Tuesday, August 1, 2017

After Last Week's Blunders, Is Donald Trump Now Officially a President in Free Fall?

by Nomad


In the heart of Texas, there's a feeling that President Trump's administration is going nowhere but down. And last week proved it.


Even before yesterday's stunning announcement that Scaramucci, a man hired only 10 days before, had been shown the exit door, Trump seemed to be unable to maintain control. Shakeups amongst his staff had quickly become a non-stop event even as Sarah Huckabee smirked and shrugged her way through press conferences with assurances that things were 120% normal.  
Like Richard Nixon in the middle of the Watergate scandal, Trump is spending more and more time and energy unsuccessfully defending himself from an avalanche of bad news. Most of it locally produced.
But every day is proving to be a little more degrading and vulgar than the day before. Last week, Trump craziness went into overdrive. 


The Infamous Transgender Tweet 

The other day, Michael A. Lindenberger, Editorial Writer for the Dallas Morning News posted an op-ed piece which ought to have Trump-supporting Republicans in a tizzy.
The article was entitled "He's so Bad at Basics of Being President that Trump's Influence has Peaked."

Even though most of the world has been pointing out that this flaxen-haired emperor is walking around without a stitch, it comes as a shock to hear the same points from conservatives in Texas. It's a signal that Trump is now on the downward part of the fiasco curve.
The question now is how far down does that curve go before we ever truly hit bottom. 

In the last week of July, we all witnessed the debacle of Trump's transgender tweet, in which he inexplicably declared something between 2,500 and 10,000 transgender men and women in uniform were no longer welcome in "any capacity in the US military."


Pack up your kit and go. We don't want or need your service to the nation. Transgender Americans were, according to the president, a burden, and a disruption. 

Republicans like the deeply conservative Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee immediately came out in condemnation. Republican old-timer Orrin Hatch made the very un-Republican declaration:
"I don't think we should be discriminating against anyone. Transgender people are people."
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine all came out with similar statements. Regardless of what the president thought, qualifications are the most important factor. 
Too bad more voters didn't feel that way in November.

And those were just Republicans, For the opposition, Trump's ill-advised tweets brought predictable indignation and shock and an itsy-bitsy bit of "You own it" to Republicans in Congress.

Lindenberger seems to believe this is the straw that broke the camel's back. Of course, last week, there was no shortage of straws for the overtaxed camel.
This marks at least the third major mistake the president has made this week, joining his continued thrashing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his hair-raising speech to the Boy Scouts in a trio of presidential actions that have drawn venomous rebukes from across the political spectrum. It's entirely possible that his influence in the capital will never quite recover.
You don't say?

Political Malpractice

Lindenberger bluntly states:
Trump's attack on transgender members of the military is proof of just how profoundly incompetent he is proving to be as president. He doesn't get policy. He doesn't get the politics. And he doesn't even understand the nation we've become.
According to one Trump administration official, Trump's targeting of transgenders was a ploy to win over blue-collar voters in the Rust Belt. The idea was (supposedly) to convince them to vote in Republican senators in 2018. 

If that was the idea. Trump could hardly have been more wrong. Anyway, it smells like a load of spin.
After all, it is hardly a secret that Democrats have for some time now supported both gay and lesbian rights and that would presumably include transgender right to serve in the military.

Trump didn't need to force Democrats to make their opposition to this a "key plank in their campaigns" as this official claimed. That's a done deal and it is something the Democratic Party embraces with pride. Studying poll after poll, Democrats have concluded gay rights is good politics. 

The fact that the Trump administration seemed so shocked by the universal rebuke says a lot about how untethered to the reality of modern politics Trump and his staff actually are.
This embarrassing misstep was, Lindenberger says, a species of "political malpractice."


Freedom to Serve Transgender

Head-scratching at the Pentagon

Lindenberger also notes that, however you might feel about the issue of transgender men and women in the US military, Trump's change of policy was "astonishingly poorly executed." What purpose did it serve except to add to the confusion? Who will benefit from the disruption except for America's enemies?

The tweet even blindsided the Pentagon. Trump claimed he spoke to "his generals" and yet his own Secretary of Defense Mattis seemed bewildered by Trump's decision. Be that as it may, the Pentagon is now claiming that the July 26 tweet was not an order. Another general went public and claimed that there would be no changes to policy, despite the president's declaration. 
“There will be no modifications to the current policy until the president’s direction has been received by [Secretary of Defense James Mattis] and the secretary has issued implementation guidance,” Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in an internal communication to top military officers on Thursday.
“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect.”
That leaves the whole matter in limbo with people asking if the president is or is not the Commander-in-Chief? Who's running the show?

And if that were the end of the story, it would be easy to write it off - as Ryan recently did- as an amateur's mistake. But Trump's decision, if implemented, will have a cascading effect on national security and the loss of highly qualified personnel on whom the military has already invested large sums of taxpayers' money. Might as well have started a bonfire on the White House lawn and burned a few million dollars.

For the Republicans, it is the beginning of the woes to come.
Next will come congressional hearings, and lawsuits will follow. How easy could the president have believed it would be to suddenly announce a policy that will, in effect, tell thousands of soldiers, sailors and Marines to take off their uniforms and get lost?
What an incredibly irresponsible mess the president has created. 


