THE MORNING PLUM:
Earlier today on “Morning Joe,” Mika Brzezinski raised the question of whether President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal was really an effort to “deflect” from other story lines — that is, from the many scandals now consuming the administration.
“Our allies are upset, for sure, at a time when I think the president’s sanity is being questioned globally,” Brzezinski said, adding that “the totality of this president’s behavior and decisions” raises the question of whether “he has the moral compass to make a decision based on our own national security even, at this point.”
This hints at a broader question, one that is sitting there right at the end of our noses: Is Trump capable of formulating — or operating in accordance with — any meaningful conception or vision of what is good for the country?
This question goes beyond the particulars of the Iran nuclear deal. On that front, you can read this Post editorial calmly demolishing the decision as a deeply reckless one that makes war more likely. Or you can read The Post fact-checking team’s comprehensive debunking of the lies and distortions that Trump himself offered in explaining the decision.
Or you can read this report saying Trump made the decision in part because he has instinctual faith in his ability to be a “disrupter on the world stage.” Or this one saying Trump is convinced he made the right call because it made the “eggheads” on CNN angry.
Even putting aside the Iran deal for now, other new developments this morning all point toward the question posed above:
• Trump just tweeted that it might be time to “take away credentials” from some news media. He cited a report claiming that “91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake).” Trump explicitly defined all merely negative stories about him as “fake.” This is basically a declaration that the news media’s efforts to hold him accountable are inherently illegitimate, or at least are grounds for retributive action. Is Trump even capable of imagining that criticism of him flows from the crucial institutional role the press plays in our democracy? This sort of thing isn’t mere bluster: It has convinced a majority of Republicans that the press is the “enemy of the people.”
• The Post published a bombshell report claiming that the president might side with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) in a dispute that could endanger an intelligence agent. Nunes is seeking documents from the Justice Department as part of his shadow effort to use Congress’s oversight machinery to create an alt-narrative giving Trump a pretext to shut down special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, if he chooses. Intelligence officials protested that turning over the particular materials Nunes wants could put an agent at risk. To be fair, Trump has so far sided with them. But The Post reports that members of Trump’s own administration worry that he will ultimately side with Nunes — putting an intelligence source at risk — possibly because he may end up convinced that the source provided material to the Mueller probe.
• The Senate Intelligence Committee just released a report finding that Russia waged an “unprecedented, coordinated cyber campaign” against the United States’ voting infrastructure. The larger context: Trump has failed to organize a strong response to future Russian electoral sabotage, because he is reluctant to acknowledge that it happened at all in 2016, as that would diminish the greatness of his victory. This puts Trump at odds with members of his own administration who regard the fact of Russian interference “as objective reality,” putting future elections at risk out of sheer megalomania.
Again and again and again, Trump has made decisions that are obviously not rooted in any meaningful effort to evaluate their substantive and moral complexities or potential consequences. The thinly veiled Muslim ban went forward despite two internal analyses undercutting the rationale that it was needed for national security. When Trump debated whether to cut refugee flows, the White House deep-sixed on deeply spurious grounds internal administration data that showed refugees are a net fiscal positive. Trump’s decision on tariffs was scandalously slapdash and haphazard, and reflected the fact that he was “gunning for a fight” after getting “unglued” over a spate of unflattering headlines.
Trump pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, in a terrible display of contempt for the rule of law, after getting “sold on the pardon as a way of pleasing his political base.” When faced with a severe backlash over his failure to unambiguously condemn white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, he nonetheless felt “vindicated” because he sensed that his base would agree with him. The idea that he might have a responsibility to speak to the whole nation as a unifying voice at a searingly difficult national moment could not have been further from his mind. Indeed, doing the opposite was arguably the deliberate goal.
Again and again and again, independent reporting has revealed that when the decision-making rubber hits the road — that is, when the actual process kicks in of weighing pros and cons, and complexities and contingencies, and upsides and downsides for the country — other factors have intruded: Trump’s rage over something else. His desire to please his base. His fear of appearing weak. His megalomania. At what point can we say that Trump’s decision-making has become detached from any meaningful effort to act in accordance with any conception of what is good for the country? It’s a question that deserves more airing.
