Thursday, April 6, 2017

Endangering the good moves with an abysmal style of leading

A major point I've stressed here and in my podcasts, certainly since mid-January, but really as far back as Trump's candidacy announcement, is that his lack of ideological consistency was going to muddy the waters of government, policy crafting, and the national discourse as never before.

It's why I've generally stayed the hell away from the daily - hourly - twists and turns of the points of drama within the administration, between the administration and Congress, and among the administration, Congress and the media. If no core principles are at stake in any given development, indulging in observations and speculations and attempting to defend turf for the sake of tribalist loyalties seems to me not only a waste of keystrokes and time, but an unnecessary risk of my credibility.

But I think Noah Rothman at Commentary is onto something in his assertion that Devin Nunes recusing himself from his committee's investigation into the web of spying and leaking accusations occupying the attention of so many is pretty significant:

On Thursday, the Intelligence Committee chair essentially recused himself from the investigation into Russia’s actions, which concedes that Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff, who demanded as much, were right. They claimed that Nunes’s bizarre behavior robbed the public of “the necessary confidence” that the House investigation could be conducted impartially. That assertion was lent legitimacy early Thursday when the House Ethics Committee revealed they were investigating whether Nunes had improperly disclosed classified intelligence to the public without the appropriate authorization. How ironic.
Nunes doesn’t just have himself to blame for his predicament; he could also blame the Trump administration. In late March, the California Republican held an impromptu press conference that appeared to corroborate the allegation implied in Donald Trump’s March 4th tweet, in which he insisted that he and his team had been spied upon by members of the Obama administration. Nunes’s bizarre and evasive behavior in the days that followed led observers to question where precisely his information came from. To shield the White House, Nunes misled reporters with whom he had built up confidence and goodwill over the years.
As it turns out, Nunes’s sources were in the White House, but even this had a reasonable explanation. You see, ranking officials in the last administration who had “unmasked” Trump associates for questionable reasons had done so on systems native to the White House. This was how the allegations involving Rice originated. Now, their source of those allegations has virtually discredited himself.
For anyone who believes in the value of good government, this is tragic. The allegations involving the Obama administration’s efforts to “unmask” Americans in intelligence reports toward political ends are truly troubling. While some might claim the ends justified the means, the unmasking of former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and the release of transcripts of his entirely above-board conversations with a Russian ambassador was an irreversible breach of the social compact. The intention was to kill a career by implication and association. Flynn’s conduct—lying to the vice president and allowing Mike Pence to humiliate himself in public—cannot be blamed on the former administration, but the notion that Flynn deserved his treatment is entirely subjective and debatable. 
And this is occurring in a most unsettling overall context:

Today, on day 76 of this presidency, stories of palace intrigue have severely undermined the administration’s effectiveness. As NBC News reported, the removal of Senior Strategist Steve Bannon from the principals committee of the National Security Council is indicative of the ongoing war between “nationalists” and “globalists” within the administration. CNN revealed that the “paranoia” and “unrest” among top staff is hindering the administration’s ability to be effective. The ouster of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’s ally Katie Walsh and the ascendance of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has amassed a comically unwieldy portfolio of responsibilities, is evidence of this chaos. Now, entirely as a result of the White House’s bumbled conniving to distance itself from the narrative it hoped to sow regarding “unmasking,” its ally has been politically neutralized.
Nunes joins Attorney General Jeff Sessions in recusing himself from an investigation into the conduct of the Trump campaign. The White House is running out of friends, and it’s getting harder to justify its objection to a special counsel on the Russia matter. Meanwhile, the administration is suffering legislative setbacks on the Hill, a series of mounting crises overseas, and challenges to its legitimacy at home as Trump’s job approval rating craters. White House allies would do well to stop indulging this administration’s ingrained paranoia and level with Trump: This is a presidency in crisis. 
Trump's big selling point has always been his ostensible knack for leadership. Maybe he really did demonstrate it in his real-estate-developer days, but it clearly hasn't translated into such a knack being applied to presiding over the nation.

His department and agency appointments have been nearly uniformly excellent, as has been the regulatory rollback. But at the top, it's pretty much chaos. And we know, per Harry Truman, where the buck stops.

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