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MAYBE TRUMP REALLY IS PLAYING 6-DIMENSIONAL CHESS. So there’s this:

And there’s the strangely assertive Lindsey Graham 2.0:

And it makes me think about what Trump’s game was. I would have rather he picked one of the more libertarian members of his list: Willett, or maybe Kethledge. And because some sort of trumped-up #MeToo thing was almost certain, a lot of people thought he should have picked Amy Coney Barrett. Kavanaugh was a fine, safe pick, but kinda milquetoasty DC Establishment for my taste.

But that was the reason to pick him. Trump knew he’d been vetted enough that there would be no real skeletons, and he no doubt expected that the Democrats would be so desperate they’d invent some. They would have done that with anyone he put up — but, precisely because Kavanaugh was a milquetoasty DC Establishment type, seeing the Democrats go into full batshit assault mode on him galvanized the other milquetoasty DC Establishment types. You could see the lightbulbs go off in their heads: The Democrats don’t hate Trump because he’s Trump. They hate all Republicans and want to ruin them. Even me! And they always will.

The result is that the Kavanaugh affair has welded the Trump and NeverTrump forces (except for a few sad outliers who don’t matter) into a solid force. And it’s simultaneously galvanized GOP voters around the country, closing the “enthusiasm gap,” as the normals become more militant. Plus, it seems that minority voters aren’t as excited about empowering neurotic upper-class white feminists as you might — well, actually, I guess they’re just about exactly as excited about empowering neurotic upper-class white feminists as you might expect, but it seems Dems didn’t give that much thought. So Kavanaugh was, in fact, the perfect pick to trigger this reaction.

I’m reminded of the scene in Absence of Malice where Wilford Brimley asks Paul Newman, who has cleverly set a trap that the press and the rogue DOJ guy fall into, “Are you that smart?”

I mentioned this analysis to the Insta-Wife, a Trump fan who has followed him closely since the 1980s and her comment was, “Of course.”

UPDATE:

MORE: Seen on Facebook: “‘You’ll get tired of winning.’ Yet another failed prediction from Drumpf.”

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST CAN’T FIGURE OUT IF RACIST TWEETS ARE A FIREABLE OFFENSE OR NOT:

Times columnist Bret Stephens, an outspoken NeverTrump activist, effusively praised ABC when it fired Roseanne Barr for a single tweet, but when it comes to a mountain of racist tweets over nine years, he says his new colleague Sarah Jeong deserves a whole lot of grace and a second chance. What could possibly explain this blatant double standard?

Related: NYT Feature Writer Elizabeth Williamson Writer Forced To Apologize To Sarah Jeong After Criticizing Jeong’s Racist Tweets.

Between Jeong’s lengthy past criticism of Times’ columnists, and management’s apparent pressure to keep her on the job, the Fast Times at Sulzberger High must be a fun environment to work in. As Stephen Miller tweets, “NYT Christmas parties are going to be lit af.”

However, the Gray Lady’s readers are a bit more uncomfortable with Jeong’s racism than hew newfound colleagues: Surprisingly, NY Times’ readers are bothered by Sarah Jeong’s tweets.

ANGELO CODEVILLA: Diplomacy 101 vs. Politics Writ Small.

The high professional quality of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s performance at their Monday press conference in Helsinki contrasts sharply with the obloquy by which the bipartisan U.S. ruling class showcases its willful incompetence.

Though I voted for Trump, I’ve never been a fan of his and I am not one now. But, having taught diplomacy for many years, I would choose the Trump-Putin press conference as an exemplar of how these things should be done. Both spoke with the frankness and specificity of serious business. This performance rates an A+.

Well. A performance depends on its intended audience. If the intended audience was the U.S. political class, then Trump gets an F. So who was Trump’s (and Putin’s) intended audience. Audiences?

Meanwhile, some lefties are warning about the anti-Trump hysteria: Steve Vladeck writes: Americans have forgotten what ‘treason’ actually means — and how it can be abused: We are willfully turning a blind eye to the sordid history of treason that led to its unique treatment in the U.S. Constitution. If you cheapen the definition of treason, you had better be ready to be called traitors, and perhaps treated as such.

