Tag Archives: Ronald Reagan

Where does Trump acquire his political capital?

One of the many things that confound me about Donald Trump is how this man expects us to believe he has this huge cache of political capital stored up.

He keeps yapping and yammering about the “historic” nature of his presidential election victory in November 2016. When you think about it, Trump’s victory was “historic” in a certain context.

He lost the popular vote by record margins to Hillary Rodham Clinton but still managed to win the Electoral College by cobbling together precisely the right pluralities in three battleground states that voted twice for Barack H. Obama. So, there’s a certain bit of history that was made.

But then he took office and began boasting about the “landslide” victory he won. I consider landslides to be of the type that President Johnson rang up in 1964 and President Nixon scored in 1972. The political rule of thumb has been that a winning presidential candidate rolls up “landslide” with a 10-percentage point popular vote; LBJ and Nixon both rolled to victories that exceeded 20 percentage points. President Reagan’s re-election victory in 1984 came close to matching his predecessors’ victories.

The current president has nothing even remotely approaching that kind of political capital as he seeks to push his agenda forward. He doesn’t behave with a semblance of knowledge of just how flimsy his electoral mandate really is.

The 21st century’s first presidential election ended in 2000 with the winner, George W. Bush, garnering fewer popular votes than his opponent. President Bush, though, realized the truth of his election from Day One of his presidency and sought immediately to work with Democrats. He enlisted the late liberal lion, Sen. Ted Kennedy, to help him push some education reforms through Congress.

Has Donald Trump extended anything approaching an olive branch to those who oppose him? For that matter, have Democrats in both congressional chambers sought to reach out to the president?

No on both counts.

Still, it simply demonstrates graphically to me that the president has none of the political capital about which he boasts.

If only he would learn the harsh reality of the nature of his victory.

The Gipper would be a sad Republican today

Ronald Reagan once coined a well-known commandment for fellow Republicans to obey.

“Thou shalt not speak ill of fellow Republicans,” according to the former president’s 11th commandment.

Wherever he is, the late president would be mighty steamed at what is transpiring within his beloved Republican Party. Present-day GOP members have turned on each other. They are attacking each other with teeth bared, knives drawn, with bloody brass knuckles.

Who, do you suppose, is the lead attack dog? I believe I would hang that label on the president of the United States, Donald John Trump.

The president has thrived in this contentious intraparty environment. His so-called “base” sticks with him through thick and thin, even as he trashes the party leadership. This Republican vs. Republican mentality has seeped down through the political ranks.

The recent Alabama special GOP primary election provides a clear example of GOP cannibalism. Roy Moore, the winner of the primary runoff, took dead aim at congressional establishment Republicans; he aligned himself with Trump. So did the man he defeated, U.S. Sen. Luther Strange, who Trump backed in the primary; Strange held up Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as an example of what is wrong with the party.

All across the land, we’re seeing Republicans attacking Republicans. Right here in the Texas Panhandle, for instance, the Randall County GOP wants to oust Republican Texas House Speaker Joe Straus because Straus isn’t “conservative enough” to suit the zealots who comprise the Randall County party leadership.

Tennessee U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is savaging the president for lacking the “competence” to lead the nation; Arizona U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake has excoriated the GOP president for his lack of core conservative principles; former Trump political strategist Stephen K. Bannon vows to go to war with any Republican who challenges his former boss’s agenda.

What do you suppose President Reagan — who today’s conservatives hold up as their paragon of political purity — would think about all of this? My guess is that he would have none of it.

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OK, I’ll answer a question that might be on the minds of some readers of this blog: Do I really want the Republican Party to make peace within itself?

To be totally candid, umm … no.

It’s the ‘optics’ that keep bedeviling the president

Donald J. Trump had to know about the damage done by his long-distance feud with San Juan, P.R., Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz.

The president surely knew it would be better for him to make nice with the mayor who he had criticized for her “poor leadership” after she criticized the federal response to Puerto Rico’s suffering in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s savage beating.

I fear he didn’t act on that when he went to Puerto Rico. He engaged in at least one peculiar public-relations stunt when he was video recorded tossing rolls of paper towels at a crowd of well-wishers. Someone will have to explain to me what that was supposed to tell us about the president’s concern for those U.S. citizens who are suffering from the hurricane’s devastation.

