Locating the Method in the Madness: The Fruitless Search Continues

sherlock

As our legislative solons, donning their deerstalker hats and holding magnifying glasses, continue their fruitless search for the Obamacare replacement bill, so also the pundits keep looking in vain for the method in Trump’s madness—which grows from strength to strength with each passing day.

Every day the voice of the Normality Bias whispering in our ear, “He’s not really nuts; he can’t be nuts; there must be some other explanation,” grows fainter and fainter.

Today, March 5, as I expect you know, Trump called on Congress to investigate his baseless claim of Watergate style wiretapping by Obama. As Karen Tumulty opines, “Donald Trump’s presidency has veered onto a road with no centerlines or guardrails.”

But why? What explanation can we give for this behavior? And, perhaps more to the point, what is the prognosis?

In Trump: Bonkers, paranoid or trapped? Jennifer Rubin steps up to the plate and takes a few swings. Her batting is workmanlike. Her piece is worth a read, but to summarize, maybe he’s out of touch with reality. Maybe he’s panicked, because of what he knows about what the intelligence community knows.

In Aardvark’s humble opinion, “bonkers” is the explanation that best fits the known facts. That’s because his rabid call for investigation of claims that, true or false, are closely related to the existing Russia/Trump investigations, only increases the salience of those investigations.

By contrast, a semi-rational strategy of distraction would have chosen an entirely unrelated topic as the focus of the distraction. Quoting Rubin again: “Trump inadvertently emphasized that at the core this is about whether the intelligence community has discovered the president of the United States is compromised.”

Covering much the same ground, at length and with interesting detail, the Economist compares Trump’s distractive behavior to a Chicago bar owner who, when questioned about mob associations, pulls the fire alarm and yells “Fire!” It adds,

[Some observers] see sincere rage, even paranoia. A conservative media boss and old friend of Mr Trump’s, Chris Ruddy, claims that the president believes his own allegations about wire-tapping with a fierce rage, telling him this weekend: “I will be proven right”.

Yup, he really believes in the five million illegal voters, and he really believes that he is and has been victimized by Obama.

The Paris Hilton of Presidents

A tip of the hat to Fredda Foxy, upstairs here at Happy Acres, for directing me to Tim Wu’s article How Donald Trump Wins by Losing.

Long before there was Donald Trump there was P.T. Barnum, who famously said that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Wu’s thesis is that Trump is a great believer in Barnumism, who focuses on “wining the contest for mindshare,” whether the minds he’s sharing approve of him or not. By his own lights, Trump is winning, because “the Trump circus … has more of the nation paying more more attention to the president than at any time in decades.”

But, Wu concludes,

While the strategy — like an annoying advertisement — may be surprisingly effective, it may also hint at this president’s greatest weakness. If Mr. Trump is immune to ordinary defeats or criticism, he does, of course, have a desperate fear of being ignored. As the presidency progresses it may prove as much a slave to the ratings as any TV network. So if the public is bored by the Affordable Care Act (without Mr. Obama, there’s no “opponent”), might Mr. Trump lose interest and start a new battle somewhere else?

Being hitched to the twin necessities of constant warfare and the public’s limited attention span may yield a series of unfinished projects that ultimately amount to little. It also suggests that Mr. Trump’s eventual downfall may be less like Richard Nixon’s than Paris Hilton’s. To live by attention is to die by it as well, and he may end up less a victim of political defeat than of waning interest, the final fate of every act.

How long before we can expect to see Trump in public without his boxers?

ph-without-underwear

Paranoia—and a “Civilization Warping Crisis of Public Trust”

As we all know, news comes in two categories.

Dog Bites Man

Lots of that this weekend: more Russian shoes dropping, lots of conflicting opinions about how the dropping shoes should be investigated, continuing legislative chaos.

You might think all of this would be outside the normal, except that it has become normal—as normal as a dog biting a man.

Man Bites Dog

The President’s claim, with no stated evidentiary basis, that his predecessor wiretapped him, in a scandal that is worse that Watergate.

Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska—a person who apparently minces no words

called the current political atmosphere a “civilization-warping crisis of public trust” after Trump said Obama ordered Trump’s phone lines tapped before the election and Obama’s spokesman denied it on Saturday. Sasse said if there were taps, it would have been either with a FISA court authorization or without — but either way Trump needed to publicly explain his tweeted allegations.

“The president today made some very serious allegations, and the informed citizens that a republic requires deserve more information,” Sasse said. “If without [an authorization], the President should explain what sort of wiretap it was and how he knows this. It is possible that he was illegally tapped.”

But Sasse said if there was a legal authorization for a phone tap, then Trump should disclose that application.

“If it was with a legal FISA court order, then an application for surveillance exists that the court found credible. The president should ask that this full application regarding surveillance of foreign operatives or operations be made available, ideally to the full public, and at a bare minimum to the U.S. Senate,” Sasse said.

Meanwhile, Trump’s immediate entourage is leaking like a sieve.

Prior to departing for Florida, where he is spending the weekend, Trump convened on Friday a group of senior aides in the Oval Office, including chief of staff Reince Priebus, senior adviser Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka Trump, chief strategist Steve Bannon, communications director Mike Dubke, and press secretary Sean Spicer. …

The meeting on Friday got heated once it turned to the topic of Sessions. What, Trump wanted to know, was the logic of [Sessions’ decision to recuse himself]? The president made it clear he thought the whole thing had been handled poorly, and that Sessions shouldn’t have recused himself, according to sources familiar with the meeting. His exasperation was apparent. …

“There were fireworks,” said one person briefed on the events.

Priebus, Kushner, and Bannon all weighed in with their thoughts. “There was a robust discussion,” said a second person familiar what occurred.

Priebus, who was expected by some aides to go on this weekend’s trip to Florida, stayed behind in Washington after the president’s flare-up, according to two people familiar with the matter. …

After the meeting, Trump left for Florida, where he spoke at a Republican National Committee meeting on Friday evening. On Saturday morning, he sent out a number of tweets, some of which accused former President Barack Obama of tapping Trump Tower phone lines during the final days of the 2016 election, without citing evidence.

One White House official said he woke up Saturday morning to Trump’s tweets and grimaced. It was unclear, this person said, where the president had gotten the idea, but that it likely wasn’t from an official source. “It could have come from anywhere,” this person said.

Several other people close to Trump said they weren’t sure where he got his information for the posts. One of these people said most of Trump’s aides were back in Washington and woke up exasperated at the posts.

After making the explosive claims – and trashing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s TV ratings – in the Twitter rant, the president headed to the golf course near his Mar-a-Lago resort.

When the going gets tough, the tough go golfing.

President Tinfoil Hat

tinfoil-hat

It is Saturday morning, March 4. In between a busy morning tweeting about Celebrity Apprentice’s ratings, Trump found time to accuse President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower, an action he claimed was worse than Watergate. He offered no evidence.

Such a wiretap would be illegal unless the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court determined there was probable cause to think that the subject of the proposed wiretap was a spy or an agent of a foreign power.

Was any such court order sought? Was any such order received? Or is this a claim that Obama chose to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978—indeed a serious crime, if any such thing happened.

We’ll see what develops, but the available evidence makes this seem like a further descent into madness.

Trump’s spokespuppets have their work cut out for them this time.

lucy

Five Must Reads This Morning

Yeah, I know, you make up your own mind about what you must read. And well you should. But please consider these.

Jeff Sessions, Patriot

The Washington Monthly answers, at least to its own satisfaction, the question, Why Did Sessions Pivot 180 Degrees in His Views on Russia? Massive intrigue. $11 billion deals. Intense skullduggery.

Why the Delay in the Revised Muslim Ban?

****Aardvark Confirmation Bias Alert****Because they ain’t got no stinkin’ evidence to support it.

Why “Obamacare Replacement” Won’t Pass

The picture is becoming clearer, as Josh Barro lucidly explains. And see 5 Points On The Tax Credit Debate Roiling The GOP’s Obamacare Repeal Effort.

