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“Constraining Trump’s Erratic Impulses”: The Coming Struggle Over Policy Between Donald Trump And The GOP

Now that Donald Trump has nearly secured the GOP presidential nomination, Republicans everywhere have to start thinking seriously about how they’re going to deal with him and how having him as their party’s leader affects their own plans for the future. And here’s the basic challenge that will create for Republicans: How can they keep Trump from veering wildly from the straight and narrow path of conservatism?

It’s going to require constant work. For Republicans, the next six months will be a struggle to constrain Trump’s erratic impulses, and even if they’re mostly successful, it still might not diminish the damage Trump could to do the conservative project.

Some Republicans are already trying to downplay this challenge. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who is currently engaged in an effort to shape his party’s policy agenda for the next decade or two, said this morning that he and other Republicans who care about conservative ideology have nothing to worry about:

House Speaker Paul Ryan downplayed any conflict between his detailed policy proposals and those pushed by Donald Trump on Wednesday, hours after the front-runner sewed up five more states and marched ever closer to locking up his party’s nomination.

“The key for populism, Joe, as you well know because you practiced this, how do you take this populism and connect it to principle so that it’s populism tethered to good principles which give us good solutions, not unprincipled populism and that to me is our value added to this equation,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a segment on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Wednesday, referring to co-host Joe Scarborough’s time as a lawmaker representing Florida.

Though he did not mention Trump by name and has been magnanimous even in his policy criticisms of Trump in the past, Ryan signaled that no matter Republicans’ standard bearer in November, the party will be “comfortable” and unify around the platform that he is advocating in Congress.

He also described any differences with Trump and other candidates over Obamacare and tax reform as small obstacles, remarking that they share broader agreement on the issues.

It’s possible that Ryan could prove right about this. But the amount of vigilance that will be required from Republicans could itself prove a strain.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about Trump’s relationship to the conservative policy agenda, and to any agenda at all, is that he just doesn’t care about policy in the least. He has some sincere opinions on some issues, but for the most part, not only has he never thought much about any policy issue one might present him with, there’s almost nothing he thinks about an issue that isn’t subject to revision.

That’s why we’ve seen a particular pattern repeat itself so often. Trump will get asked a question about an issue he obviously hasn’t considered before. He’ll give an answer that doesn’t line up with conservative orthodoxy, because he isn’t aware of precisely what conservative orthodoxy is. Then Republicans will get enraged, the controversy will blow up, and a day or two later — after he’s had a chance to learn what he’s supposed to say — he’ll come back and offer a revised version of his position.

This happened on abortion (where he said women should be punished for having abortions, then said they shouldn’t), on transgender people being forced by the government to use the wrong bathrooms (where he said they should use whatever bathrooms they want, then said the issue should be decided at the state and local level), and on Israel and the Palestinians (where he first said he wanted to be a neutral arbiter, then went to AIPAC and said “There is no moral equivalency” between Israel and the Palestinians).

That’s not to mention the positions on issues like abortion and guns that he changed before the race began. So if you’re a Republican, that’s about as much as you can hope for. He may not be with you already, but he’s responsive to pressure. Once you tell him that he has strayed, he comes back to the fold.

To be sure, whenever Trump comes out with a formal policy proposal, it’s right in line with conservative orthodoxy. So for instance, he has repeatedly said we should raise taxes on rich people, much to Republicans’ horror, but when he actually released a tax plan, it featured, guess what, a huge tax cut for the wealthy. The same thing happened on health care: he said some things suggesting there were parts of the Affordable Care Act he liked, but when he released his plan, it could have been lifted from the boilerplate on the issue you’ll find on any Republican candidate’s web site.

Today Trump is going to deliver an address on foreign policy, and while we don’t know what’s going to be in it, because this is a prepared speech — which means it was written for him by other people — I’m almost sure that there will be little if anything in there that Republicans will object to. It’ll talk about how Barack Obama is weak, our enemies don’t fear us, we need to increase military spending, we should tear up the Iran nuclear deal — all things ordinary Republicans say all the time.