Then he sat in a meeting with local officials — which included Mayor Cruz — and said that Puerto Rico has cost the United States “billions of dollars, but that’s all right.” I heard that and thought, “Huh?”

The president keeps fluffing this part of his job description, the one that labels him “comforter in chief.”  He’s not making the grade.

President Reagan donned that mantle perfectly after the shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986; President Clinton did it as well in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995; and of course, President Bush stood in the Twin Tower rubble, bullhorn in hand after 9/11, and said “the world will hear all of us soon.”

And can anyone forget the sight of President Obama leading a church congregation in a rendition of “Amazing Grace” at the memorial for the victims of the Charleston, S.C., massacre?

Trump hasn’t yet been able to demonstrate the capacity he needs to show in these times of intense national grief.

Puerto Ricans are suffering. Yet the president treats his visit there like some sort of performance on his part.

He’ll get another chance on Wednesday when he flies to Las Vegas. He’ll get an opportunity to show Americans he cares about that community’s suffering after the madman opened fire at the hotel and casino, killing 59 people and injuring 500-plus more in a hail of automatic weapon fire.

Do you have faith that the president will become comforter in chief?

Me, neither.

Anger will get POTUS nowhere — in a hurry

Presidents of the United States usually manage to cultivate friendships in the least-expected places.

Democrat Lyndon Johnson had strong alliances with Republican Sen. Everett Dirksen; Republican Ronald Reagan had a marvelous after-hours social friendship with Democratic House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill; Democrat Bill Clinton worked with Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich to produce a balanced federal budget; Republican George W. Bush and Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy worked hand-in-glove to craft education reform legislation.

They all sought each other out in the search for common ground. It worked. The government found a way to get things done. The outreach extends in both directions.

That’s how good government works.

Donald Trump’s approach? Bash ’em all. Democrats and Republicans alike all feel the sting of Trump’s Twitter tirade. Criticize the president on policy differences? You’d better don your hard hat to avoid getting your bell rung by rhetorical abuse delivered — of course! — via Twitter.

Trump is at it again. He calls for “national unity.” Then unleashes yet another Twitter broadside.

The president is an angry man. His anger is threatening to stall everything in Congress. He has impugned the very people he needs: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain … and on and on it goes.

Everyone has his or her limits to their level of anger. How far is Donald Trump going to take his myriad feuds with members of both parties in Congress?

I’m going to presume we’ll know when it occurs when Trump’s anger hits the proverbial wall.

Yep, Trump isn’t your ‘normal’ president

Donald J. Trump more or less vowed to be an unconventional president while he campaigned for the office. Man, he’s made good on that one, eh?

Consider what he said after the failure of the Republican caucus in the Senate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“I won’t own” the failure, he said. He wants to let the ACA fail and then he’ll swoop in to clean up the mess — assuming, of course, that it even happens.

How disgraceful.

President Truman famously had that sign on his Oval Office desk: “The Buck Stops Here.” President Kennedy told us after the Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961 that “victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan”; he took the hickey for the invasion’s failure. President Reagan admitted to making a mistake during the Iran-Contra controversy, that he didn’t believe “in my heart” that he was trading arms to a hostile nation; he “owned” it eventually.

The current president? He’s not standing by the stumble-bum effort in Congress to enact this legislation. Republicans had seven years to come up with an alternative to the ACA, which they despise largely — or so it seems — because it has Barack H. Obama’s name on it. They call it “Obamacare” as a term of derision.

They blew it. As head of the Republican Party, so did the president. He owns this mistake, whether he cares to admit it or not.

Presidents Truman, Kennedy and Reagan all knew how to stand behind their failures. They all understood that the terms of the office they required them to do so.

Aw, but what the hell. They were just your normal run-of-the-mill politicians who played by the rules. The current president doesn’t operate under the same precept of full accountability.

Jimmy Carter: embodiment of public service, humanity

Former President Jimmy Carter is resting tonight in a hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where he collapsed doing the Lord’s work.

He was working on a construction site for Habitat for Humanity, an organization with which he has been associated since leaving the presidency in January 1981.

President Carter, who’s 92 years of age, holds an unusual record as the former president who’s lived more years after leaving the White House than any of his predecessors.

My point here, though, is to make two make comments.

One is that this man has done more for humankind since leaving the pinnacle of power than any of the men who preceded him — or succeeded him.

