Presidential Chaos

 

The Trump White House is in a perpetual state of dysfunction and chaos. Trump kicked off the past week with a series of attacks on Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General and long-time loyalist, for recusing himself from the ongoing investigation of Russia’s interference with the 2016 election. There are tricky arguments, pro and con, on whether Sessions should have removed himself the investigation. But nothing can excuse Trump’s barrage of immature and abusive tweets against a key member of his own team. The upshot is an impasse in which Sessions cannot resign and Trump dare not fire him.

The President followed his Sessions tirade with an ill-considered tweet haphazardly announcing a ban on transgender people serving in the military, which everyone from a blindsided James Mattis on down regarded as a gratuitous insult to many transgender soldiers who have served with distinction. His tweet of course carries no legal consequence, but it puts everyone in government in limbo until the President either issues that foolish order or is, once again, talked off the ledge by his few remaining sensible advisors.

Then Trump appointed the pugnacious and vulgar Anthony Scaramucci as his communications director, who gave a profanity-laced interview with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza before being ousted from his role at the urging of Trump’s new Chief of Staff, John Kelly. Still, Scaramucci’s appointment was a major disruption. It set in motion the resignation of Trump’s beleaguered Press Secretary Sean Spicer and the sacking of Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff. We can expect more speeches like Trump’s over-the-top political diatribe at the Boy Scouts jamboree, which prompted Michael Surbaugh, the Scout’s CEO, to issue an apology to the boy scouts and their families for the President’s misbehavior.

All of which raises a question: How many adults are currently in residence at the White House to keep the President in line? Unfortunately, Trump’s own intellectual shortcomings and personal insecurities leave him without any secure internal compass on matters of policy. His clueless leadership was evident in the recent fiasco with Obamacare, where he could not explain how the implosion of the exchanges and the breakdown of Medicaid services required an immediate response. His lack of self-confidence in turn prevents him from including experienced old-hands like John Bolton or Karl Rove in his inner circle, where infighting between the Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner factions are slowing down the process of key government appointments and leading to huge political gaffes like Trump’s first immigration order. There’s too much self-inflicted harm.

When I first raised the question this past February of whether Trump should resign in the aftermath of his bungled immigration order, a plausible response was that hasty judgment overlooked the possibility that even Trump could grow on the job. But five months later, the verdict has to be that he is incorrigible. What is wrong with the Trump administration is not the administration, but Trump himself; he should go now. The longer he stays in office, the longer he debases the presidency and diminishes the political prospects and moral legitimacy of the Republican Party. He squeaked through an electoral college victory in 2016, running against Hillary Clinton, whose own personal baggage, political acumen, and policy weaknesses were worse than his own. But now that recent polls put his approval rating at 38.4% and his disapproval rating at 55.7%, it’s likely that he will be too disliked, and too well-known to repeat his come-from-behind victory in 2020 against any remotely credible Democratic candidate.

Ironically, what Democrats should fear most is a Trump resignation that could force them to run against a credible Mike Pence, the one person that Trump cannot fire. Pence will not be guilty of any Trumpian gaffes; he has consistent policy judgments and knows how to work with people, not just intimidate and abuse them. The decision to pressure Trump to resign from office is not the same choice that Republicans had to face in November 2016, when the alternative was Hillary Clinton. The best estimate is that Pence would follow through on Trump’s basic program with the two notable exceptions of trade and immigration, where the President’s current policies are questionable anyway. A President Pence would put the Republican Party in a far better position for the mid-term elections in 2018 and for the next presidential election in 2020.

But it is difficult to force any such switch without a political bloodbath. It would be a mistake of cosmic proportions for the Republicans to try to engineer the impeachment of Trump, which would lead to an internecine war in which everyone loses. There is to date nothing that’s come of the alleged charges of obstruction of justice resulting from Trump’s ham-handed effort to get Comey to back off the investigation of Michael Flynn; nor, as the media now acknowledges, is there anything of substance in the charges of electoral collusion with Russia. Impeachment should not be used for naked political purposes.

Similarly, it would be a political disaster for the Republicans to let the Democrats hound Trump from office and thereby seize control of the political agenda. To regain their footing, the Republicans should make it clear that they stand behind many of the signal achievements of Trump’s term to date.