This is all possible because, to repeat, Trump just doesn’t care about policy. That should make Republicans at least somewhat sanguine about what his presidency would be like. Paul Ryan can deliver him one bill after another written and passed by the GOP Congress, and Trump is likely to say, “Sure, whatever” and sign them.

And yet, there are some trouble spots for conservatives ahead, signaled by the areas where Trump has in fact gone against conservative orthodoxy. Trade is a big one — Trump seems to believe that if we increase tariffs on Chinese goods, then everyone in America will have a great job. There have been a few others, like his lack of enthusiasm for cutting Social Security. Then there’s his ban on Muslims entering the U.S., which (while Republican voters support it) GOP elites find vulgar and damaging to the party.

And so, in the general election, we may see examples of Republicans like Ryan struggling to pull Trump back into line: when his impulse takes him to a place that’s popular with the electorate, but it’s a place other Republicans don’t want to go. Then they’ll have a much harder time making the case to him that he needs to get back with the conservative program.

On the other hand, if Trump remains as dreadfully unpopular with the general electorate as he is now, and he goes down to a sweeping defeat, maybe Republicans would be better off if he proves to be an imperfect representative of GOP ideology. Though that may not be much comfort.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 27, 2016

May 1, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Donald Trump, GOP Establishment | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Chinese Expansionism”: Donald Trump Will Make China Great Again!

New York Republicans aren’t the only ones convinced by Donald Trump’s “America first” foreign policy — they’re just the only ones who can vote on it. Chinese state media has continued to support the racist businessman’s ascent to his party’s nomination.

Rather than seeing a threat in Trump’s promises to wage a trade war against China, state media have viewed such commitments as both negotiable and indicative of imperial decline.

“The United States has no obligation to allies or the international community to provide more public services in the area of trade,” said the nationalist Global Times, laying out the characteristics of what it called the Trump Doctrine. “He must keenly smell the isolationist sentiment in American society, and has dared to put forward such a bold foreign policy.”

Returning to an isolationist conception of foreign policy, to which Americans stayed roughly committed until the start of World War II, would ease China’s attempts to project its own power further beyond its shores. The power disparity in the South China Sea between China and its neighbors would be far more acute today if President Barack Obama had not carried out his pivot to Asia, essentially a containment policy aimed at maintaining the postwar status quo in the Pacific.

“Why isn’t China worried about Mr. Trump’s threat of high tariffs on their exports to the US? Because he’s also said he’s a deal-maker. They think they can make a deal to preserve what they have in the US-China relationship while a Trump administration retreats from world economic leadership,” said Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the libertarian American Enterprise Institute, to The Daily Beast.

A Trump presidency would most likely relinquish the Pacific region from American military and economic dominance, given Trump’s demands that Japan and South Korea cover the cost of housing American troops in their countries, an unprecedented break in the postwar world order. And Trump would be seen as more pliable than previous American presidents, due to his obsession with approaching international problems as opportunities to peacock his negotiating prowess.

“Between Trump and Hillary Clinton, Trump may be the better choice,” said Caixin, another Chinese media organization. “Trump is an advocate of negotiating.” Hillary Clinton, who represented the country most recently as Secretary of State under Obama, would take a much harder line against any attempts at Chinese expansionism.

In a 2011 piece published in Foreign Policy, Clinton laid out her vision of American involvement in the Pacific, and calling out China’s behavior in the region in all but name. “Strategically, maintaining peace and security across the Asia-Pacific is increasingly crucial to global progress, whether through defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, countering the proliferation efforts of North Korea, or ensuring transparency in the military activities of the region’s key players,” she wrote.

Key to maintaining balance, Clinton said, was the projection of American power across the region, which may grow deeper as China continues to increase its economic and military strength. Trump has made no similar commitment, despite his obsession with strength and power.

By openly suggesting that he would make American allies in the Pacific pay the cost of American protection, despite free trade benefitting the U.S. far more than cash payments, Trump has revealed an opening the Chinese government hopes to exploit.

