And that might have been the end of that, were it not for a follow-up story from The Associated Press that I literally had to read multiple times to make sure I was comprehending it. Per the AP:

President Donald Trump warned in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart that he was ready to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there” unless the Mexican military does more to control them — comments the White House described as “lighthearted.”

The White House said Thursday that the remarks, in an excerpt obtained by The Associated Press from a transcript of the hourlong conversation, were “part of a discussion about how the United States and Mexico could work collaboratively to combat drug cartels and other criminal elements, and make the border more secure.”

So, despite having every in-the-know official from Mexico declaring that no such remarks were made and attesting to the productive nature of the call, a White House official who just couldn’t leave well enough alone thought it would be a good idea to chase after the AP and let them know that, yes, Trump really said those things, but everyone was just misunderstanding him! He was only joking, man! You know about that whole “literally versus seriously” thing!

What a mess. And it’s all of a piece with everything else we’ve seen out of this administration in the 900 years two weeks it’s been in power ― the rushed executive orders that caught agencies flat-footed; the odd declaration about Iran being “on notice” that left U.S. Central Command mystified; the ongoing debate over whether anyone with access to the Oval Office is aware that Frederick Douglass is not actually alive and walking among us.

We could really do with a little adult supervision up in the White House, you guys.

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat the Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   January 27, 2017   10:40 AM ET

According to The Associated Press, our 45th president had a rough day this week. Just the one? Well, no, but according to reporter Jonathan Lemire, “By any measure, Thursday was a chaotic day in President Donald Trump’s White House.”

Chaotic in what sense? Well, for one thing, there was a meeting planned between Trump and a pair of lawmakers that the press was belatedly informed had been pushed to another date. I’m not sure that this indicates “chaos” for Trump, though ― since it seems like the press, not Trump himself, was the last to know about it.

Ah, but then there was that whole bit where White House press secretary Sean Spicer told Air Force One-bound reporters that the administration’s vaunted border wall would be paid for, in part, by a tax on Mexican imports. It was a “surprise announcement” that “lit up phones across Washington,” and, as you may know, the exciting twist ending to this story was that Spicer later walked it back.

Now, this was a bit of an embarrassment for the administration ― one of many false starts and walk-arounds we’ve seen in its first week. This has stemmed from the White House’s emphasis on executive branch theatrics, which have, on multiple occasions, flummoxed the reporters covering the activity. Still, reducing the incident to the “surprise” of the announcement and Washington’s switchboards melting down makes it sound like this “chaos,” once again, was primarily felt by reporters ― not people actually inside the White House.

Anyway, from there, it seems that Trump was running late and an executive order signing would have to be postponed.

In terms of Trump’s “rocky start,” I’ll be honest with you: Thursday seems like it was a pretty tame day. Especially when you compare it to the story that Lemire and Julie Pace filed two days earlier, in which it was reported that Trump’s well-nursed grievances and the constant nagging of his personal insecurities were driving those around him to distraction. This shows no sign of changing any time soon. It’s no wonder that Trump’s White House has been as leaky as a butterfly net, with newspapers collecting dozens of sources to tell horror stories about everybody’s first week on the job.

So, I don’t know, it’s not clear that the events of Thursday truly stand out against the background chaos of the week as a whole. But then, making comparisons doesn’t seem to be the AP’s strength in this instance. Here’s how the article about Thursday closes out its tale of “confusion and change”:

But the Trump administration is far from the first to experience some early growing pains.

It took more than a day for staffers in President George W. Bush’s press office to be able to get all their phones and computers to work in 2001.

And the very first moments of Obama’s term in 2009 were muddled when Chief Justice John Roberts bungled the oath of office, forcing a do-over the next day at the White House. Staffers had to rely on reporters to guide them to the Diplomatic Room for the ceremony.

Wow, those sound like some deeply tricky adjustments! Definitely the equivalent of what’s going on in Washington right now. But that’s presidential transitions for you: Sometimes you need an afternoon to figure out how the call forwarding works, sometimes you contract enteric fever shortly after your inauguration and suddenly it’s John Tyler’s presidential transition. Your mileage will vary!

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   January 25, 2017    1:54 PM ET


As you may recall, over the past year or so, former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton had a problem ― one that at the time I deemed impossible to solve. You see, she’d opted at some point to use a private email server instead of the State Department email domain. This raised a host of concerns, including the question of whether her private setup was properly secured


Obviously, it led to many other things as well. An endless amount of criticism dogged Clinton throughout the campaign, trailed by an equally endless number of defenses of her behavior. If I’m being charitable, I think she tended to those concerns very poorly, but your mileage may vary.


At any rate, I think we can all agree that Clinton would have been a lot better off if she’d just used her State Department email account. There wouldn’t have been an opportunity for FBI Director James Comey to offer up an M. Night Shyamalan twist late in the campaign, nor would there have been those torrents of media coverage on the matter ― which even I found to be vastly disproportionate, given the actual known facts.


And yet, with all of that intense media coverage providing a really great opportunity to learn from someone’s mistakes, this little tidbit in Maggie Haberman’s Jan. 25 New York Times story is, truly, extraordinary (emphasis mine):



Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania, went back to New York on Sunday night with their 10-year-old son, Barron, and so Mr. Trump has the television — and his old, unsecured Android phone, to the protests of some of his aides — to keep him company. That was the case after 9 p.m. on Tuesday, when Mr. Trump appeared to be reacting to Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News, which was airing a feature on crime in Chicago.



Yeah, so, Trump needs to listen to those protesting aides, and stop using that phone.


Believe it or not, my aim here isn’t to ridicule Trump’s hypocrisy ― plenty of people are already doing that. I’m trying to be the shepherd, man. Whether you think Donald Trump is about to do a lot of terrible things or a lot of great things, there are not “two sides” to the president using an unsecured mobile phone. No good can come of it. It will make him, depending on your point of view, either a less effective president or a worse president. So this is an easy call: Fix this.


Also, fix this, as reported by Newsweek’s Nina Burleigh:



Senior Trump administration staffers including Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner, Sean Spicer and Steve Bannon have active accounts on a Republican National Committee email system, Newsweek has learned.


The system (rnchq.org) is the same one the George W. Bush administration was accused of using to evade transparency rules after claiming to have “lost” 22 million emails.



It’s not clear whether these staffers are still using these email accounts. But if so, they should probably stop.


