Those Closest to Trump

Last week, I gave an overview of some of Trump’s picks for his cabinet, both the solid ones and ones I consider questionable. I omitted a few (hard to cover them all), but I should mention in passing the choice of Rick Perry for energy secretary (very good) and Elaine Chao for the Department of Transportation.

There are mixed reviews on Chao: she served as secretary of labor previously, where some said she did very well, but there is criticism that choosing the wife of Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not exactly a prime example for the drain-the-swamp battle cry.

Many Trump supporters have high hopes for what he will accomplish, for sure:

That would be nice, but I’ll wait to see what kind of results we get.

Some of the jobs closest to Trump don’t require Senate confirmation. They tell you the most about who Trump trusts.

First on that list would be Stephen Bannon, formerly of the Breitbart website. All kinds of opinions have been offered about Bannon. My view of him is somewhere in between those who view him as the devil incarnate and those who see him as the policy savior.

With the lofty title of chief strategist, Bannon will apparently be responsible for guiding Trump in his decisions on what policies to push for and how to get the job done. Bannon is hard-driving, which can be good for such a position, but he also can alienate people very quickly.

My first acquaintance with Bannon was positive. He was one the writers/producers of a video that I use in my course on Ronald Reagan and modern American conservatism.

That video, In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed, details Reagan’s decades-long fight against communism and the strategy he used to take down the Soviet Union. It is a powerful video, one that offers a clear corrective to the liberal interpretation of events that led to the Soviet downfall.

The quality of the video is outstanding, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has not yet seen it.

Bannon’s latest position at Breitbart, though, gives me pause. I don’t accept the cry of “racist” that some would level at him. I am concerned, though, that he allowed that site to be a provocative place where the so-called “alt-right” felt comfortable. I want nothing to do with them, as they are far too close to neo-nazism for me.

Bannon is no racist or Nazi, but when you play footsie with those who are, you tarnish yourself. Just so you know, I used to be a contributor to Breitbart’s Big Government site, so I have no axe to grind here. During the election, though, I stopped reading anything from Breitbart, as I saw it devolve into a Trump propaganda mouthpiece, willing to smear other candidates in its devotion to Trump.

I’m definitely wait-and-see with Bannon.

Another controversial appointment is former general Mike Flynn to serve as Trump’s national security advisor. I’ve watched Flynn being interviewed on news programs, and again, I’m a little torn.

Flynn’s positive is that he understands the Islamist threat. His negatives are that he is potentially too emotional, too open to conspiracy theories (like his boss), and perhaps far too friendly to Russia, which I continue to see as a threat to our national security, not an ally.

As with all of Trump’s questionable choices, I simply hope and pray for the best.

Finally, there is the very first decision on personnel that Trump made: installing Reince Priebus as his chief of staff. That decision was probably wise, as Trump needs someone who can work well with the Republican party overall.

Priebus, as chair of the Republican National Committee over the past years, has shown himself to be someone who can navigate the perils of politics. I’ve not always been a big fan of his, especially when he seemed to jump on Trump’s train much too soon and shut down any opposition to Trump at the national convention.

Yet if Trump is to succeed working with the party he so recently joined, he needs someone like Priebus to act as a guide.

I believe I’ve covered most of the key players in the upcoming Trump presidency. I hope the good ones can have a positive influence on him and his policies; I hope the questionable ones are either denied confirmation or will not detract too much from what this administration needs to be to reverse the political course of the nation.

Let me add this, though: reversing the political course is not enough; it’s the spiritual/moral foundation that is in need of the greatest repair, and that will never come through politics. Christian influence on the culture remains the top priority.

An Evangelical Scarlet Letter?

Increasingly, there is pressure on those of us who have always identified with the Republican party but who cannot bring ourselves to support Donald Trump to lay aside our objections and come together for the sake of unity. And to stop the ultimate horror: Hillary Clinton.

Many who were quite verbal in their detestation of Trump early on (such as former Texas governor Rick Perry) have done a complete 180, now saying he’s just marvelous. Perry, who had said Trump was “a cancer on conservatism,” “a barking carnival act,” and who called Trumpism “a toxic mix of demogoguery, mean-spiritedness, and nonsense that will lead the Republican party to perdition,” later said he would love to be Trump’s VP choice.

poll-numbers

Ah, principle! It’s so ennobling.