 

By: Saif Alnuweiri, The National Memo, April 20, 2016

April 21, 2016 Posted by | China, Donald Trump, Isolationism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No ‘Great Brain’ Here”: Donald Trump Has Never Had Any Idea What He Was Talking About. We Only Just Noticed

Usually it is fine not to have any idea what you are talking about.

But for a presidential candidate it can be a little awkward.

Asked by Bob Woodward what made Abraham Lincoln succeed, Donald Trump offered the following response:

“Well,” Trump said, “I think Lincoln succeeded for numerous reasons. He was a man who was of great intelligence, which most presidents would be. But he was a man of great intelligence, but he was also a man that did something that was a very vital thing to do at that time. Ten years before or 20 years before, what he was doing would never have even been thought possible. So he did something that was a very important thing to do, and especially at that time.” And then he started to ramble about Richard Nixon.

As Katherine Miller asked on Twitter, “Does Donald Trump know what Lincoln did as president?”

Most of us go through life pretending to know many things about which, in fact, we have no idea. Usually this is fine. This is the foundation on which all conversation is built. If you admit the contrary, everything would screech to a halt. So instead you listen and nod and say, “I don’t think that goes far enough” or “I couldn’t have said it better myself!” at intervals.

You can have a long discussion about the TPP and only discover months later that one of the people discussing it with you thought that it was some sort of innovation in toilet paper. (In retrospect, this explains some of why the discussion got so heated, though by no means all.)

Usually this is innocuous. There is just too much TV for us to have watched it all, and pretending you have can sometimes save a relationship.

There are many conversational gambits for not appearing ignorant of the thing that everyone else in the room appears to know about. One is that you wait for someone else to say something, and then you say, “I agree with Marco, but I think we need to go much further.” Another is you say one thing, and then you pretend it was a joke when everyone stares at you in horror, and then you say the opposite. Another tactic is to pretend you did not hear the question. Or you can divert the conversation from the thing you were just asked that you in fact know nothing about to something that you do know about. You can do this with varying degrees of subtlety, as Trump has the whole campaign.

But if someone asks you point-blank, “What is my fiance’s name?” you can’t say, “Look, fundamentally, it all comes down to breaking up the banks.”

When we do it, it’s fine. We could Google it any time we want. We need these little concessions.

But when a candidate does it —

The trick of turning these into gaffes is that there are some things that everyone knows, in theory. The capitals of countries. Who’s on the supreme court. How the electoral college works.

In theory, we know this. But in practice, there is genuine dramatic tension in “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader” — because there are many things we have agreed that Everyone Knows that, in fact, maybe six people know off the top of their heads. But then there are things everyone actually does know in practice, and those are the stuff of which gaffes are made. How a grocery checkout works. That John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy are not the same. What Abraham Lincoln did.

Now Trump and Bernie Sanders, the two most consistent and exciting candidates, are being hoist by their own transcripts. Sanders kept trying to insist that the answer to every foreign policy question was a vote he had made in 2002. Which — okay? It works without a follow-up. But with follow-up, it can be devastating. (Daily News: “Where would a President Sanders imprison, interrogate? What would you do?” Sanders: “Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.”)

Trump’s charisma has been hard to quell. Insinuating that all his fans were failures and bigots didn’t do it. But revealing that he is not, in fact, smarter than a fifth grader — that he lacks a “great brain” — just might.

The great sustaining myth of Trump was that behind the scenes there was a guy who knew what he was doing and that he would eventually emerge from the fray and be “so presidential” that “you will be bored to tears.”

Up until this past week, Trump had managed to coast by on charisma for the 30 seconds of answer required.

Here he is at the first debate:

BAIER: His name is General Qassem Soleimani, he’s blamed for hundreds of U.S. troops death in Iraq, and Afghanistan. His trip to Russia appears to directly violate U.N. Security Council resolutions to confine him to Iran. So, Mr. Trump, if you were president, how would you respond to this?

TRUMP: I would be so different from what you have right now. Like, the polar opposite. We have a president who doesn’t have a clue. I would say he’s incompetent, but I don’t want to do that because that’s not nice. (Applause, laughter)

What?