The potential consequences of poor infosec are, by now, very deeply ingrained in the discourse. We know where this sort of slapdash attention to data security, this cavalier disregard for best practices, can lead. It exposes you to hacking, breaches of national security, political disgrace, congressional hearings, law enforcement investigations and the threat of indictment. Along the way, it creates countless opportunities for your political enemies ― or, perhaps, your military ones, if you happen to be a head of state ― to learn your vulnerabilities and exploit them.


After everything we’ve learned from Hillary Clinton’s experience, I can’t begin to fathom why anyone would allow themselves to court danger or scandal this way. It frankly seems insane! Fortunately, this is very easily fixed, and Trump should fix it ― if no other reason than to increase his odds of having an effective presidency.


Oh, by the way, the same could be said about fully divesting from his business holdings.

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   January 25, 2017    9:09 AM ET

UPDATE: 12:35 p.m. ― The Leading Authorities speakers’ agency now claims that this whole half-baked idea was cooked up without the knowledge of any of the participants, which is apparently a thing people are allowed to do?

As BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer reports, Leading Authorities on Wednesday deleted the listing for Mook and Lewandowski’s joint appearance, and is now saying it was never really a listing at all. A spokesman for the agency said the now-removed material was “generated by our team.”

“There has been great interest in both Corey and Robby individually, but want to be clear that they have not teamed up,” the spokesman told BuzzFeed. “This was solely our team’s idea.”

There’s a chance this is all a dodge on the part of Leading Authorities. Or maybe this idea really did proceed from the concept stage straight to a forward-facing advertisement without any regard for actually getting Mook and Lewandowski to commit. Washington is a sleazy trickster town of nonsense! The important thing is that now, I’m the clown.

At any rate, everyone would be better served by this weird idea being scuttled.

UPDATE: 4:44 p.m. ― And Mook weighs in.

 

PREVIOUSLY:

After an electoral wipeout that saw Donald Trump in the White House and Democrats clinging to meager holdings in Congress and across the states, you’d think that the order of the day ― for those who had a hand in that failure, at least ― would be an intense period of soul-searching. Well, for former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, it seems he’d rather seek out a quick payday on the speakers’ circuit. As BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer reports:

In joint appearances across the country, Robby Mook and Corey Lewandowski will offer a “future-focused look at why Trump won” in what their speaking agency, Leading Authorities, promises will be an “entertaining pair sure to keep any audience engaged,” according to the Washington-based firm’s website.

The paid speech roadshow most often takes speakers to corporate gatherings, trade conferences, and universities. The contracts can deliver tens of thousands of dollars for each speech — and hundreds of thousands for names like Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Yep! While the Democratic base is settling in for a difficult slog of marching and organizing ― and looking to putative Democratic elites to lend whatever capital they can to the effort of being the sand in the gears for the next four years ― Mook is planning to embark on a whirlwind buckraking tour with Trump’s on-again-off-again aide-de-camp.

The last time these two were in a room together, at the Harvard Kennedy School’s quadrennial campaign post-mortem, there was no perceptible affection between them ― one observer told The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng that Mook “looked like he wanted to strangle” Lewandowski. But there’s nothing like a Beltway speakers’ agency to unite people in the common cause of getting paid to cheese it up like organ grinders’ monkeys at corporate retreats.

Hopefully everyone working to maintain civil society, preserve scientific knowledge and protect those who will be affected by the coming injustices of the Trump administration will be able draw strength from the fact that the guy who ran Hillary Clinton’s supposedly inspiring presidential effort will be out there helping to “deliver behind-the-scenes anecdotes from one of the country’s most unpredictable election cycles” and offering “a balanced look at the future of public policy and the American electorate.”

This is what the world needs right now, Mook presumably thought to himself.

The really hilarious thing is that after all of this is over, Mook will likely find himself serving in a leadership capacity at some other important Democratic campaign, which he will lose.

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   December 14, 2016    2:30 PM ET

The executive-branch brain trust that President-elect Donald Trump is putting together is truly is a marvel. In one corner, you have the appointees who would like the U.S. to become a client-state of Russia. In another, you’ve got a host of Wall Street billionaires who are probably not what Trump’s working-class voters were hoping for. And then there are all the folks who are just straight-up hostile to the very existence of the same agencies Trump would have them lead. Whee!

Look, irony is not a new thing in Washington. Just about everyone knows that if Congress introduces, say, a bill called “The Sugar Plum Preservation Act,” that bill is intended either to weaponize sugar plums or eliminate them. And yes, we’ve had Cabinet officials in the past whose visions have had little to do with the functions of government as traditionally understood. What always ends up mattering most is whether any particular government entity is given the manpower and funding to do the job it’s intended to do. If you don’t want the Securities and Exchange Commission to police Wall Street, you have a lot of options, from appointing a quisling head to keeping any go-getters within the agency’s bureaucracy overworked and underpaid.

All the same, there’s something sort of impressive / stomach-churning about Trump’s instinct for finding the worst possible people for job after job after job. If a president’s Cabinet is a reflection of himself (OR HERSELF, EXTREMELY SAD LOL), then it’s almost like we’ve got an incoming chief executive who believes in nothing beyond his own ego, who’s not for anything in particular except seeing his face on TV, and who doesn’t feel strongly about preserving or defending any aspects of American life that are not actually named after him. In a way, the steady stream of nominations, one after another, has come to resemble that sort of overkill comedy where the gag starts out hilarious, then grows tiresome out of repetition, until the relentless pounding of the punch line finally starts to seem funny once more.

We recently hit the “it’s funny again” stage with the announcement that Trump had picked former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy. Like a peak-season “Arrested Development” punch line, this is a joke with many layers. After all, ‘twas Perry who, in his lowest moment as a presidential candidate, failed to recall that the Department of Energy was one of the Cabinet agencies he wanted to dissolve. Now he might end up running it, which is just a comic masterstroke. What’s more, he’ll be doing so at the pleasure of a man he once called a “cancer.” Weird how things just metastasize.

As Deadspin’s Albert Burneko noted yesterday, it’s easy for a “casual observer to believe, incorrectly, that the department’s primary function has to do with the production of fossil fuels, like oil.” Perry’s appointment definitely seems like, shall we say, the kind of idea a casual observer would come up with. But the Department of Energy is an organization with many missions, including determining the future of our radioactive nuclear waste. It’s also, as Stanford astrophysicist Rita Wechsler pointed out this week, a core institution of scientific innovation in the United States (and, by extension, the world), running key research facilities that contribute to Nobel Prize-winning scientific breakthroughs.