I can’t go there.

There are so many reasons why I cannot that it has become difficult to encapsulate them in one simple blog post. One of the first impressions I had of Trump when the primary debates began was his simple-mindedness, his elementary-level vocabulary, and his complete lack of knowledge on issues of utmost importance.

forrest-trump

Forrest Gump, though, was likeable and never had an insulting, rude bone in his body. Not so Donald Trump.

tip-top-shape

His constant personal attacks on the other Republican candidates were legion. The ones that stay with me the most, of course, are those on Ted Cruz, who received the full treatment because he was the greatest threat to Trump’s ascendancy.

In case you have suffered from a type of political amnesia brought on by partisanship, let me remind you of a few of those. First, he questioned Cruz’s status as a natural-born citizen, despite the fact that Cruz’s mother was an American citizen and the fact that the law declares anyone born to at least one American citizen is a natural-born citizen as well.

This wasn’t Trump’s first time using this conspiracy theory. He was one of the leading proponents who questioned Obama’s birth. Now, I know many on the conservative side of the political spectrum still want to beat that proverbial dead horse, but it truly is dead.

Even Trump had to admit that a few days ago . . . sort of:

born-in-hawaii

Those in the know realize he was pressured into accepting it publicly by his advisors, but he continues to hint that it was purely a political move. What a surprise.

Did he ever apologize to Cruz for that foray into political manipulation? Right. Donald Trump apologizes for nothing.

He has never apologized for pushing a false story about Cruz having many affairs (never mind The Donald’s own personal life), nor for attacking Heidi Cruz (claiming he will “out” her for some deep, dark secret) and allowing a horrid photo of her to be placed alongside his model wife (third one, if you are counting—maybe more to come), nor for intimating that Cruz’s father was somehow involved with the JFK assassination.

And then he expects Cruz to endorse him?

I could also go into how he has taken positions contrary to traditional conservative policy; conservatives who used to oppose those positions now suddenly find them delightful because their nominee is proposing them.

excellent-shape

Ah, principle. It’s so ennobling.

Wait a minute. Didn’t I already say that?

In my view, those of us who will not vote for Trump are the ones holding more firmly to what the Republican party says it believes.

lost-my-party

Erick Erickson, a staunch voice against Trumpism, wrote an essay the other day that he entitled “Reconsidering My Opposition to Trump.” At first glance, that would lead someone to think he has now capitulated. Not the case.

The essay begins with a serious indictment of Hillary Clinton, ending with the words, “In short, I see the election of Hillary Clinton as the antithesis of all my values and ideas on what fosters sound civil society in this country. Further, she should be in jail.”

Then why not support Trump? While he goes into a lot of detail why even the threat of Hillary will not move him away from being anti-Trump also, these paragraphs get to the heart of it for me:

More importantly, while I think Hillary Clinton will do long term damage to the country, I believe Donald Trump will do far more damage to the church, which must be my chief priority. A Clinton Administration may see the church besieged from the outside, but a Trump Administration will see the church poisoned from within [emphasis mine].

I see it happening even now. This past Friday I debated the merits of Trump and sat next to a Christian who argued that because God chose sinners, we should choose Trump. She argued that a bunch of other Presidents were terrible, immoral people so we should be okay with Trump. She argued that God chose Abraham, Samson, and David, so we should choose Trump.

I do not recall John F. Kennedy writing books bragging about his affairs. I do not recall Bill Clinton telling a television audience he wanted to have sex with his daughter.

How far a Christian must fall to justify the low morals of one man by tearing down the reputations of others in sometimes exaggerated manners. And I do recall God choosing Abraham, Samson, and David and all of them repenting of their sins. That repentance stands in studied contrast to Donald Trump who has three times said he never had to ask for forgiveness and only recently said his advance of the church, if he is elected, might be the only thing that gets him into Heaven.

My priority is the same as Erickson’s. I want the Christian witness to the world to be consistent. Support for an openly immoral man who sees no need for repentance undermines that witness. By the way, it also doesn’t help Donald Trump. When he sees all those evangelicals lining up on his side and extolling his virtues, how will he ever be brought to repentance? Fervent evangelical support may have the opposite effect and ground him ever more firmly in his sin.