Likewise, Jay Michaelson in The Daily Beast: Stop Saying Trump Committed ‘Treason.’ You’re Playing Into His Hands.

Treason is clearly defined in the Constitution, which states, in Article III, Section 3: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

This definition does not apply to Trump. He is not levying war against the United States, and to be an “enemy” requires that a state of war exists between the United States and the foreign nation in question.

That does not exist in the case of Russia. Congress has not declared war, and Russia’s alleged cyberattacks, while they may constitute acts of war in the abstract, have not been regarded as such by the United States. (Last year, the European Union announced it would begin regarding cyberattacks as acts of war.)

Even when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, they weren’t charged with treason, because the Cold War was undeclared, and not a formal “war.” Nor were other Russian spies such as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen.

In fact, the only indictment of treason since World War II was of American-born al Qaeda supporter Adam Gadahn. Unlike Russia, al Qaeda is a formal “enemy” of the United States, because Congress authorized war against it. And in fitting with war, Gadahn was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2015.

Perhaps the domestic political class was Trump’s intended audience, and he intended them to go batshit crazy. In that case, A+.

Meanwhile, Roger Kimball writes: What Critics Missed About the Trump-Putin Summit.

As becomes more and more clear as the first Trump Administration evolves, this president is someone who is willing, nay eager, to challenge the bureaucratic status quo, on domestic issues as well as in foreign policy.

Trump inherited a world order on the international front that was constructed in the immediate aftermath of World War II and has subsequently amassed a thick, barnacle-like carapace of bureaucratic procedures. Perhaps those procedures and the institutions that deploy them continue to serve American interests. But what if they don’t?

As I’ve said, the best way to understand the Trump presidency is as the renegotiation of the post-World War II institutional structure. Naturally, the barnacles don’t like that. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong, but the intensity of their screaming indicates their emotional (and livelihood) investment, not who’s right.

Meanwhile, if the argument is that Trump is a Putin stooge, the arguers have to deal with the fact that Trump is clearly harder on Russia than Obama was, or than Hillary, by all appearances, would have been. Even NeverTrumper Eric Erickson writes: Remember, Trump’s Policies Against Russia Have Been Tougher Than Obama’s.

We’ve been killing Russian mercenaries in Syria. We have expanded and enhanced NATO’s footprint in Eastern Europe over Russian objections. We have sold military weaponry to Ukraine. We have been indicting Russians for interfering in our elections. We have imposed sanctions on Russian oligarchs. We have imposed sanctions on Russia itself. We have actively been aiding Britain and other governments that have seen a Russian presence with targeted assassinations. “We” being the United States under Donald Trump. (See also this thread by James Kirchick)

The media and left would have you believe Donald Trump is captive to Russia. Lately, they’ve been pushing the idea that he may be some sort of sleeper cell Manchurian candidate who Putin owns and controls.

A fellow law prof (of the lefty variety) was even speculating the other day on social media that Melania was Trump’s KGB control agent.

As Walter Russell Mead wrote last year:

If Trump were the Manchurian candidate that people keep wanting to believe that he is, here are some of the things he’d be doing:

Limiting fracking as much as he possibly could
Blocking oil and gas pipelines
Opening negotiations for major nuclear arms reductions
Cutting U.S. military spending
Trying to tamp down tensions with Russia’s ally Iran

That Trump is planning to do precisely the opposite of these things may or may not be good policy for the United States, but anybody who thinks this is a Russia appeasement policy has been drinking way too much joy juice.

Obama actually did all of these things, and none of the liberal media now up in arms about Trump ever called Obama a Russian puppet; instead, they preferred to see a brave, farsighted and courageous statesman.

