Monday, April 03, 2017

NARRATIVE-DRIVING IS THE ONE PART OF THE PRESIDENCY THE TRUMPERS HAVE MASTERED

Over at The Washington Post, Abby Phillip and Robert Costa sum up the early days of the Trump administration:
Weighed down by dismal approval ratings, the president has been unable to wrangle enough support in Congress to advance his agenda....

Trump has struggled to build a governing coalition that matches the nontraditional alliance that put him in the Oval Office. And he has turned to making enemies of former partners among Republicans in Congress, even as Democrats keep him at arm’s length....

The result has been a presidency lacking in significant victories, beset by major stumbles — including the downfall of the Republicans’ health-care bill and his travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries — and that is the target of litigation as a result of executive actions....

There are more potential roadblocks ahead. Already, congressional Republicans have balked at his proposed budget, and the White House’s insistence on increased spending for the military and a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border could imperil a spending bill needed to keep the government running past the end of April.
And yet today Team Trump is driving the day, as the insiders used to say, with a story that's migrated from the fever swamps to the respectable press. Here's Bloomberg's Eli Lake with the details:
White House lawyers last month learned that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The pattern of Rice's requests was discovered in a National Security Council review of the government's policy on "unmasking" the identities of individuals in the U.S. who are not targets of electronic eavesdropping, but whose communications are collected incidentally. Normally those names are redacted from summaries of monitored conversations and appear in reports as something like "U.S. Person One."

The National Security Council's senior director for intelligence, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, was conducting the review, according to two U.S. officials who spoke with Bloomberg View on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Never mind the fact that Rice was the national security adviser, which means that unmasking names in such reports is part of her job, as David Frum notes sarcastically:



And no, the Donald Trump tweets that started us on this wild goose chase aren't borne out by this revelation, as Lake acknowledges:
Rice's requests to unmask the names of Trump transition officials does not vindicate Trump's own tweets from March 4 in which he accused Obama of illegally tapping Trump Tower. There remains no evidence to support that claim.

... The standard for senior officials to learn the names of U.S. persons incidentally collected is that it must have some foreign intelligence value, a standard that can apply to almost anything. This suggests Rice's unmasking requests were likely within the law.
As is often the case with Republicans, the Trumpers are applying Saul Alinsky Rule No. 13:
“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” ... Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
As Kevin Drum writes:
Susan Rice is ... a Republican bête noir, the villainess of Benghazi who LIED ON TV repeatedly and tried to get everyone to believe that the attacks were due to an INTERNET VIDEO when we knew all along they were really the work of RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISTS, a phrase that OBAMA WAS UNWILLING TO UTTER.

So it's a big win to get Rice's name back in the news.
Yup -- the next polls could easily reveal that more Americans think President Obama was up to no good in Russiagate than Trump was. It's likely to be an even split, at least.

The Trumpers can't get a law passed, can't seem to write a substantial executive order that withstands legal scrutiny, can't stop leaks, can't fill government jobs ... but, using bizarre techniques, they've jiujitsued this Russia story until it's likely to look like an Obama scandal to nearly half the country. And they've worked hard to get to this point: the Trump tweets, the stony-faced defense of the Trump tweets from Sean Spicer and others, the bizarre antics of Devin Nunes, and now the leaks that got us to this point. A lot of people looked ridiculous, but the Trumpers have control of the narrative, at least for the moment.

Well, of course this is what they'd be good at. Trump has an intuitive knack for self-serving publicity generation, which he's honed for decades. Steve Bannon spent years working in right-wing media, where the purpose of all labor is to try to undermine any narrative that's bad for conservatism, whether or not it's accurate. I don't think the Trumpers will ever get the knack of governing -- but they know how to manipulate the public on their own behalf, and that might keep their presidency afloat for a while.

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