Potential short-term political gain must be subordinated to long-term promotion of the kingdom of God. I’m afraid that Christians who tie themselves too closely to Trump will, figuratively, have to walk around later with a scarlet letter emblazoned on their Christian witness.

The Perry Indictment Fiasco

Texas governor Rick Perry has been indicted by a grand jury for the felony charges of coercion of a public servant and abuse of his official capacity. I’m sure there have been other indictments in American history just as silly as this one, but this has to rank in the upper echelons of stupidity.

Rosemary LehmbergFirst, the facts. Who is this public servant who was allegedly coerced? Her name is Rosemary Lehmberg,  a Democrat district attorney who heads a public integrity unit in Travis County. She was arrested for drunk driving in 2013 with a blood alcohol level three times the amount required for intoxication. Feel free to browse the internet for video of her behavior during her arrest. I don’t feel the necessity to hold her up to ridicule; she has accomplished that all by herself.

Perry demanded she step down from her position. She refused. He then said he would veto funds for her agency. He followed through on that veto. Governors can certainly state their preference for public officials to resign, and he used his constitutional mandate to veto legislation. No matter if one agrees with the veto or not, how is this an abuse of power?

All that was necessary was to get a prosecutor of the opposite political persuasion of Perry’s to assemble a grand jury in Austin—which is a notoriously liberal city—to find Perry culpable. The old cliché about how grand juries would indict a ham sandwich might apply here. In other words, rarely will a grand jury decline to indict.

This appears to be a political indictment dressed up in constitutional clothes. It’s payback for Ms. Lehmberg and another opportunity for the prosecutor to get a Republican:

Under the Influence

It’s instructive to note that many liberal commentators who have no love for Perry or conservatism in general are saying this is pretty thin as an indictment. Most seem rather embarrassed by it. Even the vaunted New York Times, which rarely finds anything good to print about conservatives, has pretty much dismissed this indictment as phony. Maybe the prosecutor needed to be more imaginative:

Veto Threat

Rick Perry Mug ShotAt any rate, when Gov. Perry showed up for his “mug shot,” he used the occasion to give a strong message to his followers that he was going to fight this and win. That official mug shot doesn’t show a very worried Perry. Most people indicted for a felony don’t feel like smiling at this point. After it was over, Perry went out for an ice cream.

I think this indictment is politics run wild. Chances are it will get laughed off the front pages over time. It may never see the drama of a courtroom. Overall, it’s pretty ridiculous. But it is an indication to what lengths some Democrats will go to undermine Republicans.

Common Sense at the Border

Do we have a border crisis or is the current state of affairs at our southern border just what the Obama administration wants? Perhaps illegal immigrants can be excused for being confused about our policy. We don’t exactly make it clear, do we?

Mixed Messages

Protecting our border is a federal responsibility, but when the federal government doesn’t do its job, it’s understandable that states have to shoulder the burden instead. That’s why Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has now ordered a thousand National Guardsmen to the border. Does he deserve the criticism he receives for doing so, or should that criticism instead be directed toward those who are looking the other way?

Washington, DC, can sometimes be another world where politicians live in luxury penthouses and only occasionally get out to see what’s happening where the peons live. Harry Reid is a prime example. He actually stated publicly, on the record, that the border is secure. That’s when you know for sure a politician resides on some other planet:

Border Is Secure

As a history professor, it’s not too difficult to imagine how Harry Reid would have responded during the War of 1812 when the British invaded and burned Washington:

1812

Lest we forget, there are good reasons for not having a porous border. It’s not a matter of being hardhearted toward those who might like to live in the U.S. Rather, it’s a combination of respect for the rule of law—which will disintegrate if we allow it to be violated so easily—and concern for national security. Keep in mind there are some out there who love the access we give them and who would use it to their advantage:

Wide Open

All of that seems to be lost on the presumed Leader of the Free World who spends most of his time on other activities:

Cancel Fundraiser

One could say he deserves what he gets, but, unfortunately, the rest of us will suffer along with him. Securing the border is no more extremist than securing one’s own home from intruders. It used to be called common sense.