To pass, it would have to strike some sort of balance between destroying health care for everybody, which the traditional conservatives/libertarians want, and keeping subsidies for lots of people, which the “moderates” want, so that it won’t be compared too unfavorably vis-à-vis Obamacare. But there aren’t enough votes for that kind of compromise.

The only way to steamroll all the Republican factious is bullying from Trump. Which he probably won’t do. Which might well not work if he tried it. And which, if it did work, would seriously undermine Trump with his base—when lots of them lose their health care.

Brooks On Trumpism

Many paragraphs. A deep thought in every one. Read it for yourself. Brooks concludes thusly,

Fourth, Trump’s speech on Tuesday offered those of us who want to replace him an occasion to ask the big question: How in the 21st century should government unleash initiative and dynamism while also preserving order? Trump’s answer: Nationalize intimidation but privatize compassion. Don’t look to government to offer a warm hand; look to it to confront your enemies with a hard fist.

Human development research offers a different formula: All of life is a series of daring adventures from a secure base. If government can create a framework in which people grow up amid healthy families, nurturing schools, thick communities and a secure safety net, then they will have the resources and audacity to thrive in a free global economy and a diversifying skills economy.

This is a response that is open to welfare state policies from the left and trade and macroeconomic policies from the free-market right — a single-payer health care system married to the flat tax.

The last thing Trump showed was this: We’re in a state of radical flux. Political parties can turn on a dime. At least that means it’s a time to think anew.

Obamacare Replacement Bill Becomes a McGuffin

maltese-falcon

According to Alfred Hitchcock a McGuffin is “the device, the gimmick, if you will or the papers the spies are after.” Like the plaid suitcases in What’s Up, Doc? Or the Maltese falcon in The Maltese Falcon.

Trump said he would repeal and replace Obamacare with “something wonderful.” How wonderful is it? So wonderful that the House Republicans are scared shitless that its contents will become public, which will generate instant and overwhelming opposition, which will scare off their members.

The solution? Keep it secret!

From Politico:

Senate Republicans aren’t backing the latest House plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, saying they are reserving judgment until House leaders provide key details about the proposal they intend to advance as soon as next week.

Top House Republican committee chairmen Kevin Brady and Greg Walden on Wednesday crossed the Capitol to rally support among their Senate counterparts for their bill but provided lawmakers with few details, such as a cost estimate, legislative language or policy details, even as they walked senators through the broad outlines of the plan. …

“I need to see a plan. You want me to endorse something I haven’t even read? … This is a big thing,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “They are describing a plan. They didn’t hand out a piece of paper. There are still numbers missing.”

There were reports that the text of the bill would only be made available to Republicans to read in a basement room in a House office building.

It then developed that the text of the bill is secret—and unavailable to Republicans like Rand Paul.

The bizarre security measures for the bill, which came to light Wednesday night, underscore how politically risky repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has come to be seen in the past month by GOP leaders.

The leadership has been buffeted on one side by members of the public who are afraid of losing health-care coverage — and who have angrily voiced those fears at recent congressional town halls — and on the other side by conservative members of the GOP caucus who want a wholesale repeal of the ACA or a less liberal replacement plan.

“I have been told that the House Obamacare bill is under lock & key, in a secure location & not available for me or the public to view,” Paul tweeted Thursday morning.

“This is unacceptable. This is the biggest issue before Congress and the American people right now,” tweeted Paul, who has pushed for his own replacement proposal.

Paul later tweeted: “I am heading to the secure location where they are keeping the House obamacare bill. I will demand a copy for the American people.”

But those efforts were rebuffed, even after Paul toted along a photocopier to make his own copy of the legislation.

But not to worry, folks. It’s something wonderful. That’s why they’re scared to let you read it.

This is turning into The Keystone Cops Search for the Maltese Falcon.