Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Romney and Rubin - Trump lacks leadership and has lost leverage

Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post) argues that, with the ascendance of Democratic control of the House, Trump doesn’t understand his leverage is gone. Rubin identifies the top-level strategems Speaker Nancy Pelosi is likely to employ to trump Trump. Here are a few excerpts.

One wondrous result of the 2018 election, we will discover, is the near-total irrelevance of Trump’s tweets. He can say whatever wacky thing he wants, throw out whatever insults he pleases, but Pelosi (D-Calif.), the incoming House speaker, is not going to be thrown off track or even alarmed. She takes his tweets as confirmation he is clueless and unstable.

Pelosi has her plan ready to go: Pass a clean resolution for six of the seven appropriations bills to fund through the end of the fiscal year and the Homeland Security appropriations through Feb. 8. Trump cannot prevent her from doing it, nor can Freedom Caucus gadfly Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who declared the move a “non-starter” — as if his consent were necessary.

We’ll have to see how Pelosi manages Trump’s temper tantrums, lies and incoherence but so far the approach has been four-fold. First, engage the president publicly and correct him/fact-check him in real time. This reminds voters that Trump is not operating in the real world and his positions aren’t tethered to reality. Second, make certain Trump is on the wrong side of public opinion. In the case of the border wall and the shutdown, voters oppose both. This further diminishes Trump’s leverage and puts pressure on Republicans to split from him. Third, make clear, concise statements of policy. This gives voters a sense that she is in command while Trump blathers on for days, changing his mind and contradicting his advisers. Finally, don’t negotiate against herself. Trump, as she wisecracked, has gone from a wall to slatted fence to “a beaded curtain.” Mocking Trump and pointing out his weakness infuriate him, demoralize his cult-followers and delight her base.

In sum, Democratic pols, progressive pundits and ordinary voters should follow Pelosi’s example. Don’t get mad. Get even — and keep pounding away at the truth. Voters can figure out between Trump and Pelosi who’s operating in the real world.

Mitt Romney knows. In a scathing op-ed in the Washington Post he calls Trump to account: The president shapes the public character of the nation. Trump’s character falls short. The Daily Beast has the short version headlined Mitt Romney Attacks Trump’s Character in Washington Post Op-Ed. (h/t Ruth Maki)

Senator-elect Mitt Romney trashed President Donald Trump’s character in an opinion piece for The Washington Post. “With the nation so divided, resentful, and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.” Romney wrote in the op-ed published Tuesday night. His piece focused on how Trump has altered the United States’ image abroad. He wrote, “In a 2016 Pew Research Center poll, 84 percent of people in Germany, Britain, France, Canada, and Sweden believed the American president would ‘do the right thing in world affairs.’ One year later, that number had fallen to 16 percent.” Romney said that in the Senate he will work for common goals like a balanced budget and not point out every presidential fault, but will “speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.” He added that Trump “has not risen to the mantle of the office.” Romney will be sworn in to the U.S. Senate representing Utah on Thursday. He has been critical of Trump in the past, …

Aaron Blake (Washington Post) reports on “two prevailing and very polarized reactions to the op-ed” in his own view of Mitt Romney’s put-up-or-shut-up moment on Trump.

One is that Romney is setting himself up to lead the anti-Trump wing of the Republican Party (such as it is currently constituted) . ..

Bill Kristol
For now at least Mitt Romney has become the leader of the Republican Resistance to Trump.

… and the other is very understandable skepticism that he’ll actually put his conduct where his mouth is.

The argument for the latter is evident. Trump’s top critics in the Senate GOP — Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and, for a time, Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) — talked a big game but did little to impact Trump’s actions. The first two opted for retirement, with Flake waving a white flag in the face of Trumpism and really only using his legislative prerogatives toward the end of his tenure. Graham, once critical, is now a top Trump ally who occasionally criticizes his foreign policy. All have regularly voted with the president’s priorities.

Romney’s history with Trump suggests he could follow a similar path.

Romney criticized Trump in more severe terms than just about anybody in 2016, even after Trump was the de facto GOP nominee. But he’s also been happy to play ball and accept his help. …

But that doesn’t mean Romney will necessarily fail to act as a check on Trump’s power. Even if Romney chose political expediency before, he could feel this is his chance to effect change, now that he’s actually got a Washington job. It’s worth entertaining the idea that Romney truly believes his past Trump criticisms and now wants to do something about them — or at least try. …

[The put-up:] Romney has a bigger platform than any of the four GOP senators mentioned above. He also has more experience as a national voice. He may view this as a chance to right the ship in the GOP and the country — or even set himself up for another presidential bid if Trump and Trumpism falters.

[The shut-up:] … anything except very vocal criticism of Trump and bona fide actions will expose Romney as just another mealy-mouthed politician.

Scriber’s bottom line: There’s a void in the Republican party, one that Romney is well suited to fill. But will he step up?

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