Border Insecurity

The most prominent story in the past week has been the influx of children from Central America coming over our border for the express purpose of being apprehended and then resettled somewhere in the U.S (although, if the truth be known, some of those children are gang members and nearly 50% of the detainees are adults). They know that will be the result for most of them since we are not doing anything to stop the illegal immigration flow and our humanitarian impulses will ensure they are taken care of.

Why the influx now? It’s a direct outgrowth of the administration’s policy of inviting everyone to come without penalty. Rules for immigration? Oh, those can be ignored. Why bother with the rule of law? It’s what our Chief Executive does every day. Concerns about terrorism with an uncontrolled border? Overblown, of course. We are the problem; there would be no Muslim extremists if we didn’t harbor such suspicions about them. Overwhelming the system? No sweat. We’ll just spend more money we don’t have. Everyone come. Oh, and our border has never been more secure. At least, that’s the line we’re supposed to believe:

Never More Secure

Of course, President Obama is right on top of the situation. His first action was to stop in Colorado and play some pool:

Your Shot

Those photo ops were engineered to show that he gets out to meet ordinary people, like the governor of Colorado. It was also a great way to ignore what’s happening at the border and punt to the Republicans, who obviously are the real culprits here. His next stop was Texas where there actually is a border with Mexico. I think he’s aware of that. Yet when Gov. Perry of Texas asked him to please go to the border to see what’s occurring, he demurred. That would just be a photo op, you know, and he’s not into those:

Photo Ops

He did lower himself to meet with the governor for a few minutes, but Perry came away unconvinced that the president really cares about the problem:

Blinders

After all, his real reason for being in Texas in the first place was to go to some fundraisers. Priorities.

Genuine leadership is lacking if one compares the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. with one of his predecessors:

Tear Down This Wall

Not exactly a Reagan moment.

What people need to realize is that the reason Obama is not invested in a solution to the problem is that he doesn’t see it as a problem. This is precisely what he wants to happen. He seeks complete amnesty for all illegals; in fact, he disdains the term. All, in his view, have a right to be here. In fact, I strongly suspect that if he had his way, the only ones being deported would be people like me. He doesn’t like criticism.

So don’t waste time worrying about when he’s going to change policy and take this seriously. It will never happen. Our only recourse is through the courts and through the elections of 2014 and 2016. Hopefully, there will be something left to salvage.

A Rising Tide?

The latest poll of Republican voters shows that Rick Santorum is now tied with Mitt Romney with 30% each. It’s a stunning shift as Santorum has risen thirteen points very rapidly while Romney has dropped a couple. Newt Gingrich appears to be fading. The big question is whether Santorum can sustain this momentum.

Critics say that this is no different than what we’ve seen throughout this primary season. Rick Perry rocketed into first place when he entered the race. His fall was followed by Herman Cain’s meteoric rise, and then when he ran into his troubles, Gingrich was the beneficiary. So, in all, this makes Santorum the fourth candidate to equal or surpass Romney at one point or another.

My response is that while this also could be transitory, Santorum would only fall back due to some major misstep. Unlike Perry, he has come across as knowledgeable in the debates, with many believing he was the outright winner of the second one in Florida. Unlike Cain, he is more tested and has political leadership experience. And unlike Gingrich, he has no real personal baggage or history of constantly changing positions. He is who he is, and he’s been pretty consistent over the years.

I wasn’t at CPAC, but all the accounts of his appearance there indicate there is a rising tide. So many showed up for his speech that not everyone could get into the room. The accounts I’ve read say he got a standing ovation for his comments. Earlier in the week, when he showed up at Oral Roberts University, they had to change the location to the large arena because they expected perhaps 2000 would be attending. Instead, 3500 came to hear him.

Romney, meanwhile, in his speech at CPAC, seemed determined to convince the audience that he was a true conservative. He used the term “conservative” or its derivations twenty-six times in a speech with the same number of minutes. He even called himself the “severely” conservative governor of Massachusetts. Severely? How does that adjective fit? It’s oddly out of place to use that word in that context. It’s as if he is almost desperate to showcase his conservatism. But when you are that desperate, you have to understand why some might question your authenticity.

The real test of the trajectory of this race this month will come down to Michigan and Arizona on the 28th. Maybe those contests will clear the air. If not, March’s Super Tuesday will be the one to watch.