So I don’t know if Trump knows what he’s doing. (As proof that his remarks were dumb, he’s already walked them back.) American presidents have historically done badly in their first meetings with Russian leaders, from Kennedy at Vienna to George W. staring into Putin’s soul. And as a general rule, Presidents don’t criticize their own intelligence agencies while at meetings with foreign adversaries. But then, as a general rule, U.S. intelligence agencies aren’t supposed to be involved in domestic politics up to their elbows, as has clearly been the case here. And don’t get me started on John Brennan’s disgraceful comments, which Rand Paul correctly calls “completely unhinged.” Brennan, like his colleagues Comey and Clapper, has made clear the rot at the top of important intelligence agencies, and people like Peter Strzok suggest that the rot extends some ways down from the head. So maybe the general rules don’t apply any more, and Trump is more a symptom than a cause of that.

So maybe his approach to Putin is disastrous, maybe it’s smart. But the most important thing Trump can do is get a better class of people in charge of the institutions where the rot is worst. I don’t know if he can do that at all.

AS JAMES TARANTO HAS OBSERVED, IT OFTEN SEEMS AS IF THE #NEVERTRUMP MOVEMENT IS PRIMARILY ABOUT AESTHETICS:

BRET STEPHENS IN THE NYT: “I admit it gives me pause. I agree with every one of the policy decisions mentioned above. But I still wish Hillary Clinton were president. How does that make sense?”

It makes sense in a world in which educated-class tribal loyalties outweigh policy. And, as James Taranto noted:

There’s a big status anxiety component, too.

BYRON YORK: The Price Of Fighting With Trump.

People who get into fights with Donald Trump often end up diminished by it.

Just ask Marco Rubio, who in February 2016 broke some sort of ground when he introduced the “small hands” attack into presidential politics. “And you know what they say about guys with small hands,” Rubio told crowds during the days he decided to transform himself from GOP contender into anti-Trump insult comic. A few weeks later, Rubio expressed regret about the “small hands” routine. “My kids were embarrassed by it, and if I had it to do again, I wouldn’t,” Rubio said.

Just ask Jeb Bush, who allowed himself to be drawn into brawls with Trump — brawls which there was no chance Bush, no match for Trump’s insults, would win.

Just ask Ted Cruz, who made an informal peace with Trump for much of the campaign, then fought Trump in the final primaries, and finally released a campaign’s worth of anger and bile at Trump just hours before the Indiana primary vote that knocked Cruz out of the race. Now, as a senator, Cruz has to work with, and support the policies of, the man who so got under his skin.

Of course, Rubio, Bush, and Cruz — and Carson, Christie, Fiorina, Paul, Kasich, Jindal, and others — had an excuse; they were running against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. But others have tangled with Trump and found themselves diminished, too.

Just ask some of the more strident NeverTrumpers who have allowed Trump to live rent-free in their heads. Today, some are serious people doing non-serious things — I bought a pair of socks at Nordstrom! — because of a reflexive opposition to Trump.

Just ask CNN, which, in addition to its news reporting, has taken on what appears to be a network-wide air of snarkiness in its Trump coverage. That oppositional tone has raised the stakes for CNN when its journalists make mistakes, as they have recently. Yes, CNN’s ratings have gone up, but its reputation has taken a hit. “Trump is indeed destroying CNN…by tempting them to destroy themselves,” tweeted writer and former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro recently.

And now ask Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the TV hosts who once sang Trump’s praises and were openly friendly with the presidential candidate but now bash and insult him daily. (“They’ve said he has dementia,” RNC chair Ronna Romney McDaniel noted recently. “They’ve said he’s stupid. They’ve called him a goon. They’ve called him a thug. They’ve said he’s mentally ill.”)

Scarborough and Brzezinski are engaged in a back-and-forth with Trump over…what? A facelift? Hand size? Who said what to whom? The argument, which appears to have started Thursday with Brzezinski’s needling of Trump’s hand size (“They’re teensy!”) took a turn when Scarborough and Brzezinski wrote in a Washington Post op-ed (“Donald Trump is not well”) that, “This year, top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked. We ignored their desperate pleas.” TrumpWorld sources are telling some (decidedly not-in-the-tank) reporters a very different version of events, which suggests Scarborough and Brzezinski will be pulled into a he-said-they-said fight that is far different from the one they wanted.

