Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Trump Agonistes

Surprise, he didn’t run his campaign any smarter than his government.


By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
The Wall Street Journal
July 12, 2017

Many decisions by the Trump-for-president campaign were ill-advised. Certainly that goes for a meeting between the president’s son and a Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton but was really trying to get her foot in the door to lobby the Republican nominee against the Magnitsky Act.

The Washington Post celebrates the latest revelation as a “grave new set of facts.” Maybe this really is the beginning of the end, but an awful lot depends on the email bluster of a former British tabloid journalist who apparently was the go-between.

Before keeling over, remember what else was going on at the time. The U.S. media even then were getting ready to pour considerable resources into trying to corroborate lurid “Trump Dossier” accusations explicitly attributed by the dossier’s author to Russian intelligence, and assembled at the expense of Republican and Democratic opponents of Mr. Trump.

A lot of what you’re seeing is just naked political warfare, at which Team Trump is failing badly, in fact getting buried.

With qualification, we might even recommend former drama critic Frank Rich’s New York magazine cover story insisting on a Watergate parallel. No, Mr. Trump is not Nixon, and Watergate, in its antecedents, was more like the polar opposite of what is now befalling the Trump administration. Nixon and colleagues were lifelong political operatives, on their way to a genuine and sweeping mandate, and their crimes were crimes that Mr. Trump has hardly had time yet to master.

But Mr. Rich dwells on the dubious Watergate analogy for the sake of a more newsy point: It took many, many months for Nixon’s political base to unravel and drive him from office.

In fact, Mr. Rich’s speculations that Mr. Trump, Nixon-like, might resign will sound very much like speculation you’ve read in this column. The presidency is hard work. Mr. Trump keeps finding himself cast in the role of “loser.” The damage to his business and personal brand is becoming intolerable.

Now an investigation is under way. Even if special counsel Robert Mueller dispenses with collusion, even if he runs out the string on obstruction, is it conceivable that a competent prosecutor—with the 185,053-page code of federal regulations in one hand and Mr. Trump’s every loan application, conservation easement, etc. in the other—won’t find something, and probably 100 somethings?

The relevant text here isn’t the Watergate memoirs Mr. Rich consults, but “Three Felonies a Day” by Boston civil-rights lawyer Harvey Silverglate, who says the government can always find something on anyone.

It was Nixon himself, Mr. Rich tells us, who said it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup. But it would be even truer to say it’s the investigation. The existence or nonexistence of an investigation is almost an exogenous factor of its own.

Mr. Rich fancifully likens Russia’s hacking to Nixon’s DNC break-in, and implies Trump complicity. What likely won’t be investigated, though, is the numerous illegal intelligence leaks meant to harm Mr. Trump, though these are far more reminiscent of the Nixon White House sending ex-CIA agents to burglarize dirt on political opponents.

The one Russian intervention that may actually have influenced the election was fake intelligence planted about Hillary Clinton that prompted FBI Chief James Comey’s decision to clear Mrs. Clinton publicly of email charges. This likely won’t be investigated either, under the guise that the intelligence is too “sensitive,” but also because it fits neither party’s preferred narrative of blame-laying.

Also unlikely to be investigated is the Trump dossier, though it may well be a Russian plant, apparently was financed by U.S. political operatives, and has been exploited by Trump opponents to claim a dark conspiracy.

Each of these episodes features either the FBI, U.S. intelligence leakers, the press or major party figures “colluding” (in one sense of the word), wittingly or semi-wittingly, with Russian intelligence. But there will be no investigation. Unlike Mr. Trump, these institutions are not expendable. The gnashing of teeth would be so much greater than any from merely driving out of office an “outsider” president, arguably an incompetent one, who is not fulsomely claimed by either party, and whose election is regarded as an institutional and statistical aberration anyway.

The great irony is that Mr. Trump, for all his public vulgarity and personal sleaziness, is the political innocent in this drama, and will be sacrificed to protect the sophisticates.

Yesterday, Democratic and news media types were already pronouncing the verdict treason. We can’t resist ending with Mr. Rich’s 1974 quote from Elizabeth Drew about Nixon, which applies as much to some of Mr. Trump’s critics today: “There was no one to challenge his assumptions, to set him straight in his confusion of political opponents with enemies. He didn’t recognize boundaries. He never learned to observe limits—anything went.”


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