If you’re wondering how Perry might preside over an agency largely concerned with sound science ― well, the outlook isn’t good. It was, after all, Perry’s self-imposed ignorance of physics that directly led to the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004. And as Mother Jones’ Tim Murphy elucidated at length this week, Perry’s hostility to climate science is boundless.

In this way, Perry fits in well with a Trump administration that’s already tilting toward Lysenkoism. It looks like the incoming administration is planning some kind of purge of climate researchers in government, sending scientists on a mad dash to collect and duplicate as much data as they can to keep it out of Trump’s hands. (It’s going to be a good year for private servers after all!)

It’ll be ironic if Perry, who’s been notably hawkish on protecting incursions of any kind on our borders, ends up being responsible for some of America’s top scientific talent fleeing to more hospitable climes. But that’s a likely outcome.

Meanwhile, to environmentalists, the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency signals the death knell of most efforts to curb pollution and protect people from its effects. As The Huffington Post’s Kate Sheppard reports, Pruitt has happily characterized himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

Sheppard notes that Pruitt is “currently suing the EPA... to stop the Obama administration’s effort to curb emissions from power plants, and he was caught letting oil industry lawyers draft letters to regulators on his behalf.” All in all, it seems unlikely that the Environmental Protection Agency would do much environment-protecting under Pruitt’s leadership. Maybe a name change is in order?

Funnily, Pruitt isn’t the only Trump appointee who might soon find himself leading an agency with which he’s been involved in a legal entanglement. Andy Puzder, who’s been tapped to lead the Department of Labor, is chief executive of CKE Restaurant Holdings. In that life, Puzder is best known as a serial scofflaw of labor rights and a frequent target of the Department of Labor’s regulators. As HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson reports, CKE’s main brands ― Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. ― have been a festering swamp of wage theft and workplace safety issues.

You know who doesn’t complain about wage theft and workplace safety? Robots! Puzder has spoken glowingly of inanimate laborers, gushing that “they’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.” As for those ― what are they called ― right, humans, Puzder has opposed President Barack Obama’s expansion of overtime protection and has generally, per Jamieson, “spent his career as someone who would want to lower workplace fines, not dole them out.” In short, it seems improbable that a Puzder-led Labor Department would do much to improve the fortunes or expand the rights of working-class strivers.

Other Trump nominees are similarly-minded. Betsy DeVos, a billionaire who’s made it her life’s mission to destroy public education by steering vital funding to private and charter schools (an effort at which she’s been a complete cock-up), is Trump’s pick for the Department of Education. The main qualification of Linda McMahon, CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment and Trump’s selection to lead the Small Business Administration, seems to be her ability to crush small businesses (and, uh, give money to the Trump Foundation).

And then there’s prospective Housing And Urban Development head Ben Carson, who... doesn’t seem to know anything about housing or urban development? At all? But as New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait points out, Carson has distinguished himself as a scammer par excellence, and HUD’s “program structure lends itself naturally to profiteering.”

If you’re worried about the future of these agencies, and the odds that people like Perry will simply order them to be stripped down to the joists, that’s sort of the ironic twist. At some point, Trump’s appointees are going to discover one thing to love and admire about these institutions: the billions of dollars that sluice through them, ready to be channeled into any number of exciting patronage schemes and clear the way for these blackguards to enjoy lucrative post-administration careers based on favors offered and connections made.

Say what you want about kleptocracy, dude, but at least it’s an ethos ― one that requires an infrastructure to exist. In this way, these institutions of government may yet survive to fight another day. Unfortunately, whether you do the same is something of an open question.

~~~~~ 

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below. 

 

 

Jason Linkins   |   December 8, 2016    1:26 PM ET


President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday directed one of his infamous impulsive tweets at Boeing, which currently has a contract to build the next version of Air Force One. Specifically, he said: “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”


Boeing’s stock took a wild ride downward in the immediate aftermath of the outburst, but bounced back to roughly where it began by the time the closing bell rang. As it turned out, the Department of Defense had budgeted $1.65 billion ― not $4 billion ― and Boeing said it currently has a $170 million contract with the Air Force. Such clarity aided the company’s late-in-day stock rally.


But the tweet touched off a furious round of “Where did Donald Trump get his information?” questions. Reporters were subsequently tasked with the job of questioning whether Trump had any skin in the game with regard to Boeing. Spokespersons for the president-elect said ― without providing documentation ― that he had sold all of his stock holdings earlier in the year.


The whole incident revived concerns about the potential for Trump’s tweets to suddenly manipulate markets for no good reason. But it also uncovered other winners and losers that went relatively unnoticed.


BIG WINNER: THE PENTAGON


Perhaps the day’s biggest irony is that Trump’s complaints about imaginary Air Force One cost overruns pushed an even bigger story about government waste right out of the newshole. Prior to Trump’s Boeing complaint, most of the media was still absorbing a blockbuster story from The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock and Bob Woodward. They described how the Pentagon went in search of wasteful spending, found a nonsensical amount of it, and then buried its own findings.


As the Post reported:



The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post.


Pentagon leaders had requested the study to help make their enormous back-office bureaucracy more efficient and reinvest any savings in combat power. But after the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results.



According to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, $125 billion is greater than $4 billion. And yet I have a really good feeling about which story will attract the lion’s share of attention on the Sunday morning political chat shows. The Pentagon caught a nice break.


BIG LOSER: CORPORATE CEOS


It’s hard to feel bad for our nation’s chief executives, who over the past four decades have enjoyed skyrocketing increases to their take-home pay that don’t align with the relative quality of American CEO-ing over the same period of time. But the Chicago Tribune’s Robert Reed argues that we should feel some concern over the “chilling effect on corporate CEOs speaking out in public.”



While not hearing from CEOs isn’t a major hardship for most people, this backing away threatens to damage the already shaky dialogue that exists between business leaders and the rest of us.


Even in a controlled environment of a Chamber of Commerce occasion or similar event, businesspeople get out there and share their views about the issues of the day, whether it’s public safety, the environment, markets, free trade or community development.


[...]


Sounds corny, but at such events the protective corporate bubble can be pierced, if only a little. Community activists, media members, employees, students and other stakeholders get to quiz executives about their corporate strategies and decisions.



“We need more healthy CEO dialogues, not fewer,” Reed writes.


ALSO WINNING: EVERYONE WHO DIDN’T WRITE THIS CNBC PIECE ASKING US TO CONSIDER THE COST-CUTTING VALUE OF TRUMP’S PRIVATE JET


For some reason, CNBC’s Robert Frank wrote a piece titled, “As Trump pushes back on Boeing, consider his private jet cost a fraction of Air Force One.”


Hmmm, yes, let’s consider.


So, after about two seconds of considering, I’m thinking that maybe one of the big reasons that Trump’s own plane “cost less then a tenth of Air Force One” is because Air Force One was specifically designed with the goal of making sure the president of the United States isn’t getting shot down all the damn time. This isn’t something that I thought we were ready to rethink. But as Frank points out, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s secondhand plane cost Trump merely $60 million after all the renovations were done. Let’s definitely see if Allen has any more planes laying around.


Frank pauses momentarily to ponder the innovative way Air Force One has been designed to “the president shouldn’t die” specifications, but dismisses such thoughts in the next breath:



Aviation experts say Trump’s plane is more luxurious, but Air Force One is a technology marvel, with an anti-missile system, scramblers, massive communications systems and back-up systems. So the two aircraft are not really comparable. But based on the Trump-gold standard for private jets, it’s no wonder he’s demanding a cost cut from Boeing.



Again, based on the “Trump-gold standard for private jets,” you don’t have an anti-missile system or other state-of-the-art countermeasures to being blown out of the sky, but it really makes you think, man.


TOO EARLY TO TELL: HIGH-FREQUENCY TRADERS


Redeeming CNBC’s coverage of Boeing Tweet Day, Eamon Javers digs into the notion that traders might be able to game Trump’s Twitter activity with computerized algorithms designed to start immediately capitalizing on Trump’s market manipulations. That sounds great, just great. Naturally, people are already working on figuring out a way to do this.



Efrem Hoffman, founder of a market analysis firm called Running Alpha, said Trump’s tweets represent a new source of market information for those willing to study them and identify patterns. “One specific strategy that I am working on is looking at tweets that come from Trump’s Android phone — as these have been shown to reflect his personal beliefs and convictions,” Hoffman said. “Somewhat more unfiltered than tweets coming from other mobile devices that reflect the opinions of his colleagues/staff.”


Hoffman said he is analyzing the sequencing of Trump’s tweets in terms of volatility between Trump’s episodes of anger or jubilation, and cross referencing those episodes with keywords associated with specific industries of policy categories. He said he is looking at the sentiment of Trump’s followers and how the tweets are received as a possible measure of market player uncertainty.



There is a healthy amount of skepticism as to whether something like this could be pulled off, and Javers notes that it “is always possible that algorithmic traders are already analyzing Trump’s tweets and simply decided that the [Boeing] tweet was too vague to trade on.”


Nevertheless, that 10-second delay between Trump’s Twitter missive and the market’s convulsions remain exploitable terrain. Someone is sure to find a way to get rich off Trump’s tweets. Probably not you, though!