In this schizophrenic world, I have strongly supported Trump on his decision to take a tougher stand on foreign affairs in the Middle East and elsewhere, where the passive Obama policies led to an enormous erosion of American influence and credibility around the world. I also backed his decision to withdraw from the ill-designed Paris Accords, even as he managed to mangle the argument by making it turn, not on the science, but on his insistent and obnoxious America First views. I also strongly supported his choice of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Trump was also right in his decision to let the construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines go forward after the dubious stalling tactics of the Obama administration. And he receives high marks for the efforts of EPA head Scott Pruitt to curb the various excesses of the Obama Environmental Protection Agency, and for appointing Betsy DeVos to run the Department of Education, where she is beginning to rein in the Obama-era hostility to charter schools and vouchers.

And finally, it is absolutely imperative that the Republicans make clear that a Pence Administration will keep in place virtually all of the excellent appointees that have been placed throughout the executive branch, all of whom are beginning to undo the mischief that the Obama administration did in virtually every public policy area it touched.

One principal obstacle to replacing Trump is that the economy has made substantial progress under the President, as evidenced by the sustained increase in stock prices since his election. I have no doubt that a Clinton presidency would have resulted in a rash of ill-considered initiatives that would have driven the various market indices further down. But there are two decisive objections to giving Trump full credit. The first is that much of these gains would have taken place if Trump had done nothing at all upon his election. The unwise positions that Clinton embraced on everything from tax reform to police misconduct would have led to an unsustainable increase in economic stagnation and political strife. Electing anyone other than her thus gave the nation a much needed bed rest from the endless social and economic initiatives of Obama. Likewise, the Trump administration wisely slowed down the Obama administration’s investigations into schools, universities, and businesses on everything from alleged financial irregularities to supposed instances of institutional indifference to sexual harassment. The less fevered pace of government meddling has given these institutions breathing room to concentrate on their own missions, instead of fending off the feds.

Of course, sensible administrative and legislative action is needed to complete the undoing of Obama-era excesses. Trump cannot bring that about. Right now, the Republican case against Trump is in the whispering phase, as no one wants openly to state the obvious. But it is time for cooler heads in the Republican party to have a heart-to-heart with a stubborn President Trump, to create the needed political momentum for him to leave office—for the good of his party, and, most importantly, for the good of the nation.

© 2017 by the Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior University

There are 44 comments.

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  1. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    A lot of appealing wishful thinking here, but the peroration is kind of absurd.  Enjoyable for NTs I am sure, but in the same manner in which Inglorious Basterds was enjoyable.

    • #1
  2. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    Trump ain’t resigning. Ever.

    • #2
  3. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Richard Epstein: which everyone from a blindsided James Mattis on down regarded as a gratuitous insult to many transgender soldiers who have served with distinction.

    You lost me right there, Professor.

    Just how does one insult a “transgender” beyond its own claim to be transgender?

    By definition they cannot serve with distinction.

    • #3
  4. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    More complaining about Trump is not going to make much difference.  We tried to reform the republican party the nice way.  We’re headed down the road to serfdom, Trump is part of that journey.  If he keeps the entrenched powers from enslaving us further, good for him.  If he fails, we were going to be enslaved anyway.  The country is done.  The experiment is over.

    • #4
  5. Viruscop Member
    Viruscop
    @Viruscop

    It’s like you’ve posted a picture of a much stupider Batman Rogues Gallery.

    • #5
  6. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    The allegedly chaotic Trump administration has fulfilled quite a number of campaign promises during the past six months.

    • #6
  7. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Prof. Epstein is pretty darn close to being a hero of mine, and I don’t use that word lightly.  It’s with more than a little regret that I see him edging into the group that engages in ill-considered, over-the-top Trump bashing.  Is there some kind of “hyperbole” virus going around?

    • #7
  8. Viruscop Member
    Viruscop
    @Viruscop

    Mike LaRoche (View Comment):
    The allegedly chaotic Trump administration has fulfilled quite a number of campaign promises during the past six months.

    If you actually go through them, many are inconsequential campaign promises or they mention things in progress. For example, bombing ISIS is not an accomplishment.  Starting to build a wall is not an accomplishment. Some of these aren’t even worth mentioning. For example, Trump signed an executive order promoting women in STEM jobs. Who cares? It mentions that Trump is fulfilling a promise on tax reform. No, he isn’t. It mentions that Trump doesn’t take a salary. Who cares? Besides, I’m sure all the money that the government has to spend at his golf courses more than makes up for it.

