Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, The Times’ letters editor, and it is Saturday, May 20, 2017. New bombshells are dropping all around us, so by the time you read this newsletter, it may be obsolete — my apologies. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.
Donald Trump is one of the least popular presidents in the history of polling thanks largely to the nearly universal dislike among liberals of the commander in chief. But what sets Trump apart is the distaste many conservatives have expressed for him since the moment he became the Republican Party’s likely presidential nominee in early 2016. Two of those anti-Trump conservatives, Max Boot and Jonah Goldberg, took to The Times’ op-ed page this week to weigh in on the president’s historically chaotic month.
It is too soon to say this is the beginning of the end for a president who has already defied predictions of his political demise. Impeachment still is a long shot in a Congress so firmly dominated by the president’s own party. But it is no longer unthinkable, and it no longer depends on having to prove a nebulous connection between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the past week, copious evidence has emerged of Trump obstructing justice, proving the old Washington adage that the cover-up is always worse than the crime.
Republicans who have been incorrigible in their defense of the indefensible are suddenly showing glimmers of self-respect. On Tuesday night, Fox News, which performs the same function for this White House as RT (Russia Today) does for the Kremlin, was reporting that it couldn’t find any Republicans willing to defend Trump in public. Let us hope this is not just a temporary aberration, as was the case when the “Access Hollywood” videotape was released in October, with craven partisans first un-endorsing and then re-endorsing the genital-grabber.
No Republican should aspire to be known as the Rabbi Korff of the Trump administration — Baruch Korff was the Nixon diehard who was advising the president not to resign right up until the day that he actually did. Instead Republicans should aspire, as suggested by Tom Wright of the Brookings Institution, to be the second coming of Leo Amery.
Who was Leo Amery? He was the Conservative member of Parliament who in 1940 quoted Oliver Cromwell to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, the architect of appeasement: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
As you like to say, Trump threw away the old playbook. You have a role to play beyond acting like a campaign flunky, praising the president at every turn as a man of action displaying his “broad-shouldered leadership.”
There’s room to do more on your own shoulders.
Much of the president’s power is derived from what Teddy Roosevelt called the “bully pulpit,” or what legendary political scientist Richard Neustadt called the “power to persuade.” In today’s media landscape, you have an especially potent bully pulpit, because you’re the one person the president cannot fire.
Let’s assume Trump played you for a patsy. I don’t think you should resign, but threatening to do so if he does it again might — just might — help the president get his act together, which would be good for you, the party and the country. You are also the tie-breaker in the Senate, which means something given the GOP’s precariously thin majority.
The president claims to value loyalty, but we know he respects strength. For your sake and the country, maybe it’s time to show some.
Remember Monday? Neither do I. Thankfully, I have The Times’ searchable archives at my disposal to help me recap starting at that long-ago point in time when the only existential crisis facing the Trump administration was the president’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. Here’s a day-by-day recap of the week, along with the Opinion content reacting to whatever development had just taken place.
Monday: News breaks that Trump shared top-secret intelligence with two Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting the previous week.
The Times’ Editorial Board: “Putting aside the national security implications, this episode, and how it played out at breakneck speed Monday, proved once again that the administration is in a spiral of dysfunction, careening from one controversy to the next and never managing to get out of damage-control mode.”
Times readers: It’s time to start talking impeachment. Richard C. Armendariz of Huntington Beach wrote: “On the campaign trail, Trump questioned whether Clinton should receive security briefings, and now this is a proper question to ask of the president. Can he be trusted with the nuclear codes?”
Tuesday: A Comey memo says Trump sought to halt the FBI’s investigation of former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
Doyle McManus: “The latest wrinkle, on Tuesday, was the news that Trump asked Comey to end the FBI investigation of Flynn, according to notes Comey made in February. (By the time you read this, a new revelation may have succeeded that one.) In private, Republicans in Congress have grumbled for weeks about a White House that doesn’t know what it’s doing. Now they’re beginning to do the grumbling in public.”
The Times Editorial Board: “It is important not to rush to judgment about this allegation. But the comments attributed to Trump by Comey are deeply disturbing and the president’s past prevarications make it hard for Americans to take his denials at face value. That is why Congress needs to focus on establishing the truth about this matter, and soon.”
Wednesday: Robert Mueller is appointed special counsel to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The Times Editorial Board: “A thorough investigation by the FBI and the Justice Department, important as it is, will proceed mostly in secret and can’t answer all of the questions the public has about Russian meddling in last year’s election. That’s why it’s vital that Congress do its duty to investigate these events — in public to the greatest extent possible.”
Erwin Chemerinsky: “On Wednesday, Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein announced he was appointing former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III as special prosecutor to take over the Justice Department investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Without the protection of the independent counsel law, however, Trump can order Rosenstein to fire Mueller, and fire Rosenstein if he refuses. Nor is an investigation by Congress or an independent commission enough. Criminal charges, if warranted, cannot be brought unless there is a prosecutor.”
Times reader: “Now that Mueller has been appointed special counsel, I know that I will accept whatever he concludes on the President Trump-Russia matter. He is a man of honor who will continue to be what he has always been — intelligent, mature and irrefutably honest.”
Thursday: Trump, after his initial calm reaction to Mueller’s appointment, tweets that the investigation is a “witch hunt.”
Max Boot: “Trump has been in office only 117 days, but he has already overstayed his welcome. For the good of the country, he should resign before our new national nightmare gets worse.”
Amy Wilentz: “The president’s tweets range from defensive bullying and outright attacks on his detractors ... to photos with teachers and police officers. His twitter habit may seem insignificant in comparison to his policy preferences, but it’s damaging the national discourse, to say the least, and the technology should be off-limits to him — as well as future presidents.”
Friday: Trump leaves the country for Saudi Arabia.
Ann Friedman, on the five stages of Trump news cycle grief: “In the dread-filled period between the election and Trump’s inauguration, pundits warned that panicking about every White House policy change and misstep would prove unsustainable. Just 17 days into his presidency, Arianna Huffington, the clickbait queen-turned-lifestyle guru, offered advice on ‘How To Get Out Of The Cycle Of Outrage In A Trump World.’ Now that we have experienced more than 100 days of this administration, I’ve realized that the stages of Trump grief are easier to identify than they are to transcend.”
Whatever next week brings in Trumpland, I’ll be there. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.