~~~~~ 

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below. 

Jason Linkins   |   December 7, 2016    5:12 PM ET


In retrospect, it’s funny to think about how way back in 2011, President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner came oh so close to inking the sort of entitlement program-cutting “grand bargain” that would have sent the Beltway pundit class into heights of orgiastic ecstasy while, you know, economically immiserating millions of people. Had Boehner been the leader of the smarter GOP-majority caucuses of Houses of Representatives past, he would have gone down in history as a speaker who’d pulled off a major heist, smoothly extracting a raft of major concessions from a Democratic president.


Alas, Boehner came to power at the very time smart was going crazy, leading a caucus bent on the sort of zero-sum game that held that if Obama was able to earn a concession for himself ― or, really, save any face at all ― it was a bad deal all around. And so Boehner spent his latter days as speaker stuck between a president that wouldn’t give away the entire store and House colleagues that were willing to go to ridiculous lengths and resort to dangerous stunts to show how committed they were to their particular ideological pretensions. It pretty much saved America’s earned benefit programs, but it made governing all but impossible.


And so, in the fall of 2015, Boehner decided that all of this could just as easily be somebody else’s problem and he announced that he was going to resign. As CNN relayed Wednesday, Boehner, if nothing else, has a real appreciation for his sense of timing: 



Former House Speaker John Boehner says he is thankful that he did not have to participate in the 2016 presidential election.


“Every day I’d watch it and was like, ‘Thank God I’m not in the middle of this,’” he told Cincinnati’s WCPO in an exclusive interview. “It was the most bizarre political year that we’ve seen in 100 years.”


The former Ohio lawmaker said he has no regrets about walking away from Congress in October 2015.


“There’s nothing I would change about when I left or how I left,” he said.



Indeed, if you look at the way the coming fight over just how Obamacare should be repealed and ― let me stifle a little laughter ― replaced is shaping up, it’s looking like the precise type of internecine fracas that drove Boehner to the merlot.


Republican leadership is planning to pull off what’s been called a “repeal and delay” maneuver in which the Affordable Care Act’s funding structures are gutted through a budget reconciliation process as soon as the next Congress is ready, but they leave themselves a three-year-long off-ramp to provide enough time to gin up some sort of ersatz “replacement.”


But the House’s “Freedom Caucus” isn’t having any of it ― they want this matter to be accomplished by the 115th Congress. The group’s leader, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), has vowed that any plan to extend the process beyond that window will be met with “major resistance.” It’s the precise sort of battle that inspired Boehner to get out of the game.