    • #8
  9. Herbert defender of the Realm,… Inactive
    Herbert defender of the Realm,…
    @Herbert

    Trump will never put country ( much less party) above his perceived self interest.   Resignation is a non-starter.   Also Pence has the baggage of having supported Trump, can such poor judgement be overlooked?  Should it?

    • #9
  10. Carol Member
    Carol
    @

    I’d like to be a fly on the wall when Republicans who volunteer for this suicide mission go into the oval to make this request.

    I’d also like to point out that Trump’s low approval ratings ( which as I understand it are from polls of adults, not likely voters, therefore irrelevant) are not all that much lower than Obama’s were through most of his presidency, when they hovered in the low 40’s.

    • #10
  11. Tyrion Lannister Member
    Tyrion Lannister
    @TyrionLannister

    I find myself somewhere in the middle of Epstein and the usual suspects that would support Trump no matter what (so many populist-progs flock to articles like this).  I don’t think Trump should resign.  I think he should simply quit Twitter and focus on the issues.

    He wouldn’t resign anyway, and his sycophants would defend him to the hilt.

    For the record I agree with Trump about the transsexual policy and the immigration policy.  My issue with them isn’t the policy but the way in which they were carried out.  Epstein is right impeachment would be a mistake, as the Republican party would devolve from a cold-war state to open warfare in a heartbeat.  As much as I’d like to crush the populist-prog wing of the party, I’m not quite ready to hand the reigns of power over to the likes of Corey Booker.

    The best we can hope for would be Trump voluntarily resigning.  Short of that, we make due with a bad situation as best we can.  At least Scaramucci is out.

    • #11
  12. Tyrion Lannister Member
    Tyrion Lannister
    @TyrionLannister

    Herbert defender of the Realm,… (View Comment):
    Trump will never put country ( much less party) above his perceived self interest. Resignation is a non-starter. Also Pence has the baggage of having supported Trump, can such poor judgement be overlooked? Should it?

    Maybe Pence thought Trump wouldn’t last 4 years and thought he would be the stabilizing hand to take over?  Or maybe he thought he could reign Trump in?  I mean, I don’t blame Mattis for taking the job considering he’s the best man for it.  Maybe Pence thought he was the best man for the job.  Would you rather have some leech like Bannon in the Sec. of Defense role, or Mattis?

    • #12
  13. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    Libertarians  Progressives and Never Trumpers, lend me your ears.  The real craziness just stepped in seriously crazy and wants it off its shoe.

     

    • #13
  14. Herbert defender of the Realm,… Inactive
    Herbert defender of the Realm,…
    @Herbert

    Tyrion Lannister (View Comment):

    Herbert defender of the Realm,… (View Comment):
    Trump will never put country ( much less party) above his perceived self interest. Resignation is a non-starter. Also Pence has the baggage of having supported Trump, can such poor judgement be overlooked? Should it?

    Maybe Pence thought Trump wouldn’t last 4 years and thought he would be the stabilizing hand to take over? Or maybe he thought he could reign Trump in? I mean, I don’t blame Mattis for taking the job considering he’s the best man for it. Maybe Pence thought he was the best man for the job. Would you rather have some leech like Bannon in the Sec. of Defense role, or Mattis?

    I think it is possible, but it certainly is cynical, that Pence saw that Trump couldn’t last four years, and figured he would be promoted.  A scenario more likely, the calculation was.. so what if Trump is unfit, at least I’ll have a job ( he was in re-election trouble in Indiana).  The third scenario would be what you alluded to…. I’ll teach him to the ropes and he can do some on the job learning. They all gave Trump credibility during the election, that’s what I hold over Pence the most…

    • #14
  15. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    Viruscop (View Comment):

    Mike LaRoche (View Comment):
    The allegedly chaotic Trump administration has fulfilled quite a number of campaign promises during the past six months.

    If you actually go through them, many are inconsequential campaign promises or they mention things in progress. For example, bombing ISIS is not an accomplishment. Starting to build a wall is not an accomplishment. Some of these aren’t even worth mentioning. For example, Trump signed an executive order promoting women in STEM jobs. Who cares? It mentions that Trump is fulfilling a promise on tax reform. No, he isn’t. It mentions that Trump doesn’t take a salary. Who cares? Besides, I’m sure all the money that the government has to spend at his golf courses more than makes up for it.