Choose a Standard-Bearer Who Has Integrity . . . Please

So much happened in the campaigns yesterday that I’m postponing more commentary on Santorum’s book for one day. Part of what happened, of course, deals with Santorum. Iowa had to reverse itself on who won the caucuses. It seems that Santorum is the winner by 35 votes. There remains confusion about some uncounted precincts, but apparently they won’t be included. This means Romney is not on the roll he and the media had proclaimed he was.

All you ever heard was that Romney, after winning Iowa and New Hampshire, was the inevitable nominee. This changes that scenario. Some may say that it’s only 35 votes, so it’s no big deal that Santorum won. Well, Romney’s “win” was a mere eight votes. Which is better? What’s fascinating is that the Romney people decided to call Iowa a tie. That’s not the rhetoric they used when they thought they had a victory there. Santorum isn’t having any of that—he has declared victory, a fact finally acknowledged by Romney later in the day and announced at the CNN debate last night. So it’s recognized as official.

What will this do for Santorum in South Carolina? That remains to be seen. But another factor in his favor that may raise his vote total is his performance at the debate. He was strong; much better than the last time. In fact, commentators on the National Review and Townhall websites gave the win to Santorum in the debate, which is the first time they’ve ever done that. Now, will that double bit of good news, along with some high-profile evangelical endorsements [the 150 leaders who met in Houston last weekend; Gary Bauer; James Dobson] help his cause? The latest polls show him lagging. The voting is Saturday, so there’s not much time to make up the ground. Yet, all in all, yesterday was a great day for Santorum.

It wasn’t so great for Perry and Gingrich, though. Perry held a news conference and dropped his bid for the White House. He finally bowed to reality. The unfortunate part of his departure for me, however, was his endorsement of Gingrich. As a sincere Christian, I hoped Perry would put his weight behind Santorum. But a poll of his supporters shows that they are about evenly divided as to whom they will support—22% Romney, 20% Gingrich and Santorum, so I’m not sure Perry’s endorsement meant a lot.

That was probably the only good news for Gingrich yesterday. His past has come back to haunt him again. His ex-wife taped an interview with ABC’s Nightline that highlighted his hypocrisy and venality in their relationship. How much can one believe from an ex-wife who was embittered by the way a marriage ended? I’m not sure, but it throws the limelight on Gingrich’s character once more. She says he approached her with the grand idea of an “open” marriage, in which he would be free to have a mistress on the side. She says she rejected that outrageous request.

The debate opened with CNN moderator John King asking Gingrich about it. Gingrich responded by lecturing King about the propriety of having such questions be part of a presidential debate. He was so indignant in his response that he got the crowd on his side, leading to a standing ovation. He then denied the account his ex-wife gave. While one part of me rejoices to see the mainstream media taken to the cleaners like that—and Gingrich is especially good at doing it—I would not have been part of the standing ovation if I had been there. Why?

I just don’t trust Gingrich’s integrity. I’ve stated before that I believe in forgiveness of sins if there is a genuine repentance before God. Gingrich says he has done that, but as I watch him, I get the uneasy feeling that he’s not being strictly truthful about it. I don’t want to disbelieve him, but there’s just so much in his background—what everyone refers to as his “baggage”—that’s it’s difficult to put it all behind.

I also look ahead to the general election. It would be hard for me to be enthused about a Gingrich candidacy when I have so many nagging, unanswered questions about the man. And you can be sure Obama’s people will take out extremely long knives, many of which will slice deeply. No matter how skilled a debater Gingrich might be, his ability to rally the nation to his side is a long shot.

As a Christian, I want to vote for someone who has undoubted integrity. Even if I might have some disagreements with the candidate on specific means for carrying out his agenda, I at least want to be confident that his heart is for God and for serving the people. At this point, the only one who inspires that kind of confidence in me is Rick Santorum. I seek to vote for someone, not just against Obama.

What will Saturday hold? South Carolina, you gave us John McCain last time. When he won that primary, it was the turning point of the campaign. How did that work out? It’s time to rectify that mistake. Instead of going for another moderate [Romney] or someone who raises more questions about his past and what he will do in the future [Gingrich], how about elevating one who is solid and steady, someone who will carry the banner with honor? I hope the Republican voters in South Carolina will give Santorum the chance to be that standard-bearer.