CNN goes on to note that Boehner was always very bullish on Donald Trump’s electoral chances and that the two men were, for a time, “texting buddies.” But when all is said and done and the new year brings about other political retirements, you shouldn’t be surprised if this jokey bit from this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner doesn’t herald the future of Boehner’s post-political relationships.




~~~~~ 

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below. 

Jason Linkins   |   December 2, 2016   12:12 PM ET

If you think about the storied history of the New York Observer ― which since 1987 has been one of New York City’s best-read weekly newspapers ― you might wonder what many of its former editors (Peter Kaplan and Elizabeth Spiers come to mind) would have made of a Donald Trump presidency. In all likelihood, their reaction would have been something like mordant concern lit by the flash of crashing rapiers. But with the paper under the control of Trump-kin-by-marriage publisher Jared Kushner and Trump campaign aide-de-camp editor Ken Kurson, it’s rather clear that the Observer is set to become some sort of garbage tribune, serving the president-elect with the devotion of a Kim Jong Un sycophant.

At first blush, the Observer would look like an unlikely herald for a Trump World Order. After all, it has historically been a tidy chronicle of Manhattan’s mostly liberal elites and their doings, pitched to an audience of mostly liberal Manhattanites climbing society’s ladders at slightly lower rungs. But changes are afoot. As the New York Times’ Michael Grynbaum reported just days after the election, it was announced that the Observer would cease its print edition and fully shed itself of its “New York” branding.

And although Observer Media’s chairman (and Kushner brother-in-law) Joseph Meyer insisted the media organization would retain “coverage of New York City politics and culture,” these changes, coupled with the dismissal of one senior editor and several regular freelancers, suggest that some sort of play beyond Manhattan is in the offing.

Just over a week ago, Mediaite contributor Justin Bargona took the lay of the land and figured that the Observer was well on its way to becoming an official “propaganda arm” of the Trump White House. Among the things he noted at the time was the fact that collapsing the distance between Trump’s Oval Office and the Observer’s publisher and editor offered a distinct advantage ― setting up the paper to become the pre-eminent venue for “exclusive interviews and breaking news,” naturally positioning it to become a go-to “primary source for the rest of the media.”

The possibilities of synergy between Trump’s administration and the Observer were never more clear than they were this week, with the publication of a daffy Austin Bay editorial calling on the Federal Bureau of Investigation to crack down on expressions of anti-Trump dissent:

It’s time for the FBI to conduct a detailed investigation into the violence and political thuggery that continue to mar the presidential election’s aftermath. A thorough probe of the protests—to include possible ties to organizations demanding vote recounts—will give the Bureau’s integrity-challenged director, James Comey, a chance to sandblast his sullied badge.

Lord, surely James Comey deserves better from Trump’s son-in-law’s newspaper after his service during the election. That aside, can you even imagine the FBI conducting a “detailed investigation” into this? “Our preliminary investigation has found that there all a bunch of people who think Donald Trump is some kind of asshole, it would read, before moving on to secondary areas of concern, like that legal right to assembly and free speech. Hopefully this would be wrapped up swiftly, so as not to create the sort of opportunity cost that might preclude the FBI from catching actual criminals.

This piece goes on to ask the FBI to look into the possibility that Trump electors are being “intimidated” into not voting for him by “angry, vicious...malcontents,” who Bay surmises are from the Democratic Party. Presumably these Democratic operatives haven’t thought through the fact that if enough Trump electors defect, the election will be determined by the GOP-controlled House and Senate. Those bodies would probably not opt to install someone from the opposition. 

That is the height of the editorial’s cogency, by the way. From here it devolves into a scattershot rant alleging George Soros-funded protesters (does he pay a living wage and are there opportunities for advancement?), strange asides about Jill Stein (which for some reason have been pull-quoted by some clearly desperate page layout editor) and a reiteration of anger at Comey for not jailing Clinton.

It’s all a little “Aunt Brenda forwarded this email to all the cousins again, God bless her” for any newspaper, let alone the Observer. To be sure, the paper’s subscribers have come to expect a rightward tilt from the editorial page under Kushner, but this dispatch diverges sharply from its traditional tone of aristocratic condescension.

As previously mentioned, Mediaite’s Baragona was given occasion to speculate about the Observer’s future after Kurson appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” There, the paper’s editor offered his opinion on how the media had, in general, cocked up their election coverage to the utmost degree before going on to call for everyone’s immediate job termination and offering some strange asides about “Hamilton” (there’s the Aunt Brenda style of American politics again).

Baragona properly acknowledged that there was more than a little truth to some of Kurson’s criticism, but then rightly noted that “to hear a former speechwriter for senior Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani sit there and lecture the media over how it is doing its job while he works for a Trump family member who is trying to find a way to get around nepotism rules to be on the President-elect’s staff while owning a media outlet is rich.”

Per Baragona:

Let’s just take a step back and look with clear eyes at what Kurson is saying here. One, he’s trying to convince us all that Kushner has no say — none at all — over what the Observer prints or its editorial direction. At the same time, he also says that he doesn’t bemoan Kushner wanting to perhaps push his opinion to the editors, contradicting his statements about Kushner not placing his “finger on the scale.”

Meanwhile, he completely brushes aside the question of whether or not Kushner should place his ownership interest of the Observer in a blind trust should he officially join the Trump administration. And, of course, he sits there and commends his paper’s coverage of the election and Trump while slamming the efforts of other papers and networks, calling for mass firings and resignations in the wake of the election.

With Kushner angling for a place in the administration, and some amount of speculation as to whether or not Kurson might be heading in that direction as well, you might wonder if, at some point, the two men might properly step down from the paper and leave it in a successor’s hands. To which I’d say: why are you wondering that? With Trump already testing the boundaries of ethics laws concerning conflicts of interests, angling for something short of total divestiture from his business interests, why on earth would Kushner and Kurson volunteer to model journalistic propriety in this instance? In Trump’s world, there’s nothing sacred but whatever you can get away with.

It’s really no wonder that Kurson is feeling rather optimistic. Per Grynbaum:

“This has been a week of incredible tumult, for our country, and now for this small business,” Mr. Kurson, who is close to Mr. Kushner, wrote in a post. “Who knows what the future holds, for me or for the USA or for Observer.”

“But I can tell you this much for sure,” Mr. Kurson added. “Observer’s future is brighter than it’s ever been.”

In truth, its not hard to see how a pro-Trump propaganda empire might work. Properly sorted, you’d have Breitbart News aiming its copy right at the heart of Trump’s raging base and the more tony-tongued Observer riding alongside, laundering Trump’s misdeeds for a snootier set. (I’ve previously surmised that MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” has an emerging role to play in this; things are about to get very interesting over at CNN as well.)

It’s going to be a pretty difficult adjustment for those who’ve long admired the New York Observer’s very particular place in the media firmament. I’d imagine that the energy we could harness from Peter Kaplan spinning in his grave would power the sun.

~~~~~ 

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below. 

Jason Linkins   |   December 1, 2016    8:01 PM ET

Every four years since 1972, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University has hosted an after-action gathering on the presidential election called the Campaign Managers Conference, in which the people who ran the presidential campaigns of both the winners and the losers dish about their successes, rue their failures and try to provide attendees with what the school calls “the first draft of history.”

The big news going into this year’s confab was that Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon was going to steer clear of his alma mater and forgo the event. The news coming out of the conference? Lots of fighting!

As you might expect with such an acrimonious campaign (if you recall, part of Donald Trump’s platform during the election season was a promise to use the powers at his disposal to prosecute his opponent, Hillary Clinton), the representatives of the two campaigns sparred angrily during their session together. As the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Karen Tumulty report, things devolved into a “shouting match,” with the Clinton campaign’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, denouncing the way the Trump campaign provided “a platform for white supremacists,” over the vigorous objections of her Trump campaign counterpart, Kellyanne Conway.