Does anyone think that, by any measure other than notoriety, this episode will not diminish Scarborough and Brzezinski? . . .

Of course one could say that Trump is at fault, that he regularly engages in spats that are beneath the dignity of the presidency. He should not, for example, respond in kind to “small hands” jabs. But Trump is Trump. He does what he does, which is what he did during the campaign and before. And now, in the White House, he has enlisted his media adversaries, wittingly or not, in a campaign against “fake news” that resonates with his core supporters.

“They like him, they believe in him, they have not to any large degree been shaken from him, and the more the media attacks him, the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy on the side of the Trump supporters who fervently believe the media treat him unfairly,” Tony Fabrizio, Trump’s campaign pollster, told the Washington Post.

I wrote a column about this months ago, but they’re still falling for it. Though to be fair, how much room is there for diminution where Scarborough and Brzezinski are concerned?

UPDATE: As usual, IowaHawk nails it:

OUT LIKE FLYNN: The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn.

Eli Lake:

Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told me Monday that he saw the leaks about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak as part of a pattern. “There does appear to be a well orchestrated effort to attack Flynn and others in the administration,” he said. “From the leaking of phone calls between the president and foreign leaders to what appears to be high-level FISA Court information, to the leaking of American citizens being denied security clearances, it looks like a pattern.”

Nunes said he was going to bring this up with the FBI, and ask the agency to investigate the leak and find out whether Flynn himself is a target of a law enforcement investigation. The Washington Post reported last month that Flynn was not the target of an FBI probe.

The background here is important. Three people once affiliated with Trump’s presidential campaign — Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone — are being investigated by the FBI and the intelligence community for their contacts with the Russian government. This is part of a wider inquiry into Russia’s role in hacking and distributing emails of leading Democrats before the election.

Flynn himself traveled in 2015 to Russia to attend a conference put on by the country’s propaganda network, RT. He has acknowledged he was paid through his speaker’s bureau for his appearance. That doesn’t look good, but it’s also not illegal in and of itself. All of this is to say there are many unanswered questions about Trump’s and his administration’s ties to Russia.

But that’s all these allegations are at this point: unanswered questions. It’s possible that Flynn has more ties to Russia that he had kept from the public and his colleagues. It’s also possible that a group of national security bureaucrats and former Obama officials are selectively leaking highly sensitive law enforcement information to undermine the elected government.

The chatter against Flynn — and it has come from Democrats, Republicans, and the intelligence community — has been longstanding, intense, and in the end, effective. The motives for it also seem to come from across the spectrum: Partisanship, #NeverTrump, and for those concerned about his Russian ties, honest patriotism. It would also be too kind to say that Flynn is unloved by the I.C. following his troubled tenure as head of D.I.A.

But what really happened? It’s impossible to say, but if the intelligence community is still at war with the Trump Administration even after collecting Flynn’s scalp, then we we’ll know at least part of the answer.

ALSO:

Russia isn’t the only busy intersection between the White House and Congress, either.

THEY CHOSE . . . POORLY: They signed a NeverTrump manifesto. Now, they want a job in the new administration. Or, well, they’re opportunistic, unprincipled, two-faced weenies. Your choice.

I mean, when you sign a “Never Trump” letter, aren’t you blacklisting yourself? Or is the attitude now that that was just pre-election posturing in expectation of Hillary winning, just business and not, you know, personal?

I’M NOT ON TWITTER MUCH ANYMORE, BUT IF YOU SPEAK MY NAME THREE TIMES I MAY JUST SHOW UP:

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-5-43-49-pm

Well, when you wonder why people aren’t talking about things that you’re really upset about, maybe it’s because they don’t find them upsetting.

I don’t think that any of Trump’s appointments are “disastrous.” Sessions as AG wouldn’t be my first choice (that would probably be Randy Barnett, which is why I’m not the President-Elect) but for Trump he’s an excellent pick and will do what Trump wants — and do it more honestly than Eric Holder or Loretta Lynch, not that that’s setting the bar very high.

