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100 Days of Trump: The President risks much, gains little by calling out Freedom Caucus

Has Donald Trump thrown-in with the establishment?

It’s far too early to declare for certain that the 10-week old presidency of the New York outsider has been overtaken by the dark forces of the Washington cartel, but there are troubling signs Trump has become so unhappy with congressional conservatives that he’s ready to start hitting them where it counts – at the local Donald Trumpprimary level.

Jordan Fabian of The Hill reported, “President Trump on Thursday launched an attack against the conservative House Freedom Caucus, saying the group could ‘hurt the entire Republican agenda’ if they continue to clash with party leaders.

’The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!’ the president tweeted.”

Ouch. I’ve got to admit, this one hurts. I’ve often thought most of Trump’s tweets should be examined carefully for subtle meanings but there’s little doubt about where he stands on this matter. The president’s anger even shines through the blasé black and white of the internet. He’s mad.

From an outsider’s perspective it’s easy to see how the new president might view the Freedom Caucus as a potential roadblock to his success. The relatively small (at least compared to the overall size of the Republican House caucus) band of conservatives has been right in the middle of most of the power moves involving the GOP House majority the past couple years.

Its most notable accomplishment was the successful purging of former Speaker John Boehner. The Freedom Caucus also made news during the “negotiations” leading up to Paul Ryan’s becoming the new Speaker, all but demanding concessions from the establishment to allow the Wisconsin golden boy the votes to take over.

Because of its apparent power the Freedom Caucus has drawn more than its share of negative media scrutiny, rarely credited for the Republicans’ successes (like getting Trump elected) but always blamed for their failures. There’s a similar phenomenon over in the Senate with the small contingent of outspoken principled conservatives – Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul – who are known to battle party leadership as much as they do the Democrats.

Formed in January 2015 when the Republican Study Committee became too large and ineffective to adequately represent the relatively simple and straightforward limited government interests of conservatives (and thus became too close to party leadership), the Freedom Caucus has acted as a thorn in the establishment’s side ever since.

Because they’re conservatives and therefore by definition anti-establishment, Freedom Caucus members were instantly labeled troublemakers. Instead of being applauded for who they truly are -- the conservative promise keepers in Washington -- the group of conservatives is criticized intensely as obstructionists and enemies of “reform” in government.

It’s somewhat ironic Trump should now choose to side with the establishment since many former Ted Cruz supporters (myself included) were originally wary of Trump because they feared he would eventually become part of the swamp rather than drain it.

As a wealthy developer and lifelong celebrity Trump was used to dealing with politicians from both parties. Having fluctuated on many issues throughout his career, Trump couldn’t be nailed down ideologically, a point Cruz made numerous times during the GOP primary race.

Of course conservatives rallied to Trump’s side when he handily won the Republican nomination figuring that even with his undeterminable ideological positions he would still be vastly superior to Hillary Clinton, who if elected would simply perpetuate and perhaps accelerate the decline of the country that began under George W. Bush’s and Obama’s presidencies.

Thus far, in most respects, Trump has governed as a conservative. I highly doubt there are many conservatives who are sorry for having supported him.

But these attacks on the Freedom Caucus are disturbing nonetheless. If for nothing else it could indicate President Trump has been co-opted by the establishment. Instead of roundly rejecting the Paul Ryans and Mitch McConnells of Washington, Trump may have already been convinced that his real opponents are the ones who would be most inclined to help him get where he wants to go on many issues.

Do you seriously think Paul Ryan is willing to fight the Democrats to fund the border wall? Do you think Mitch McConnell is going to reject the GOP establishment business interests and go to the mat for real reforms of the immigration enforcement system?

Simple answers: No and no.

I can’t help but think President Trump is making a crucial mistake by attacking the Freedom Caucus here, not only because he risks losing conservative support for his agenda but also because he’s in danger of rousing the dormant den of snakes known as #NeverTrump to come after him with shouts of “See, I told you he was a (fill in the blank with a derogatory mark here)…!”

A good example of the types of snipes we’re going to see more frequently if the Trump-ian conservative bashing continues was delivered by RedState’s Jay Caruso yesterday.

In a post titled “It’s Not Just Gallup Where Trump’s Approval Is In The Gutter,” Caruso wrote on Trump’s poll numbers, “For somebody who put the polls above all else when it was good for him, Donald Trump hasn’t uttered a whisper about his job approval ratings. After just a little over two months in office, Trump is dealing with some of the worst numbers of a newly elected President in the nation’s history...

“If Trump had smart people around him, they could use this to their advantage. Trump should be out there now decrying any attempt to deny Gorsuch a vote. Instead, he’s wasting time tweeting about Hillary Clinton.”

I don’t pay much attention to RedState anymore, finding their unflinching anti-Trump stances during the campaign season to have been not only counter-productive but also dead wrong.

But I use Caruso’s words as a harbinger of what’s to come if President Trump chooses the wrong people to fault for the current legislative stalemate. Healthcare is just one issue and on balance he’ll receive a lot more loyal support for his total agenda from conservatives as opposed to the establishment which just seeks to preserve as much of the status quo as possible.

In essence, by siding with the establishment Trump is making the same mistake George W. Bush did. If he loses conservatives, his numbers will plummet.

All of this is not to say the people of the Freedom Caucus are beyond reproach. If the members’ loyalty to the group becomes more important than their own individual judgment on upcoming legislation, they would be almost as off-base as those who claim every Republican should walk in lockstep with the establishment leadership.

The president is a smart man and has good counselors surrounding him. We can only hope he comes to his senses and discovers where his true friends really are.