    Cognitive blindness is a hell of a thing.

    • #15
  16. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    Tyrion Lannister (View Comment):
    I find myself somewhere in the middle of Epstein and the usual suspects that would support Trump no matter what (so many populist-progs flock to articles like this). I don’t think Trump should resign. I think he should simply quit Twitter and focus on the issues.

    He wouldn’t resign anyway, and his sycophants would defend him to the hilt.

    For the record I agree with Trump about the transsexual policy and the immigration policy. My issue with them isn’t the policy but the way in which they were carried out. Epstein is right impeachment would be a mistake, as the Republican party would devolve from a cold-war state to open warfare in a heartbeat. As much as I’d like to crush the populist-prog wing of the party, I’m not quite ready to hand the reigns of power over to the likes of Corey Booker.

    The best we can hope for would be Trump voluntarily resigning. Short of that, we make due with a bad situation as best we can. At least Scaramucci is out.

    “Populist-Prog” — that’s a new one.

    • #16
  17. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Herbert defender of the Realm,… (View Comment):
    I think it is possible, but it certainly is cynical, that Pence saw that Trump couldn’t last four years, and figured he would be promoted.

    I’m pretty confident that not only did Pence believe that, but Pence (whoever heard of him before he was picked for VP?) was part of the deal the establishment required, along with Priebus in order for them to not throw out the delegates.

    • #17
  18. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Herbert defender of the Realm,… (View Comment):
    I think it is possible, but it certainly is cynical, that Pence saw that Trump couldn’t last four years, and figured he would be promoted.

    I’m pretty confident that not only did Pence believe that, but Pence (whoever heard of him before he was picked for VP?) was part of the deal the establishment required, along with Priebus in order for them to not throw out the delegates.

    Most folks who follow conservative politics knew who Pence was.  He was the 4th ranking member of the House majority.  If you know who Cathy McMorris Rodgers is then you knew who Pence was.  Also a fairly successful governor of Indiana, though with a signature moment of weakness.

    Pence stuck his neck out and supported Trump after the Indiana primary (where he supported Cruz but distanced himself from Cruz’s meltdown tirades), defeated Kaine at a critical moment in the campaign.  Small but critical role in ending the Clinton crime family.

    Fine man with a very modest soft-spoken George Schulz like appeal.

     

    • #18
  19. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Quake Voter (View Comment):
    If you know who Cathy McMorris Rodgers is then you knew who Pence was.

    Who?

    Like I said, nobody cared who he was except for a few political geeks and people from Indiana.

    • #19
  20. Herbert defender of the Realm,… Inactive
    Herbert defender of the Realm,…
    @Herbert

    Quake Voter (View Comment):
    Fine man with a very modest soft-spoken George Schulz like appeal.

    Shultz?   Maybe speaking style and mannerisms, but not anything alike on policy

    • #20
  21. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    Richard Epstein: But it is difficult to force any such switch without a political bloodbath.

    Yup. And I agree with @mikelaroche that Trump ain’t never gonna quit. So the Republicans have a tiger by the tail.

    But I think the next spanner in the works could be an outside event. Kim Young One drops sumpin’ on somebody, Iran attacks Israel or sinks a U.S. ship, or the like.

    I’m not sure the best bookies could make good odds on specifically what happens then.

    • #21
  22. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    Professor Epstein,

    A bit off topic but where does congressional power to sanction a foreign country come from?  I keep hearing on the news that if Trump vetoes Congress’ Russia sanctions bill, they will override the veto.

    Isn’t such foreign policy decisions the exclusive province of the executive branch?  Would the veto override  violate the Logan Act?

    Sincerely,

    Confused on the Internet

    • #22
  23. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    I admire Richard Epstein a great deal and dislike Trump a great deal, but I sincerely think that Richard should stick to the subjects he knows best (law and economics) and leave the “thumb-sucking punditry” (as Jonah Goldberg calls it) to those with less of an intellectual reputation to uphold.

    Richard Epstein: When I first raised the question this past February of whether Trump should resign in the aftermath of his bungled immigration order, a plausible response was that hasty judgment overlooked the possibility that even Trump could grow on the job. But five months later, the verdict has to be that he is incorrigible.