But enough about that! If you ask me, the real action happened at a Wednesday night dinner at The Charles Hotel in Cambridge, where there was yet another shouting match. Only this time, all of the shouting served two very noble and patriotic purposes: savaging CNN President Jeff Zucker and making former Trump campaign operative-turned-CNN contributor Corey Lewandowski upset.

As Politico’s Hadas Gold reports, the dinner discussion, which was supposed to be a genteel and academic discussion among Zucker, Washington Post Editor Marty Baron, Associated Press Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll and Facebook Vice President Elliot Schrage ― presided over by journalist and The Victory Lab author Sasha Issenberg ― quickly took a turn as the various campaign managers for the losing Republican primary candidates came at Zucker like a gang of chum-hungry sharks.

Nice! Let us be glad about all of these things that happened.

Per Gold, these campaign managers “shouted Zucker down with increasing anger as he defended how much airtime the network gave Trump” during the primary season, contending that it was both out of whack and out of balance. Zucker’s self-defense essentially amounted to asserting that when CNN reached out to the various candidates, Trump was the one who answered the call the most often.

Several of the campaign managers assembled told Zucker that they’d not received these alleged calls. Others joked about how CNN was willing to give their candidates only a brief amount of time or air segments at off-hours. As anyone who actually witnessed the primary campaign can tell you, none of the other candidates’ events got the lavish, fulsome coverage that Trump’s got.

And that includes coverage of Trump events during times when Trump wasn’t even in range of the camera lens. As one audience member shouted, “You showed empty podiums!” (Which was technically accurate, as there were podiums at these events.)

Zucker was unable to sufficiently explain to the assembled campaign managers how it came to pass that CNN offered so many hours of coverage to Trump’s many empty stages and unoccupied lecterns. Perhaps in an effort to reach out to every campaign’s inanimate stage props, only Trump’s returned the call, offering to help CNN air hundreds of minutes of blank space for no good reason.

As Gold details, it all got to the point where Lewandowski had to leave the room to cuddle his binky or something:

The Trump strategists peppered throughout the room didn’t stand up to defend Zucker or challenge the other strategists, with the exception of former Trump campaign manager and CNN contributor Corey Lewandowski, who stalked out of the room early and returned only after a spell outside.

Once Lewandowski returned from psyching himself up in the washroom mirror with repeated pick-me-ups (“You can do it, Corey! You’re a real man, Corey!”), the erstwhile CNN contributor was in more of a fighting mood, getting confrontational once the conversation turned to Zucker’s decision to hire Lewandowski in the first place:

Lewandowski seized the microphone from the questioner, who broached the topic, in a bid to defend himself, allowing the student to finish asking it, but insisting he was adding value to the CNN airwaves.

Zucker said Lewandowski was a “good investment and decision,” as Lewandowski clapped and the rest of the room remained silent.