Sleaziness at the Jamboree

And then, as if that was not enough to contend with, the president took time off of his schedule to get a fix of applause. In the search for an audience with less discriminating taste and wild enthusiasm, Trump managed to locate his ideal crowd: thousands of testosterone-charged 14-year-olds with absolutely no political acuity and life experience.
And who better to impress than decidedly-impressionable pre pubescent Boy Scouts?   

The speech at the 19th National Boy Scout Association (BSA) Jamboree in West Virginia may have been boilerplate for a political rally in, say, Indiana. 
It had all of the usual tried and true elements: Trump attacked the news media. He criticized Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama. Same old, same old but those are real crowd pleasers in Des Moines and big hits in Huntsville. 

However, this was not a crowd of adult voters with anger issues and a detestation of government in any form. These were children whose sole goal in life is to win a cooking badge and to become an Eagle Scout. What the hell was he thinking?

Despite the formal policy of not speaking politics, Trump tramped on, in his belief that rules- all of them- were written by and for mere mortals. Rules are for little people.
All in all, it came off as both grotesque and inappropriate. Did he even know where he was and to whom he was addressing?

The disconcerting statements Trump made included a mysterious half-told (and inaccurate) story about the forlorn millionaire who lost his influence. Who was he talking about.. really?
But at that point, Trump seemed to be dropping hints of sexual escapades aboard yachts. Was this a form of confession?

Lindenberger called the speech "sleazy" and pointed out that the following day, the chief executive of the BSA, Michael Surbaugh, was forced to apologize for subjecting its members to "political rhetoric" that had come from the president. Stephenson had to state that, despite Trump's speech, the BSA was "wholly nonpartisan" and did not endorse "any political party of specific policies."

Anytime the head of the Boy Scouts has to apologize for the president something is terribly, terribly wrong.


Sessions and the Hints of a Backlash

As if that wasn't enough, last week saw rumors fly hither and thither like bats in the attic about the possibility of Trump firing his Attorney General Jeff Sessions
The president claimed it was all about the fact that Sessions quite rightly recused himself from any involvement in the Russian collusion investigation. But that happened over well over a month ago and it was a decision that top names in the Republican party applauded as fair and wise.
Why is Trump so distressed now?

Most analysts didn't believe a word of Trump's tantrum. Instead, they supposed Trump was laying out a case for firing Sessions in order to somehow kill the Mueller investigation. Trump absolutely denied this. 
If that was his plan, Republicans warned, it would be the same as chugging down a nice tall glass of political cyanide.  

By the end of the week, two bigwigs in the GOP made sounds akin to mutiny. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) announced that his panel would not confirm a new attorney general to replace Sessions this year. 
And, according to a Washington Post piece, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) declared he would introduce legislation to protect Mueller and warned it “could be the beginning of the end” of Trump's presidency if he tried to fire the special counsel.
*   *   *
Lindenberger writes:
These three fiascos — the speech to the Scouts, the handling of Sessions and the transgender tweet — highlight a president who isn't just wrong. He's struggling with the very basics of his job. A score of other examples exist and they add up to a simple answer to why the Republicans are having so much trouble winning lately.
At the very least, the president is losing his ability to influence events. That means kissing his legislative agenda fare thee well, Annabelle.
On the post-summer horizon sits the budget negotiations. That means a knock-down drag out fight and threats of a government shutdown. It's something Trump has already managed to postpone and there's no avoiding it come sweet September. 


Train Wreck on the Horizon


Disaster awaits around the bend and the Republicans are still shoveling more and more coal into the locomotive engine.
When summer ends, members of Congress will begin pulling hair and kicking shins on the subject of tax reform and the trillion dollar infrastructure project. It is likely to turn into an all-out war.

All of these future events will require a sane, focused president at the top of his game. A man of boldness and intelligence who understands the complexity of politics and how to get things done in Washington.
Nobody but Kellyanne Conway would put Trump in that category.

Blaming past opponents and past presidents, telling ridiculous lies and making up nonsensical excuses is no longer very persuasive even to his long-time supporters. And hiring and firing people faster than a temp service does not reassure the public that matters are being sorted out properly. And most importantly, divisive politics- the only kind of politics Trump excels at- will make matters much much worse.

By this time, the sharp edges should have been smoothed out. Trump should already have - at the very least- filled all of his positions. According to the UK Guardian, an unprecedented number of some of the most crucial jobs in government have yet to be filled by a presidential appointee. Trump's more interested in golfing and tweeting.

This inability to formulate policy and maintain coherence has had predictable results. As one source noted today:
According to a Rasmussen Reports survey released today, Trump’s approval rating stands at a dismal 39 percent – the first time it’s fallen below 40 in this Trump-leaning poll....According to RealClearPolitics, Trump’s approval rating clocks in at a dismal average of 39.2 percent – and continuing to tick further and further down as chaos and scandal continues to bury this White House.
That should surprise nobody.
Every day brings a new calamity and humiliation for both the GOP and the nation. Last week was by far the worse and surely a lot of people in the GOP were glad to see the weekend. And yet, Monday came and the whole nightmare started up again.

With the dark cloud of the Mueller investigation hanging over all of Washington, Trump's careless remarks and misjudgments are clearly having a cumulative effect. That much has become as obvious as a circus parade.
Even in Texas.

Whether Republicans admit it or not, President Trump is plummeting down into an abyss from which there is no climbing out.
The only remaining question is whether Congress is willing to allow the entire nation to be dragged down that hole with him.

Post-Script:
From the Washington Post.



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