    Why is six months enough time to pass definitive judgment on a presidency? Six months in, Bill Clinton’s administration was an absolute mess, scandals abounded, and from a policy standpoint he looked doomed to be the second coming of Jimmy Carter.

    Heck, during the first eight months of the George W Bush administration he was a meek useless figurehead with no idea what direction he wanted to go in. The other 88 months of his presidency were completely different.

    I think Trump’s presidency to date has been quite underwhelming and there are certainly many parts of his personality he can’t change at age 71. But he’s also demonstrated a great propensity to learn (at least a little) from mistakes and to change course when needed.

    I’m not hopeful for Trump at all, but it’s far too early to write this presidency off.

    • #23
  24. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    I have said for many years, “I’d rather a man do right wrongly than wrong rightly, though I’d prefer he do right rightly.”  Consistent with that, while I find President Trump’s tweets deplorable and much of his personal lifestyle abhorrent, I agree with and even appreciate many, even most of his administrative actions. For the previous 8 years we had a polished President whose actions were, in my Conservatarian Opinion, wrongheaded. I don’t find it hard to decide which I like better, I’ll take action over decorum anytime I can’t get both.
    Do I wish Mr. Trump would mature a bit and polish his act? Of course. He will never change though so I’ll take the bad with the good.
    I’m really getting tired of both those who can’t say a good word about the man as well as those who can’t see any flaw. I do think Epstien does both, however, dreaming of a Trump resignation is an excersize in futility.

    • #24
  25. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    PLEASE GENERAL KELLY, PLEASE REMOVE TRUMP’S ABILITY TO TWEET!!! IT’S NOT A MODERN FORM OF COMMUNICATION! ugghh!!  TWEETING IS FOR THE BIRDS!

    • #25
  26. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Quake Voter (View Comment):
    If you know who Cathy McMorris Rodgers is then you knew who Pence was.

    Who?

    Like I said, nobody cared who he was except for a few political geeks and people from Indiana.

    Maybe you should be commenting over at the Golf Channel?

    • #26
  27. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    Herbert defender of the Realm,… (View Comment):

    Quake Voter (View Comment):
    Fine man with a very modest soft-spoken George Schulz like appeal.

    Shultz? Maybe speaking style and mannerisms, but not anything alike on policy

    Come on Herbert, that’s the plain meaning of the sentence.  I wouldn’t restrict the comparison to the superficial aspects.  Very similar demeanor and quietly confident energy.

    Washington pundits always characterized Shulz as boring and undynamic.  Yet he was always rated above other Reagan era figures on trustworthiness.  Older GOP women (the heart and soul of the party) thought he was a rock star!

    Comparison of Shulz and Pence on policy is too geeked out for me.  I don’t know that you could make a meaningful comparison between the pre-Reagan Shulz, the Reagan Shulz, and the post-Reagan Shulz.

    Always brilliant and prepared though.

    • #27
  28. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    Quake Voter (View Comment):

    Herbert defender of the Realm,… (View Comment):

    Quake Voter (View Comment):
    Fine man with a very modest soft-spoken George Schulz like appeal.

    Shultz? Maybe speaking style and mannerisms, but not anything alike on policy

    Also worth noting as an encouragement for we lesser minds, that Shulz, though regarded as plodding by critics (some of the right), has retained a lively, searching intellect well into his 90s.

    Heard him speaking in favor of a revenue neutral carbon tax at a prominent thinkery a few years ago.  Others on the panel were lefty boilerplate loudmouths.  Shulz was concise, thoughtful and quietly brilliant.

    What an American.

    • #28
  29. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Mendel (View Comment):
    Six months in, Bill Clinton’s administration was an absolute mess, scandals abounded, and from a policy standpoint he looked doomed to be the second coming of Jimmy Carter.

    To be fair, he didn’t get better in that scandal category.

    • #29
  30. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    Quake Voter (View Comment):

    Quake Voter (View Comment):

    Herbert defender of the Realm,… (View Comment):

    Quake Voter (View Comment):
    Fine man with a very modest soft-spoken George Schulz like appeal.

    Shultz? Maybe speaking style and mannerisms, but not anything alike on policy

    Sorry for the repeat, but it’s slot 30, right?

     

    • #30

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