The ‘threat’ that has elites quaking is his serious attempt to curb federal power and cut spending.
By George Melloan
A lobbyist friend who visited Capitol Hill recently came away horrified. “I now am ready to believe that the partisanship is so unhinged that it’s a threat to the Republic,” she writes in an email.
This Washington hysteria comes at a time of full employment, booming stocks, relative peace and technological marvels like an electronic robot named Alexa who fetches and plays for you songs of your choice. What’s the fuss about?
We all know the answer: Donald Trump. The Washington body politic has been invaded by an alien presence and, true to the laws of nature, that body is feverishly trying to expel it. These particular laws of nature demand rejection of anything that threatens the livelihoods and prestige of the permanent governing class.
The “threat” that has Washington quaking is the first serious effort in a long time to curb federal regulatory power, wasteful spending, and a propensity to run up mountainous budget deficits and debt. That’s presumably what the voters wanted when they elected Donald Trump. Democrats—accurately regarded as the party of government—seem to fear that Mr. Trump might actually, against all odds, pull it off.
The Washington Post, the New York Times and other apostles of the Democratic Party have apparently set out to prove that despite their shaky business models they can still ignite an anti-Trump bonfire. A recent headline in the Post. asserted that “Trump’s scandals stoke fear for the 2018 midterms among Republicans nationwide.”
What scandals would those be? There was of course the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Democrat Hillary Clinton went on TV to claim that Mr. Comey cost her the election. Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey. Did Democrats praise the president? No, they want him impeached. Devious logic, but devious is a good descriptor of much of what goes on in this fight.
Mr. Comey retaliated by leaking a “big scoop” to the Times—notes taken when Mr. Trump allegedly asked him to back off on the investigation of national security adviser Mike Flynn. But let’s recall the circumstances of this “investigation.” The Obama administration—possibly the FBI—tapped a phone conversation between Mr. Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Then Mr. Obama’s minions used the raw data to “unmask” Mr. Flynn and get the retired general fired for not giving a full account of the discussion. Given that sorry record of political involvement, was Mr. Trump so wrong if he asked Mr. Comey to go easy?
Then there was the Post’s “shocking” revelation that the president gave classified information to Russia’s foreign minister. The president is commander in chief of the U.S. military and conducts foreign policy. The intelligence agencies work for him, and he is responsible for using what they provide to further U.S. interests. Is it so unlikely that a friendly tip to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about an ISIS tactic was calculated to earn trust? A more interesting question is who walked out of the room and illegally handed the Post this “scoop.”
Russians aren’t popular in the U.S., for many good reasons. That has its uses for Trump baiters. Democratic claims that Mr. Trump conspired with the Russians to swing the November election led the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor, former FBI chief Robert Mueller, to investigate. But is this claim even slightly plausible? So far all we have are anonymous officials who claim that intelligence agencies know of individuals with connections to the Russian government who supplied WikiLeaks with hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta’s accounts. But these officials are still unwilling to go on the record.
The Washington community knows how to fight back when it feels threatened. Leakers are having a ball, even if it has taken a lot of journalistic imagination to turn the most notorious leaks into “scandals.” Almost everyone in town has a stake in fending off the Trump threat: government workers and the businesses that serve them, public unions, lobbyists and their clients, owners of posh hotels and restaurants that cater to well-heeled visitors seeking government favors, journalists whose prestige derives from the power center they cover, academics who show politicians how to mismanage the economy, real-estate agents feeding on the boom—to name a few. It’s a good living, and few take kindly to a brash outsider who proclaims it is his mission to drain the swamp.
Mr. Trump is on the attack and Washington is fighting back. Is the Republic in danger? Another question is how much danger will it be in if Mr. Trump loses?
Mr. Melloan is a former deputy editor of the Journal editorial page and author of “When the New Deal Came to Town,” (Simon & Schuster, 2016).”