Please clap! But no.

~~~~~ 

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below. 

Jason Linkins   |   November 30, 2016   11:55 AM ET

When President-elect Donald Trump ascends to the Oval Office on Inauguration Day, one of the institutions that can serve as a check on his executive power will be the United States Congress. And although Senate Democrats will likely have some leverage in the form of the filibuster, that Congress will, for the near future, be controlled by the GOP. So a good question to ask right now is, “Will Congressional Republicans provide that vital check on potential misrule?”

To save everyone some time, I’ll spoil the ending: no. I mean, possibly yes, but probably no.

During the primary season, prominent Republicans managed to talk a good game against Trump, in many instances correctly describing him as a liar and a scam artist. And prominent members of the conservative thought-leader set contributed to the cause, identifying Trump ― again, accurately ― as a corrupt, kleptocratic strongman in the making, someone who threatened to degrade important institutions within our democracy.

But you probably noticed that for the most part, Congressional Republicans didn’t really join in the anti-Trump crusade. Condemnations were occasionally offered and then walked back ― most notably after the famous “grab her by the pussy” revelation, when several GOP legislators professed concern over what Trump represented to their mothers and daughters, and then suddenly remembered that actually, they would like to be re-elected, please.

Republican legislators no doubt heard an earful from the conservative intelligentsia about Trump’s threat to sacred institutions. They also probably heard concerns from their ideological comrades in the commentariat, voicing skepticism as to whether Trump was actually, deep down, a true conservative ― since Trump does, after all, have a history of supporting various liberal causes and Democratic politicians. But even if they have heard these concerns, they’ve kept their mouths shut.

In this regard, I would guess, Republican legislators ended up reading Trump correctly. His past actions, after all, were not evidence of a secret liberal heart. They were merely the actions of a man who’d always followed the path of least resistance, who appeared to favor liberal ideology when his highest priorities were 1) making it in the entertainment industry and 2) remaining a member of the Manhattan elite. Republican legislators (I’m thinking) correctly reckoned that Trump is, in fact, an empty ideological vessel ― one who needs all the help he can get to do a job he’s clearly not suited to perform.

For GOP lawmakers, then, Trump might represent a danger to some important democratic institutions, but not to conservative governance itself. He is, in other words, the type of president whom Grover Norquist famously described as the platonic ideal for a GOP-run Congress.

“We just need a president to sign this stuff,” Norquist said of Mitt Romney back in 2012. “We don’t need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate. The requirement for president? Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States.”

There’s really no indication that Trump won’t be exactly that. Trump’s digits may be short, but he has a sufficient number for pen-operating. And while his policy positions have been presented in a typically id-slathered way, many of them are, at base, bog-standard Republican dogma. Conservatives in the House and Senate may have concerns about Trump’s overall effect on the republic, but as The New Republic’s Brian Beutler points out, they’ve got their eyes on a bigger payout:

There are multiple incentives inhibiting Republicans from acting to contain Trump right now. Trump is more popular among GOP voters than many elected Republicans are within their own states and districts. Those who might otherwise be inclined to rein Trump in might also be disinclined to sow division within the party before they’ve even claimed their new majority.

But the zen mantra on Capitol Hill isn’t about Trump or party unity per se, but the regressive tax cuts and restored Supreme Court dominance his victory portends. Republicans have led the country into a terrifying funhouse, but are taking solace in the faith that everyone will emerge from it unscathed after they’ve secured their election spoils.

As the cavalcade of disgraces accelerates, this bet looks more and more reckless. Republicans may never find it within themselves to treat Trump’s embarrassments and corruption with the alarm they deserve, but they are almost certainly not going to rein him in before he sends them an acceptably Scalia-like Supreme Court nominee and signs their tax cuts.

Beutler presents all of this as a sort of gamble: Can GOP legislators get everything they want out of Trump before they have to start worrying about the cracks forming in the foundation of civil society? But even this notion ― that the GOP will rein in Trump’s self-dealing and autocratic tendencies once they’ve secured their boodle ― is a bit optimistic.

Consider, for example, these three demonstrated realities that offer clues as to how Trump might be likely to try and debase America’s institutions. There’s his antipathy for the free press. There are his constant efforts to undermine the integrity of elections. And there’s the plethora of options currently available for him to use the office of the presidency for naked self-enrichment.

Does that sound like anything that GOP legislators might mount the barricades over? With the exception of Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), probably not. The gradual degradation of the press has been a conservative project since the mid-1990s, as has the effort to deny voters an easy path to enfranchisement ― just ask anyone who supported the “Motor-Voter bills” from the same era, or who has fought the good fight for voter rights ever since. Trump has brought his own brand of rhetoric ― and his own brand of threats ― to these fights. But he’s joining frays that were already in progress.

What’s been lately cited as the most unique way that Trump poses a threat to established democratic norms is his vast portfolio of personal financial entanglements and conflicts of interest, which span the globe in a dizzying array of opportunities for graft and corruption. In this case, it falls to someone willing to force him to put his assets into a proper blind trust, so that he’s well clear of any possible self-dealing.

This week, Trump made a vague announcement about “leaving” his business, but it’s not clear how his merely “leaving” will eliminate these conflicts of interest. He continues to dodge on the matter of establishing a true blind trust. More generally, Trump has taken the Nixon line on this controversy ― that what the president does cannot be illegal. As far as federal conflict-of-interest laws go, Trump is correct. But the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause says otherwise, in no uncertain terms.

Trouble is, you’ve got to actually step up and enforce that sucker, and I don’t see GOP legislators scrambling to do so. As The Huffington Post’s Michael McAuliff reported, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has taken a robust “nothing to see here, folks” stance on the matter. And Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who formerly seemed pretty keen to hold Trump accountable (he once demanded that Trump release his tax returns, which is adorable), has lately been doing his best impression of an invertebrate as well.

Perhaps congressional Republicans will try to hold Trump accountable once he’s signed off on their legislative agenda. But I kind of doubt it. And I’m not sure Democrats will be able to sell the notion that Trump’s self-enrichment harms taxpayer interests.

In many ways, these circumstances aren’t even unique to Trump. Corruption has been a way of life in Washington for a long while now. The revolving door spins, the money flows in and out and everyone gets a piece. From a legal standpoint, centuries of case law that once held that even the appearance of impropriety was harmful to democracy have eroded nearly completely. The Supreme Court only months ago overturned the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, accepting the argument that even pay-to-play bribery and favor-trading were essential to governance.

So the notion that a lot of Congresscritters are going to suddenly develop a passion for the Emoluments Clause seems fanciful. It’s far more likely that any such legislator would be either treated as a generic partisan foe or ridiculed by the media for doing something quixotic, as is often the case with legislators who oppose dumb wars or mention how it might be nice to give money to poor people. The test case, for the moment, is with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who, as Politico reports, is fighting a lonely fight to make sure Trump takes “the necessary financial steps to ensure that he is not violating any constitutional limits on a president’s conflicts of interest.”

Besides, Trump’s nervous new allies might see Trump’s ability to enrich himself as a vital safeguard against catastrophic error. If Trump’s at his most unstable and impulsive when he’s angry, allowing him to pad out his bank account might come to be viewed as the cost of keeping him happy.

Maybe Beutler’s right and Republican legislators will discover an appetite for institution-preserving once their ambitions have been realized at the business end of Trump’s autopen. But it’s not clear what would drive them to suddenly see the press, the vote, or good and honest government as vital things worth defending, after decades of not doing that.

So if those things aren’t potential breaking points between the Trump White House and the GOP-led Congress... well, do any exist? Really, the only possibility I can see for tension arising is if Trump’s voters try to hold him accountable for all those elaborate promises he made to restore the wealth of working-class Americans ― a group the GOP has always courted without doing much to actually help. Now, everyone in the Republican Party is on the hook.

Of course, it’s possible that at some point, a few million working-class Americans will be deprived of secure access to affordable health care. It’s also possible that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has done great work defending the financial interests of ordinary Americans, will be badly defanged. And the way financial sector regulation is shaping up, we could soon be returning to the pre-crash status quo, in which deregulated and overleveraged banks ride insecure bubbles with their nethers dangling naked in the wind ― a great recipe for a sequel to the 2008 financial crisis.

So that’s your breaking point: broken promises and broken people. Short of that, and barring some frankly astonishing rediscovery of principles and public-mindedness in a party that appears to have lost all interest in the business of governing, don’t expect GOP legislators to pull any muscles protecting the institutions that Trump threatens. I would love to be proven wrong here, but it seems that in the minds of congressional Republicans, the only institution in town worth preserving is... congressional Republicans.

There’s going to be a fun irony to that. Sadly, you can’t pay your medical bills with fun irony. 

~~~~~ 

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below. 

Jason Linkins   |   November 29, 2016    4:22 PM ET

In the wake of the presidential election, it was always going to fall to either David Brooks or Thomas Friedman to fill The New York Times op-ed pages with what they see as the most badly needed commodity in America: sophistry about centrism. And so it went that Friedman ― no doubt delayed by his quest to find nine new synonyms for “interconnectedness” ― was beaten to the punch by Brooks, who on Tuesday laid out “The Future of the American Center” ― which, as it turns out, sounds a lot like many past David Brooks columns. To no one’s surprise!

Brooks, like most sentient creatures, is alarmed that the next president looks for all the world to resemble that classic rough beast, slouching towards Bethlehem. It’s understandable that he’s rattled by this. What’s less understandable, of course, is his generic call for a “movement ... that is part Milton Friedman on economic policy, Ronald Reagan on foreign policy and Franklin Roosevelt on welfare policy.”

Aside from the fact that this does not seem to be a workable combination (pairing Milton Friedman with FDR isn’t so much an innovation of ideology as much as a dark, gritty reboot of the fable of the scorpion and the frog), this is clearly not a thing for which anyone without a stable sinecure at a newspaper has ever expressed a desire. Not long ago, Brooks lamented that he’d not strayed particularly far from the “bourgeois strata” he calls home. There’s nothing in this column on the “future of the center” that suggests he’s made it as far as the end of his street in the meanwhile. That’s how I’d explain many of his risible ideas, anyway.

