Month: December 2018

As Heads Continue to Roll

Mick Mulvaney: Out of the Sandbox

Donald Trump wasn’t conservative enough for Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney said that candidate Trump was a terrible person, and he wouldn’t vote for him. Nevertheless, he accepted the President-elect’s offer to run the Office of Management and Budget. Later, he added the title of Director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau after Obama appointee Richard Cordray was fired.

As CPFB director, Mulvaney immediately fired all members of the agency’s advisory board and defanged the pro-consumer agency. As  OMB director, his office has become a way station for the stray lobbyist or dissatisfied donor. Yet, after two years of service, Mulvaney is not the object of a criminal investigation. High praise, indeed.

On paper Mulvaney, a deficit hawk, is an unlikely chief of the OMB, which has overseen a historic increase in the national debt.   Mulvaney claimed that the United States would outgrow its spending hikes, which so far is not the case. Growth as measured as a percentage of GDP fell from the promising 4% range into quicksand of 2%. Mulvaney’s hoped-for growth by tax cut has not materialized.

Trophy Hunter

All the more surprising is Mulvaney’s willingness to take on another job, this time as Acting Chief of Staff. He’s going to hold on to the OMB title, avoiding the necessity of  ramming another anti-agency industry hack through the Senate confirmation process. Mulvaney coming aboard with the title of Acting Chief of Staff gives him cover if he is dumped like Priebus and Kelly were. It also gives him control on domestic policy and relations with congress. At least, Mulvaney has more latitude to conduct government business in a comparatively conventional way.

Translating Trump

Can Mulvaney do what his predecessors could not? For starters, he is trying with some success to translate Trump’s impulsiveness into political norms. This morning on Meet the Press, he addressed many  pressing issues.  On the border wall: “We gave [Democrats] an offer [between the $5 billion figure and the $1.6 billion figure] and we’re waiting to hear back from them right now.” His statement is addition by subtraction. The administration will drop its settlement number to end the shutdown, making it sound like the usual congressional horse-trading. Still, no DACA, no wall, as far as the Democrats are concerned.

Mulvaney tries to be plain spoken-ish. “The president is not going to not accept money for a border wall.” Mulvaney also shifted the administration on getting Mexico to pay for the wall.  He conceded matter-of-factly that the administration cannot actually make Mexico pay for the wall. He  suggested that Trump’s promise was aspirational,  not transactional.  For Mulvaney, Mexico’s greater deterrence of Central America migrants becomes a stand-in for the wall. The slatted fence with the points is another stand-in for the wall. Without fanfare, Mulvaney downgraded the wall from BBW (Big, Beautiful Wall) to FWB (Fence with Benefits). Border wall has been re-purposed as border security, opening the door to non-wall measures which are acceptable to the Democrats and don’t look to Trump’s base like surrender.  Congress will make a deal sooner or later, and Mulvaney will be smack dab in the middle of it.

Mulvaney is the Message

Mulvaney also is also seizing control of the message. If this morning’s appearances are a preview of things to come, Mulvaney will get the chance to move the congressional pile and to propose compromises that don’t completely forfeit the boss’s political capital.

Making It Real

According to Mulvaney, Trump now realizes that he can’t fire the Fed Chief.  If so, this recognition is uncharted territory for the Accidental President.  Mulvaney chalks up Mattis’ firing to a difference in philosophy between Trump and Mattis. Of course, it is just as much a difference in process, which Mattis identified as a reason for leaving.   Mulvaney is trying to forge a real-world convergence of American politics and Trump’s alternste universe.

Shortly after the Sunday shows, the White House announced that the nomination of a new Defense Secretary has been advanced from to January  3rd from February 28th.  The announcement is meant to assure the public that this administration is not the shambles it appears to be, and to persuade the public that there is at least one person ready to lead the Pentagon under this president. Mulvaney’s fingerprints are on this too.

Out of the Sandbox

For the moment and until further notice,  Mulvaney will play the adult in the room. He is attempting to project himself as the savior of a lost administration, or at least the voice of reason drowned out by the White House din.  If this is political calculation by Mulvaney, he is playing it smart. ​

Kelly never had any political arrows in his quiver.  He is a former general, not a former legislator. On the other hand, Congressman Mulvaney was washed ashore in Washington bu the Tea Party tsunami. Paradoxically, he’s trying to build an unsinkable platform using the DC swamp as his foundation.

Will Orange Be the New Orange?

 

According to latest filings in the Michael Cohen case, the Southern District of New York prosecutors have determined that the evidence shows that the man who would be FEPOTUS directed Cohen to pay hush money to cover up one of his affairs to keep it from the voting public. That’s a felony. Although he deserves to be prosecuted,  it’s not clear that he should be prosecuted.  Sometimes the best way to deal with a bum is just to give him the Bum’s Rush.

If there’s evidence that Trump directed Cohen to gag Stormy Daniels and the Enquirer to pay off Karen McDougal, to keep it from the voters, then it’s a strong case. It’s not beyond him to have done it, although for his supporters it wasn’t necessary. His voters had already crossed that Rubicon. They would stick by him if he shot someone, especially a Democrat. They had steeled themselves against Trump’s womanizing. Surely, his people wouldn’t have cared if he bonked a porn star about ten years earlier.

It’s possible that the Toxic Revenger was trying to keep it from the kids. They are the only ones with blinders as to his character defects. As for Melania, if I am reading her fashion tips correctly, she doesn’t care.

The Southern District prosecutors might not have a slam-dunk case against him for election fraud.   They have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to defraud voters, not just to deceive his family.  What’s more, any prosecution would have to wait until he leaves office, which, unless we’re lucky, probably won’t happen before 2020.

There’s lots of time remaining for him to do additional stupid things and further run the country into the ground like it was the Trump Taj Mahal. It would be great if he quit or if there were votes to remove him. Yet, it might not be a good idea to prosecute him once he’s gone.   If no one is going to prosecute him, indicting him is just waving the red cape in front of this Bull Artist without having the hidden sword to finish him off.

Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, and it most likely cost him the bicentennial election of 1976. Ford thought that it was more important for the country to move on.  A case against Nixon would have lasted years and would have reignited a partisan battle. If somehow, Nixon was acquitted by a jury unwilling to send a former president to jail, then his forced resignation would become a cause celebre. We would still be litigating how badly Nixon had been treated when the Democrats forced him out of office – unconstitutionally.  Donald Trump would now be standing on the ruins of Nixon’s battlements.

FEPOTUS has screwed us all as thoroughly as he has his other victims. Think about the 2016 election like it was a massive Trump U. matriculation. There is no hell hot enough for a scoundrel like him. Punishing him comes with a heavy price, though. In 2020 we can run him and his bag of snakes out for good. We wouldn’t be well-served by continuing the battle. Besides, his base might really put their torches and pitchforks to use.

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