* GOP AVOIDS DISASTER: In last night’s primaries, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey defeated walking disaster Don Blankenship, and the GOP got decent nominees in the Indiana Senate and Ohio gubernatorial races. But Nate Silver notes:
Perhaps the worst news for Republicans came in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, where incumbent U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger was defeated by challenger Mark Harris. That will push the district, which was already expected to be competitive, further into toss-up status.
Harris will now face veteran Dan McCready, a well-funded veteran, making this a prime pick-up opportunity for Democrats.
* MIDDLE-OF-THE-ROAD DEMS WIN: David Weigel reports that in last night’s primaries, Democratic voters picked mainstream nominees over left-wing challengers, most notably former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Richard Cordray;
In Ohio, voters set up one of the year’s marquee gubernatorial races with the choice of Democrat Richard Cordray … over former congressman Dennis Kucinich … In Indiana’s 2nd District, a health-care executive and former Republican named Mel Hall defeated candidates who backed a “Medicare for All” single-payer health-care system. … in North Carolina’s 9th and 13th districts, moderate Democrats won landslides over more left-wing challengers.
And the 9th District just became more winnable after Pittenger’s loss. As Weigel points out, Republicans had predicted Democrats would nominate lefty candidates who’d be easier to beat, but it isn’t happening.
* WOMEN ARE RUNNING IN RECORD NUMBERS: Politico notes this on last night’s primaries:
There were 20 open Democratic House primaries with women on the ballot Tuesday night, and voters selected a female nominee in 17 of them. It’s a sharp turnaround from past years when female Democrats faced big hurdles in trying to win support from voters. … Evidence is building that Democratic voters are tilting toward supporting women this year.
Many of these female candidates may lose their general elections, but still, this is a good long-term development for the Democratic Party.
* RUSSIA HACKED ELECTION, REPORT FINDS: The Senate Intelligence Committee has released the first installment of its findings from its probe into Russian sabotage of the 2016 election. The Hill reports:
The report finds that Moscow conducted an “unprecedented, coordinated cyber campaign” against the nation’s voting infrastructure. Through its investigation, the committee found that Russia-linked hackers were in a position to “alter or delete voter registration data” in a small number of states before the 2016 vote.
Good thing Trump continues to deny that Russian interference happened at all.
* WHY TRUMP PULLED OUT OF IRAN DEAL: The Post reports that Trump “felt confident that his decision” would not “cause global disruption” because of “experience.” What experience? This:
When he considered withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, some advisers warned that those moves would result in significant upheaval … Ultimately, however, the backlash to both decisions failed to register with Trump and he has concluded that critics overstated their case. This has made the president feel more bullish about heeding his instincts to be a disrupter on the world stage, according to a White House official.
Left unexplained is why we would want such a complicated, consequential decision to be made based on “instincts to be a disrupter on the world stage.”
* TRUMP ANGERED THE ‘EGGHEADS’ ON CNN: Axios reports that Trump is happy with his decision on the Iran deal:
A White House official told Axios that Trump “likes it when ‘experts’ are on CNN freaking out” … “He’s going big, with what he believes, and confident in it all.” … “POTUS ran against experts — the ‘eggheads’ — and believes that rebalancing our policies on trade, defense spending, security, etc., simply makes sense.” … “The status quo itself is what the expert class got us, and isn’t working.”
But Iran was in compliance with the deal! Perhaps the very fact that something negotiated by President Barack Obama was working is what really angered Trump?
* AND TRUMP IS ERADICATING OBAMA FROM HISTORY: CNN’s Stephen Collinson comments on Trump’s decision:
It … opened a new window into Trump’s political soul, showing his willingness to unleash the kind of chaos abroad he has fomented at home. … it revealed two other pillars of the Trump presidency — a propensity to turn even the most crucial moments into a global televised drama, and his ravenous desire to eradicate President Barack Obama from the history books.
It is a measure of where we are that this is widely accepted as a likely rationale for Trump’s biggest and most consequential decisions, often with little additional comment.
Source : https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2018/05/09/the-big-question-about-trump-thats-sitting-in-plain-sight-unanswered/