Brooks’ piece comes larded with assumptions about what the future holds that don’t really correspond to reality as it’s shaping up. First and foremost, he regards Trump’s ascension to the White House as an event that will definitely destroy party loyalty, insisting that Trump is “hostile to the Republican establishment” and that his “proposals cut across orthodox lines.”

Why, Trump is so hostile to the establishment that he’s going to offer Elaine Chao ― the former labor secretary and current lobbyist wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ― a Cabinet position! I tell you, I just don’t know how the Republican establishment is going to survive, beyond swimmingly.

As for Trump’s proposals, they include ramping up deportations, ramping down regulations, ending the Affordable Care Act, gutting Medicare, and a tax plan that favors the wealthy. This sounds pretty “orthodox.” 

It’s not clear that Brooks really understands where the political fault lines are anymore. Somehow or another, he’s been allowed by professional newspaper editors to define the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party as the “alt-left.” No, sir! There are no ethno-nationalist or autocratic leanings to be found in the Sanders-Warren section of Congress. They are simply “the left,” full stop.

What Brooks describes as the “old guard” in the Democratic Party (the “Chuck Schumer-Nancy Pelosi” wing) is actually a relatively new breed of political movement that centers the affluent professional class and its advancement as its main ideological cause, while paying lip service to the sort of liberal social pieties that have particular salience among limousine liberals. (This is actually the closest thing America has to Brooks’ notion of “the center” ― all of the gay marriage and boardroom diversification without any of the labor rights or wealth redistribution ―  he just can’t bring himself to admit it.)

But Brooks says the ever in-touch editor of The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol, has assured him that resistance to Trump will take many forms from a Congress that will certainly break itself down into many multipolar mini-caucuses, and from this chaos there will be a New Centrist Order that will stand in “defense of the basic institutions and practices of our constitutional order.”

Which is a nice theory, for sure. Now, in practice, what’s happening is that the prevailing Republican leaders have signaled that they have absolutely no interest in mounting this defense. Brooks isn’t up on current events. He hasn’t heard that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is planning on taking a dive as far as Congressional oversight goes, or that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has declared that Trump’s many potential violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause to be no big deal.

In short, just because Brooks thought that the “joint statement” issued by Bill Kristol and Bill Galston calling for a “New Center” was well and truly dope, that doesn’t mean that congresspersons are going to take their cues from it. Sure sounds like there will be many sternly worded editorials in the future, however!

But the apotheosis of this piece comes when Brooks dredges up that great centrist failure of yesteryear, No Labels, in an attempt to reanimate its corpse:

The most active centrist organization, No Labels, began six years ago in opposition to polarized, cutthroat politics. The problem with the group back then was that there was no future to a political movement whose first name is “No.” You have to be for something.

But under the leadership of its undeterrable co-founder, Nancy Jacobson, No Labels has evolved. It created a package of reform ideas to make Congress and the executive branch work together. It created an active congressional caucus, called the Problem Solvers Caucus, which now has 80 members, divided roughly evenly between both parties.

No Labels, a python made of private equity money that is forever eating its own tail, is clearly not an organization that Brooks has kept up with over the years. Not only are its problems not merely limited to not being “for” anything (the organization has a long history of ducking fights that involve prominent members), this notion that it has “evolved” somehow is nonsense. As recently as 2014, this organization ― ostensibly dedicated to making Congress work effectively (mainly through the power of bipartisan seating and State Of The Union prom-dating!) ― was caught out by Yahoo News’ Meredith Shiner actively rooting for more dysfunction, so the group’s members would be more relevant to the donors they’d habitually fleeced

And No Labels’ famous “Problem Solvers Caucus” ― the body that Brooks really believes will be the crucible for a new centrist movement ― is the Beltway’s biggest joke. It’s a caucus that asks nothing of members, and has yet to solve a single problem. But you don’t have to take my word for it, that the “Problem Solvers Caucus” is empty and meaningless is something that No Labels will happily cop to, if asked. Per Shiner:

While a group spokesperson told a local Denver Fox affiliate that the “seal” is an “implied endorsement,” No Labels co-founder Mark McKinnon, a former George W. Bush and John McCain strategist, said that anyone ... would be eligible for such a seal were they join the group [sic].

The “Problem Solver Seals” granted by No Labels to lawmakers require nothing of those members from a policy perspective, aside from agreeing to be part of No Labels, and to attend meetings with other No Labels members to discuss broad principles of bipartisanship. To be a member of No Labels, a politician needs to pledge to not take any pledge but the oath of office and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Yeah, this is an active group of busy lawmakers doing big-time stuff, man!

Of course, the most hilarious thing about Brooks looking to No Labels for solace and sanity in the age of Donald Trump is that he clearly hasn’t heard about one of the latest figures in American politics to earn that organization’s “Problem Solver” imprimatur. As The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel reported in January:

The bipartisan good government group No Labels thanked six presidential candidates Monday for taking its “Problem Solver Promise,” commemorating the event with a New Hampshire event that none of the candidates attended in person. One seemed particularly distant from the Radisson in downtown Manchester: pledge-taker Donald Trump.

Well, that’s a little inconvenient.

What’s darkly amusing about all of this is that Brooks would have likely written this column if Hillary Clinton had won the election, even though she is the closest thing in politics to a weird Milton Friedman-Ronald Reagan-FDR amalgam that anyone could imagine, promising no savage redistribution of wealth beyond helping to diversify the boardrooms of the Fortune 500, and likely to have taken several runs at the sort of bipartisan “grand bargains” that Brooks often lionizes.

Needless to say, a Clinton win would have prompted Brooks to lash out against any perceived leftward tilt in the electorate, insisting on the country’s essential center-rightness and continually evincing the odd columnist tic that Jonathan Chait properly identifies in his work: “Indeed, one of the most common genres of David Brooks column was a sad lament that neither party would endorse policies that in fact Obama had explicitly and publicly called for.”

As Chait notes, Brooks’ compulsive desire to fit himself snugly at the center between one party willing to compromise and another party fully bent on installing itself inside a rubber room all but assured that the center would not hold. So now, the road back involves pimping No Labels’ non-agenda and waiting for Bill Kristol to provide Thought Leadership. To which the only plausible response is: “Jesus wept.”

Okay, then. I guess it’s Thomas Friedman’s turn in the barrel now.

~~~~~ 

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.