My second point is to scold those who continue to hold Jimmy Carter up as some sort of model of fecklessness. He deserves nothing of that kind of treatment.

His defeat for re-election was stunning in its scope. Ronald Reagan swept him out of office by winning 44 states in a landslide of historic proportions. How was that possible? Because The Gipper and his campaign team managed to lay all of the nation’s troubles at Carter’s feet.

The Iranian hostage crisis dragged on for 444 days, beginning in November 1979. President Carter’s team worked tirelessly during that entire time to negotiate the release of the individuals held captive by those radicals who passed themselves off as “students.” Yes, we experienced that tragic failed rescue attempt in April 1980 that ended with planes crashing in the desert and eight Air Force Special Forces troops dying in the inferno. Was that the president’s fault? Did he err in attempting such a daring rescue? That debate will continue for as long as human beings are alive to debate it.

The blame is a consequence of failure, fair or not.

The president, though, did manage to broker a Middle East peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. The treaty stands to this day, thanks to the tireless work done at Camp David by Jimmy Carter, who browbeat, cajoled and persuaded Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to sign the deal — and then shake hands in 1978 in that epic White House photo op.

That handshake, though, had its consequences. President Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Islamic extremists who hated him for seeking peace with Israel. Indeed, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would be killed in 1995 by a Zionist extremist who loathed the warrior Rabin for the handshake he had at the White House with PLO leader Yasser Arafat after another deal brokered by President Bill Clinton.

Jimmy Carter, I submit, does not deserve to be scorned the way he has been by Republicans and assorted Democrats over the years.

I’ll concede he won’t be ranked as the greatest of the great U.S. presidents. He had his flaws — as all human beings have them.

However, the humanity this great man has demonstrated over many decades gives him a special place in my own heart.

President Carter has preached to his fellow Habitat for Humanity workers to stay hydrated. He collapsed from, get this, dehydration.

Listen to yourself, Mr. President. And get better. This dangerous and hostile world still needs you.

LBJ must be laughing loudly

Lyndon Baines Johnson, wherever he is, must be enjoying the spectacle that’s unfolding down here, in Washington, D.C.

One of his successors as president of the United States is now trying to do something that LBJ was expert at doing: persuade U.S. senators to vote for a bill the president wants to see become law.

Donald Trump is facing a grim political reality. He is backing a Senate Republican health care overhaul bill. He says it would replace the Affordable Care Act. There’s this problem: public opinion polling suggests that it is highly unpopular with Americans; meanwhile, senators — who must answer to those Americans — are getting queasy about the bill.

Senate Republicans knew it and decided this week to postpone a vote on the bill until after the Fourth of July recess. The GOP has a slim Senate majority. Republicans can afford only two defections; any more than that then the health care overhaul effort is toast. Eight GOP senators have said they oppose the draft bill.

How does Trump persuade them to vote for the bill? This is something that Trump does not understand. Lyndon Johnson understood it better than arguably any president of the past century.

Before he became vice president in 1961 and later president in 1963, Johnson was the Senate majority leader. The Texan had vast experience as a legislator. He had many friends in the Senate; Republicans as well as Democrats were his pals. He could count on them when the going got tough. Sen. Johnson had an amazing capacity to persuade senators to vote his way. He took that skill with him to the Oval Office.

LBJ was unafraid to use the power of the presidency to, um, bully senators and House members. Somehow, though, it worked.

The current president has zero experience at governing anything. He had never sought a public office until June 2015, when he announced his presidential candidacy. Trump had no direct knowledge of Congress, or any understanding of how it works. He never developed any relationships with those who run the legislative branch of government, which is something that even relatively inexperienced presidents before him had acquired.

President Reagan was chided for being a film actor. He also served two terms as California governor. President Carter took D.C. by storm, but he, too, had governmental executive experience as a single-term governor of Georgia.

Donald Trump has none of that kind of experience. None!

President Johnson set the gold standard, though, for presidents knowing how to legislate, how to persuade lawmakers, how to push legislation through both chambers of Congress.

I suspect the former president is laughing out loud.

GOP: the party of diversity in thought, philosophy

I want to toss a bouquet or two at the Republican Party.

The Grand Old Party has become the organization filled with diverse thoughts, philosophies, competing ideas. It is being revealed yet again as the GOP struggles over how to enact a bill that would overhaul the Affordable Care Act.