But remove the laughter and the applause and you have — a man who is very clearly not answering the question and is fumbling around for an answer until he finds an applause-worthy talking point. And when he has to answer a question for more than 30 seconds, that becomes painfully obvious.

“I have a great brain” is a nice, easy statement to disprove.

Read any transcript and it is just The Donald helplessly repeating the same simple third-grade-level phrases over and over again. It’s not presidential, just boring.

 

By: Alexandra Petri, ComPost Blog, Opinion Pages, The Washington Post, April 8, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | Abraham Lincoln, Donald Trump | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Tentative, Unprepared And Unaware”: Rough Interview Raises Awkward Questions For Sanders Campaign

If you talk privately to Hillary Clinton campaign aides, one of the more common complaints is that Bernie Sanders just hasn’t faced enough scrutiny. It’s ironic, in a way – Sanders supporters generally argue the Vermont senator doesn’t get enough attention from the national media, and in a way, Team Clinton agrees.

As the argument goes, much of the political world has treated Sanders as a protest candidate, who’s serious about putting his ideas in the spotlight, but less serious about actually winning the presidency – a dynamic Sanders’ own campaign has conceded was largely true at the start of the race. The result has been less scrutiny and a less robust examination.

Whether you find these concerns compelling or not, Sanders’ Democratic critics embraced this Sanders interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News with the kind of enthusiasm we haven’t seen all cycle. The Atlantic’s David Graham helped explain why.

There’s little doubting Bernie Sanders’s core political convictions – he’s been saying the same things for decades, with remarkable consistency. But turning convictions into policy is the challenge, and the Vermont senator’s interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News raises some questions about his policy chops.

Throughout his interview, Sanders seemed taken aback when he was pressed on policy – and not just on the matters that are peripheral to his approach, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or interrogation of detainees, but even on bread-and-butter matters like breaking up the big banks, the Democratic presidential hopeful came across as tentative, unprepared, or unaware.

It’s easy to overstate these things. A Washington Post piece called the interview, conducted on Monday and published yesterday, a “disaster.” A writer at Politico argued that when Sanders was pressed for specifics on trade and jobs, the senator was “not much better than Trump in his cluelessness.”

I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s not unfair to note that the Daily News interview raised concerns about Sanders that the Vermonter has largely avoided after nearly a year on the campaign trail.

If the senator had flubbed a question or two, struggling with details on obscure areas outside his wheelhouse, it wouldn’t have made much of a ripple. But as Jonathan Capehart noted, this happened more than once or twice in this interview. Asked about breaking up the big banks, Sanders wasn’t sure about the Fed’s authority, or the administration’s. Asked about court fights over too-big-to-fail measures, Sanders conceded, “It’s something I have not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that.”

There were a few too many similar answers. On negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, Sanders said, “You’re asking me a very fair question, and if I had some paper in front of me, I would give you a better answer.” Asked whether the Obama administration is pursuing the right policy towards ISIS, he responded, “I don’t know the answer to that.” Asked about interrogations of ISIS leaders, Sanders said, “Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.”

This is a sampling. There were other related exchanges. They were not encouraging.

For Sanders’ supporters, I suspect the response is that the senator is leading a revolution by emphasizing broad themes and identifying systemic crises. Presidents don’t need to know a lot of specific details, the argument goes, so much as they need to establish clear goals.

For Sanders’ detractors, meanwhile, it’s likely this interview was evidence that Sanders’ understanding of major issues is, at best, superficial. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are technocratic wonks, fluent in granular policy details on a wide range of issues, and Sanders just isn’t in their league when it comes to knowledge, preparation, and breadth of expertise.

Obviously, observers will make up their own minds about the significance of the interview. But as an objective matter, Sanders is just now facing the kind of questions he’s avoided for months: there’s no doubt the senator has a clear vision and the ability to inspire his supporters to follow his lead, but how much does he know about implementing his goals? Sanders can paint beautifully with a broad brush, but how prepared is he when it comes to the unglamorous work of governing?

