Thin Line Between Trump Loyalty and Self-Preservation

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(Bloomberg) -- Before we all move on from the Ronny Jackson fiasco, there are two more points worth making.

One is that the failed nomination for secretary of Veterans Affairs was an unusually good demonstration of how little influence President Donald Trump has with Republicans, especially those in Congress. It is of course true that almost all Republican senators vote for almost all of Trump's nominees, and in general they've been slow to criticize scandal-plagued administration officials. In most cases, however, it's impossible to distinguish whether what we're seeing is loyalty to Trump or just the policy preferences of Republicans. For example, rallying around embattled Environment Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt might be due to fear of presidential tweets, or it might just be because Pruitt is implementing policies Republicans like. 

Jackson, however, was pretty close to a pure Trump pick. His policy positions were unknown, and his lack of relevant experience had to be troubling to anyone who cares about well-run veterans' programs. As it turns out, Republicans showed just about zero loyalty to Trump, and the nomination died. 

The other interesting story was an effort by some Republicans to scapegoat Montana Democrat Jon Tester. Trump actually called for Tester to resign for (perhaps) publicizing false stories about Jackson. Other Republicans are acting as if this will be a major issue to use against Tester in his re-election campaign this year.

This appears to be one of the more obvious examples of conservatives' closed information feedback loop. Back in the real world, I'm certain that Tester would like nothing better than to have every voter in Montana find out that he took a leadership role in protecting veterans from an unqualified nominee. Of course, in that same real world, there's not actually very much any Democrat can do to derail a Trump nominee whom Republican senators want to confirm. And I'm not sure whether Tester acted ethically or not in this case. But none of that is very likely to matter to Montana veterans who are happy not to have the "candy man" running things. 

In other words, this is either a good example of Republicans believing their own spin — or an example of how the efficiency of Republican-aligned media in transmitting spin to rank-and-file voters makes Republican party actors lazy. Or a little of both. Why bother to come up with a serious rationale for opposing Tester when you can say any foolish thing and get people on Fox News to repeat it and plenty of Republican voters to buy it? 

My best guess is that it's far more likely that Tester will be using the Jackson nomination in his fall advertising than his opponents will be. 

1. James Goldgeier at the Monkey Cage on Korea and Germany

2. Robert Farley on North Korea.

3. Philip Klein argues that anti-Trump conservatives shouldn't be expected to vote for Democrats. I don't disagree with much here. What I would like to see from conservative Trump critics would be continued, vocal criticism — and recognition and criticism of Republican dysfunction that began long before Trump. 

4. Perry Bacon Jr. on the Georgia Democratic primary for governor.

5. Heather Hurlburt on the Korea summit

6. Rebecca Shimoni Stoil on trade wars and the farm vote.

7. Lorraine Woellert on all those vacant executive branch posts.

8. Stan Collender on some weak new budget process proposals

9. And an excellent David Leonhardt piece on the Justice Department and the rule of law

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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