Likewise, I’d have preferred John Allison as Treasury Secretary over Steve Mnuchin. But is Mnuchin “disastrous?”

DeVos as Education Secretary, again, not my first choice — I’d prefer someone who was more focused on higher-ed reform, but that’s just my hobbyhorse — but a fine pick with a strong focus on K-12 reform, which to be honest, hobbyhorse aside, probably needs it more. Who else is “disastrous?” Elaine Chao? Please.

As for “Twitter meltdowns,” where have you been for the past two years? This is what Trump does, and it neither hurts him nor forecasts what he’s actually going to do. You’re being trolled and it’s working. Trump has basically lured Democrats (and a few #NeverTrump Republicans) into defending flag-burning, and reminded people of Hillary’s position in 2005. Sure, the idea is dumb and unconstitutional (as I said yesterday), but it’s a tweet, not a piece of legislation. And it also brings attention to the fact that the Dems haven’t been exactly friendly to people’s First Amendment rights on issues they care about. Now they have to publicly argue that you should go to jail for not baking a gay wedding cake, but not for burning a flag. To the surprise of many Democrats, this turns out not to be the popular position.

So who, exactly, is crazy here?

So there you are. And whatever you do, don’t feed me after midnight.

UPDATE: Hi, Ed!

“SO, ABOUT LAST NIGHT …” In his column at the Washington Post, Sonny Bunch of the conservative Washington Free Beacon writes:

There’s something to be said for the idea that Trump rode a wave of white resentment into the White House. But this is, at best, a half-truth. I’ll discuss the demographics in a moment; for now, let’s focus on the resentment. “Family Guy”‘s Seth MacFarlane made the totally reasonable point that “the Left expended so much energy over the last several years being outraged over verbal missteps, accidental innuendo, ‘tasteless tweets’ … in the name of clickbait, that when the REAL threat to equality emerged, we’d cried wolf too many times to be heard.”

This is a variation on the “But he fights!” defense/critique of Donald Trump. He gives voice to people who have spent the social media age watching viral outrage after viral outrage consume news cycles and destroy lives, to people who look at the silliness on college campuses and recoil at the thought of giving such institutions tens of thousands of dollars to fill their children’s heads with nonsense ideas. As Robby Soave noted at Reason, “Trump won because he convinced a great number of Americans that he would destroy political correctness.”

* * * * * * * *

Twitter created a series of impenetrable bubbles this cycle, and bubbles of this sort are not healthy for members of the media. They’re not healthy for anyone, really, but they’re doubly unhealthy for those of us who would dare to think they can or should shape the national narrative. If Democrats’ takeaway from last night is “the people of this country are filled with hatred,” as my own bubble suggests it might be, they will learn no lessons and gain no weapons with which to combat Trump and his successors going forward.

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that it was Twitter that created those impenetrable bubbles, or if it was simply one of the many platforms available to amplify and broadcast them.

During the 1960 presidential election, at the height of mass-media, mass-production, and the concomitant federal government shaped by the socialist New Deal, Nixon and Kennedy shared remarkably similar midcentury centrist views on most issues, from civil rights to the role of religion in America to the Cold War. But virtually every election since has seen pitched battles between two diametrically opposed worldviews: the radical chic anger of the McGovernites versus Nixon’s Great Society-esque foreign and domestic policies. Jimmy Carter’s big government malaise versus Reagan’s Goldwater-inspired conservatism. Al Gore’s radical environmentalism as religion versus George W. Bush’s Compassionate Conservatism. Etc., etc.

Until now. This election offered a plethora of worldviews slugging it out: a Northeast Corridor-based overculture that believes a radical chic-inspired failed community organizer and failed health care reformer in a bespoke suit is the second coming of God. And that his designated successor, whom they previously denigrated as a reactionary racist, whose biggest achievement was making a hash of the Middle East while pointlessly racking up nearly a million air miles (all the while railing against “climate change”) deserves to be president simply because of her gender.