If the senator and his campaign have good answers to these questions, now would be an excellent time to offer them.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 6, 2016

April 7, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, National Media | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Huge, Glitzy, Unembarrassed”: Trump’s Incoherence Veers Into The Danger Zone

Perhaps the laws of political gravity are about to take hold in the case of Donald Trump. But the lesson of this appalling primary season cautions against discounting Trump’s appeal — which prompts another Trump column, this one on the utter incoherence of his policy views.

It’s not simply that Trump is wrong on policy. Ted Cruz is wrong on policy. Trump is wrong on policy and argues for policy positions glaringly inconsistent with his asserted principles. All politicians do this, sure. But Trump’s incoherence is classically Trumpian — huge, glitzy, unembarrassed.

That phenomenon was on vivid display last week, as world leaders gathered for a summit on nuclear nonproliferation. On this topic, Trump stands, or says he does, with the global consensus. He raised the issue in his discussion with The Post’s editorial board, in response to a question about whether he believes in man-made climate change.

“The biggest risk to the world, to me . . . is nuclear weapons,” Trump said. “That is a disaster, and we don’t even know where the nuclear weapons are right now. . . . The biggest risk for this world and this country is nuclear weapons, the power of nuclear weapons.”

Okay, and — leaving aside the strange suggestion that authorities don’t know where the nukes are — give Trump credit for emphasizing the nuclear risk.

Except, jump ahead a few days, to Trump’s interview with the New York Times and his CNN town hall. Given Trump’s argument that the United States should withdraw military protections from Japan and South Korea, the Times’s David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman asked: Should those countries be able to obtain their own nuclear weapons?

Trump’s answer managed to combine his concerns about proliferation with opening the door to more. “There’ll be a point at which we’re just not going to be able to do it anymore,” he said. “Now, does that mean nuclear? It could mean nuclear. It’s a very scary nuclear world. . . . At the same time, you know, we’re a country that doesn’t have money.”

So the United States can’t afford a nuclear deterrent? The cost of maintaining and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal was $24 billion in 2015, and is expected to total about $350 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The cost of Trump’s proposed tax cuts is around $1 trillion — annually. I’m no billionaire, but that doesn’t seem like a smart balance of spending priorities.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper pushed Trump further on the conflict between his anti-proliferation stance and his willingness to allow more proliferation — during which Trump opened the door to a nuclear Saudi Arabia, closed it, and then cracked it open again.

Cooper: “So you have no problem with Japan and South Korea having . . . nuclear weapons.”

Trump: “At some point we have to say, you know what, we’re better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea, we’re better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start to protect itself . . .”

Cooper: “So if you said, Japan, yes, it’s fine, you get nuclear weapons, South Korea, you as well, and Saudi Arabia says we want them, too?”

Trump: “Can I be honest with you? It’s going to happen, anyway. . . . It’s only a question of time.”

This is a radical position, even contained to South Korea and Japan. “That would be an incredible catastrophe,” said Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association. “We have a big enough problem with stability in that region without introducing two new nuclear weapons states.”

The cornerstone of U.S. nuclear policy for decades has been to prevent additional countries from acquiring nuclear capability. The more countries with nuclear weapons, the greater the risk of use, and of technology and material falling into the wrong hands. China would likely respond by increasing its nuclear arsenal. Other countries would lobby to go nuclear. U.S. influence in the region — on trade rules that Trump cares about, for example — would wane.

“No contender for the presidency of the United States in either party has ever said that since nuclear weapons were invented,” Michael Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who served on the National Security Council under George W. Bush and advised the Jeb Bush campaign, said of Trump’s view. “It would cost us enormously . . . in terms of the steps we’d have to take to defend ourselves against a much more weaponized world.”

There are other examples of Trumpian incoherence, but perhaps none so striking, and so dangerous if taken seriously.

 

By: Ruth Marcus, Columnist, The Washington Post, April 3, 2016

April 4, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Nuclear Weapons, World Leaders | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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