It wasn’t always this way.

A couple of generations ago, those of us of a certain age remember when the Democratic Party exemplified turmoil, tumult and tempest. The Vietnam War tore Democrats apart, had them ripping out the throats of their brethren. Republicans stood firm in support of that war.

The GOP would split in 1976 when conservative champion Ronald Reagan challenged President Ford’s election effort, only to lose narrowly at the party’s political convention.

Now we see Democrats standing as one in opposition to the GOP plan to dismantle the ACA and replace it with something else.

Republican moderates dislike the GOP alternative because it takes too much money from Medicaid. Republican conservatives hate it because they call it a “light” version of the ACA and are pushing for a more drastic departure from President Barack Obama’s landmark domestic legislative achievement.

Frankly, I find the intraparty debate refreshing and healthy for Republicans. There might be a purging after it’s all over. Whichever sides wins the argument will likely have to heal the rift that has developed with the other side, and vice versa.

I’ve always like diversity of thought. Democrats’ divisions in the 1960s and early 1970s cost them dearly over the course of many presidential election cycles. They would lose six of seven presidential elections from 1968 to 1988. Democrats eventually got their act together enough to win in 1992, 1996, 2008 and 2012.

It remains to be seen whether the current Republican political divide will cost that party as dearly as it did the Democrats. I believe, though, that the party’s struggle over health care overhaul will be ultimately good for its long-term future — if the GOP is able to cope with all this arguing.

See ya later, Bob Beckel

Bob Beckel’s dismissal from the Fox News Channel isn’t as big a deal as, say, Bill O’Reilly’s firing or that of the late Roger Ailes.

It’s still a big deal, however.

Fox canned Beckel today in connection with racially insensitive remarks he made to a fellow network employee. Beckel was one of the co-hosts of “The Five,” a network news talk show that airs weekday afternoons. He leans to the left politically and usually found himself on the short end of a gang fight with his co-hosts, most of whom lean to the right.

I always found it fascinating that Beckel was seen as a political “expert.” Why the fascination? Well, he shepherded Democratic nominee Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign to a 49-state landslide loss to President Ronald Reagan.

Fox’s quick dismissal of Beckel does suggest to many observers that the network has been sensitized to misbehavior by its on-air personalities. O’Reilly was canned after revelations came out about the sexual harassment settlements to which he agreed; several women accused O’Reilly of harassing them. And then there is Ailes, the network founder who was let go also for sexual harassment claims leveled against him; Ailes died this week at the age of 77.

I won’t miss Beckel. For starters, I don’t generally watch Fox News. When I have tuned in, I have found Beckel’s analysis to be seriously underwhelming.

Kudos go to Fox for its quick action. Heaven knows the network has taken a beating over the way it (mis)handled the sexual harassment matters.

May this firing signal a change in the corporate culture at the “fair and balanced” network.

‘Most divisive speech ever’ by a president

David Gergen is no squishy liberal. The CNN political analyst has worked — in order — for Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.

Three of the four are Republicans. I believe Gergen calls himself a member of the GOP.

But then he said something about Donald J. Trump’s speech Saturday night in Harrisburg, Pa. While commenting on the speech in a CNN interview, Gergen called it the “most divisive speech” he’d ever heard from a sitting U.S. president.

Pay attention, Mr. President. One of your own has called you out.

Campaign rhetoric doesn’t fly

The speech was full of red meat for Trump’s political base. He made the trip to Harrisburg after deciding he wouldn’t attend the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, becoming the first sitting president since Ronald Reagan to skip the event. Then again, President Reagan had a good reason: He was recovering from a gunshot wound in 1981 after John Hinckley tried to assassinate him.

One can expect criticism of Trump’s speech from Democrats. They’re still steamed that Trump beat their candidate in 2016. I share their outrage, truth be told, which is why I spend so much of my energy on this blog with criticism of the president. I doubt I’ll let up any time soon — if ever!

That such criticism comes from a longstanding Republican — and a former key adviser to three GOP presidents, including the revered godfather of political conservatives, Reagan — gives it even more punch.

Trump surely will dismiss it. He’ll say that Gergen doesn’t matter. Neither does CNN, in Trump’s view.

So the war against the media and — everyone who disagrees with the president — will go on … and on … and on.