Their reality was opposed by the alternate media bubble created by Trump’s most loyal media supporters, such as Dilbert creator Scott Adams, an increasingly surreal Drudge Report, and a Breitbart.com that would likely be unrecognizable by its late founder.

Their reality in turn was opposed by the #NeverTrump crowd at the Weekly Standard and National Review. Who at times arguably seemed more angry with Trump himself and his mixed legacy in business than his Democratic opponent.

Ultimately though, the reality that prevailed was that of Trump’s working class base of supporters. Who tried to send a message to Washington in 2009 with the surprise election of Scott Brown to block Obamacare. And when that failed to stop the Democrats, tried to send a message in 2010 by sweeping a wave of Republicans into the House to block its implementation. And when that failed to stop the Democrats (and its rollout turned out to the debacle that everyone on the right insisted it would be) sent a wave that recaptured the Senate. A group that’s angry at being called homophobic bigots and racists. Angry at a never-ending war in Iraq after victory was in-hand. Angry at a stagnant economy. Angry over possibly the biggest lie told repeatedly by an American president: “If you like your plan you can keep your plan,” only to discover no, you can’t – and if you want any health insurance at all, you might need a second mortgage to cover the premiums.

Is Trump a perfect messenger for such anger? Of course not. But like Bill Clinton in 1992 and Obama in 2008, he showed up to play, mentally decided that he had more star power and cable media savvy than his opponents in his party’s primary, and rode a populist message to success. I hope he can deliver on some of his promises, but the fact that he won’t begin his administration by launching a culture war against half the nation, as both Obama and Clinton did, will give us all room to breathe.

PAUL RAHE: An Open Letter to the NeverTrumpers from a Sympathizer.

The real issue is whether in the future we will have open discussion of political issues and free elections. Think about what we have now — a federal bureaucracy that is fiercely partisan. An IRS that tries to regulate speech by denying on a partisan basis tax-exempt status to conservative organizations. A Department of State that hides the fact that its head is not observing the rules to which everyone else is held concerning security of communications and that colludes with a Presidential campaign to prevent the release of embarrassing information. A Department of Justice that ought to be renamed as the Department of Injustice, which does its level best to suppress investigations that might embarrass the likely nominee of the Democratic Party. An assistant attorney general that gives a “heads up” to that lady’s campaign. An Attorney General who meets on the sly with her husband shortly before the decision is made whether she is to be indicted. A federal department that promotes racial strife and hostility to the police in the interests of solidifying for the Democrats the African-American vote.

Think about what else we have now — a press corps that colludes with a campaign, allowing figures in the Clinton campaign to edit what they publish. Television reporters who send the questions apt to be asked at the presidential debates to one campaign. A media that is totally in the tank for one party, downplaying or suppressing news that might make trouble for that party, inventing false stories about the candidates nominated by the other party, managing the news, manipulating the public, promoting in the party not favored the nomination of a clown, protecting the utterly corrupt nominee of the other party from scrutiny.

Let’s add to this the fact that the Democratic Party is intent on opening our borders and on signing up legal aliens to vote. If you do not believe me, read what Wikileaks has revealed about the intentions of Tony Podesta. Barack Obama promised to “fundamentally change America.” He called his administration “The New Foundation.” Well, all that you have to do to achieve this is to alter the population.

To this, I can add something else. Freedom of speech is under attack. Forty-four Senators, all of them Democrats, voted not long ago for an amendment to the Constitution that would hem in the First Amendment. Ostensibly aimed at corporate speech, this would open the doors to the regulation of all speech. The Democratic members of the Federal Election Commission have pressed for regulating the internet — for treating blogposts as political contributions and restricting them. Members of the Civil Rights Commission have argued that freedom of speech and religious freedom must give way to social justice. There is an almost universal move on our college campuses to shut down dissent — among students, who must be afforded “safe spaces,” and, of course, in the classroom as well. There, academic freedom is a dead letter; and, in practice, despite the courts, in our public universities, the First Amendment does not apply.

None of this is by accident, and none of it is out of good intentions. It is all about power.