Poll shows Americans want Gorsuch confirmed, not filibustered

One area where President Trump exhibited an extraordinary amount of good judgement was in appointing Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

In what must have been an agonizing search to find precisely the right person to assume the seat of the conservative Constitution-defending legend, Trump chose someone with an impeccable judicial record, personal integrity and nice guy common man demeanor Americans could latch onto.

With Gorsuch’s Senate confirmation votes coming up next week, the country has responded, too.

David Freddoso of the Washington Examiner wrote, “Fifty-four percent of Americans want the Senate to hold a vote on Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court, according to a new poll released this morning. Only 37 percent believe Democrats should prevent one.

“This is according to the new NBC News/SurveyMonkey online poll of more than 7,600 adults. The survey also shows that President Trump's job approval rating has basically held steady since last month, with 42 percent approving (down from 43 percent) and 56 percent disapproving (up from 54 percent).”

Freddoso also notes the poll numbers appear to suggest Republicans would not suffer much by deploying the “nuclear option” to end a Democrat filibuster, should it come down to it.

I speculate the vast majority of Americans don’t understand nor care about the politics at play in using a filibuster on a Supreme Court nominee, seeing only that Democrats are employing procedural tricks to deny a vote on a man who has clearly won public approval with his “performance” during the confirmation hearings last week.

Granted most people probably only saw a few excerpts of Gorsuch’s testimony offered on the evening news, but there weren’t any glaring inconsistencies that stuck to him and the Democrats certainly weren’t able to turn the mild mannered Colorado judge into the human embodiment of Satan as they set out to do.

Needless to say, if there’s a risky political move to be made the ball’s in the Democrats’ court to make it. But the prospect of doing something stupid has never deterred Chuck Schumer from making an idiot of himself before. This time, however, there could be far-reaching repercussions for forcing the Republicans’ hand on the “nuclear option”.

Liam Donovan wrote in Politico, “With GOP efforts stymied thus far in part by the specter of the Senate parliamentarian—the arbiter of what can pass majoritarian muster under reconciliation—how long until pressure mounts to change the rules for legislation? Given the tenor of the first two months of this administration, I suspect many Democrats aren’t terribly sanguine about the prospect of unchecked GOP control for the remaining 46.

“Just a few short months ago, Leader Schumer was publicly lamenting his predecessor’s judicial power play; today he seems poised to reprise Reid’s folly, only this time with far greater stakes. If Democrats truly believe their rhetoric about the current political moment and the existential threat President Trump poses, daring reluctant Senate Republicans to erode the remaining norms that empower the minority is as myopic as it is gratuitous.”

Let’s face it, the filibuster rule was made at a time when there were real “deliberations” among senators and good faith and reputation were much more important to the senators themselves. The Democrats of 2017 don’t care about any of those things.

Let’s also not forget that senators were originally intended to protect the power of their individual states vis-à-vis the federal government. As an originalist, Gorsuch would help them do just that. In essence, a senator trying to stop Gorsuch is like voting against his or her own state’s ability to set policy.

Neil Gorsuch is going to be confirmed; the only question is how much damage the Democrats are willing to sustain in making it so and how stupid they’ll look in the process.

Don’t look now but John McCain is trying to save the Democrats from drowning

Speaking of stupid, with Judge Neil Gorsuch’s in-the-bag confirmation votes coming up next week just about the only way Republicans could lose the game now is to throw it.

Just when you thought even the Republican “moderates” were onboard with letting the Democrats founder under their own foolishness, Senator John McCain might be preparing to throw them a lifeline.

Max Greenwood of The Hill reports, “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is hoping to strike a deal with Senate Democrats to confirm President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, though he's not optimistic, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

“’There’s always hope, because maybe we’ll recognize the damage that’s been done to the institution and the American people,’ McCain told Bloomberg. ‘I’ll have conversations, but I’m not optimistic.’”

Thank the good Lord for that. If McCain was optimistic it would be a done deal.

I haven’t been a senator for 30 years like McCain but I’m having a hard time seeing what irreparable damage would be done to the “institution” by getting rid of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.

As alluded to above, when the Senate was taken away from the States (the 17th Amendment in 1913 made senators elected via popular vote) the body basically just morphed into a much smaller version of the House of Representatives (only with equal representation of two senators for each state).

Taking away the states’ power to elect their own senators meant they no longer had any influence over what the men and women did in Congress. Senators became political animals subject to the whim of their constituents, not their states.

As a result, the Senate became almost like a national super-legislature. It could be argued that the 17th Amendment is singularly responsible for the leviathan-like growth of the federal government. It was no longer a check on federal power.

Therefore the filibuster itself doesn’t really serve much of a purpose anymore, other than to provide entertainment for the media and allow people like Chuck Schumer to hold the entire country hostage so he can please his whacko leftist backers.

Besides, the filibuster doesn’t work. Need proof? Look at how badly the “Gang of 14” failed in trying to preserve the outdated Senate tradition. Harry Reid trashed the “Gang” deal when it became inconvenient.

Like with many other matters, McCain is completely out of line here. He doesn’t have the right to “deal” with three or four other senators (he’s apparently talking with fellow Arizona Republican Jeff Flake and Democrats Joe Manchin (WV), Chris Coons (DE) and Richard Blumenthal (CT)) and barter away the country’s interests.

This is a nightmare straight from the Washington establishment. Neither side wants it. The People don’t want it. John McCain was re-elected last year, no doubt with the help of many conservatives who felt he was a better alternative than any Democrat. This case, once again, proves such an assertion may not always be true.

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