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Donald Trump Is Apparently the New George Washington

Columns and commentary from the "New York" and Daily Intelligencer political teams, plus breaking news from New York and around the world.
TODAY’S CHAT: Never Say Never-Trump
Today’s Top Stories
Michael Cohen and the Busting of the Trump Crime Family
The Trump investigation is becoming a mob story.
By Jonathan Chait
Syria Strikes Show, Once Again, That We Can’t Police the World by Bombing It
Friday’s missile attack will join a growing list of failed attempts by the U.S. to conduct foreign policy from the air.
By Jonah Shepp
In the Bizarre Michael Cohen Courtroom Drama, Trump Doesn’t Hold Much Sway
The judge in Monday’s hearing treated the case like any other white-collar investigation involving shady lawyers and clients.
By Cristian Farias
Every Embarrassing Story Michael Cohen Tried to Squash
His efforts to protect his beloved boss, which are now under investigation by federal prosecutors, go far beyond the Stormy Daniels hush agreement.
By Margaret Hartmann
Sean Hannity Fails to Disclose Michael Cohen Link, Blames Media for Ensuing Controversy
In lieu of an apology, Hannity’s prime-time show featured criticism of the mainstream media, and an unexpected scolding from Alan Dershowitz.
By Margaret Hartmann
The White House’s Russia Hawks Are Still Winning the War
But Trump won a battle against them by overruling Nikki Haley on additional sanctions.
By Eric Levitz
Republican Congressman Denies Trump Has Ever Lied a Single Time
Trump is the new George Washington.
By Jonathan Chait
To Conservatives Hoping to Salvage the Trump Era, Keeping the Senate Is Key
The power to confirm federal judges is the GOP’s most valuable resource.
By Ed Kilgore
Unlike New York’s Unions, California’s Are Backing an Insurgent Candidate
Dianne Feinstein inspires no fear among progressive union activists. Andrew Cuomo does.
By Ed Kilgore
Who Is the Man in Stormy Daniels’s Sketch?
We rounded up the best guesses.
By Lisa Ryan
Never Say Never-Trump
I’m your humble host and editor Ezekiel Kweku, and today I’m talking with two members of New York's politics team — Ed Kilgore and Eric Levitz — about why anti-Trump Republicans don’t defect to the Democratic Party.
Ezekiel:   Why aren't Never-Trump Republicans defecting to the Democrats?
Ed:   For the most part, they claim to be representing a part of the GOP that will outlast Trump. There’s not much objective evidence of that, but that’s what they think. Or claim to think.
Eric:   Yeah. Also, in many cases, they occupy a media niche that is reserved for reasonable Republicans. Josh Barro decided he could forfeit that title. But others seem inclined to cling to it. Regardless, I think it's reasonable for Bret Stephens & Co. to insist on their Republican identity. I don't think it's incumbent on them to declare themselves Democrats. But if they're remotely serious about drastically reforming their party, then they do need to use their platforms to implore voters to back the opposition party for a cycle or two.
Ed:   Yeah, like the Mugwumps. They were a powerful elite Republican faction that was so offended by James G. Blaine’s ethical issues that they backed Grover Cleveland for president in 1884. By 1888, they were back in the party harness.
Ezekiel:   My feeling is, that's the result of party polarization rather than anything about the Republican Party in particular.
Ed:   Well, it’s the Republicans who nominated a presidential candidate whom many of them were violently denouncing for a long time.
Ezekiel:   Yeah, but what was the alternative exactly?
Ed:   Endorsing Hillary with the express condition that when their party’s primary voters returned to their senses, they’d return to the GOP. I’d have to think a National Review endorsement of Hillary would have had some impact.
Ezekiel:   Would it have? They railed against Trump but they were ignored.
Ed:   They stopped railing against Trump in the general election, for the most part.
Ezekiel:   Yes, I guess what I'm saying is that it seems to me that the opinions of Republican media elites should have the most salience in the primaries and it appeared to have zero effect.
Ed:   There’s no way to know it had “zero” effect; Trump wasn’t winning by huge margins everywhere. If the kind of sustained, mass-movement opposition to Trump that occurred in Utah had occurred everywhere, Trump would have lost the general election pretty badly, I think.
Ezekiel:   Well, we're deep in the land of hypotheticals here, but I feel the causality is reversed here. Which is to say I don't really think that kind of opposition could have arisen in other places.
Eric:   I think the problem is less the Never-Trump intellectuals than the mainstream media.
Ezekiel:   Let me ask a different question though — what is it exactly that Never Trump Republicans don't have in common with Trump, other than his style and overall incompetence?
Ed:   There is no precedent in American history that I can think of for the kind of intra-party repudiation Trump was suffering after the Access Hollywood video came out. But nobody would cross the line and say “Don’t vote for him.” It would have mattered some.
Ezekiel:   I think quite a few people said they couldn't support him, but none of them would say that they would support Hillary.
Ed:   Either way, it was a matter of assuming Trump couldn’t win. That was the fatal miscalculation. I feel reasonably sure that if Paul Ryan had publicly said: “Don’t vote for Donald Trump; I won’t,” it would have gotten more attention than the Comey Letter.
Ezekiel:   On the other hand — I don't know that most Never Trump Republicans would really be willing to sacrifice federal judges and a SCOTUS seat to stop Trump.
Eric:   Well, there are a number of Never Trump Republican media types who probably should have become Democrats even without Trump. David Frum believes in gun control, abortion rights, a more redistributive fiscal policy, and some market-based form of universal health care. He's ostensibly a Republican because he's hawkish on Israel. But the congressional leader of Democratic Party (Chuck Schumer) tried to kill the Iran deal. There's no reason why he isn't just a right-wing Democrat, other than concerns about personal branding and social circles.
Ed:   Yeah, there are a few like that. But Ezekiel’s right: SCOTUS was more important to a lot of these birds. But let’s not forget that a lot of them did not trust Trump to keep his promises on that front (though he has).
Ezekiel:   That's true, Ed. do you think the purely self-interested careerist calculation makes it better to be a left-wing Republican rather than a right-wing Democrat?
Eric:   If you've already established that niche for yourself, I think so.
Ed:   I think there’s a big niche in the conservative media for Trump Democrats. Mark Penn seems to have staked his career on that identity. There just aren’t that many of them.
Eric:   Anyhow: I'm sympathetic to Ezekiel's skepticism that more Never Trump dissidence in 2016 would have made a significant difference, though it's impossible to know. But I think these sorts of folks could have had a bigger impact if they followed the leads of Norm Ornstein and Bruce Bartlett, and sounded the alarm about what their party was becoming years ago. I think a mass defection of conservative intellectuals from the Republican Party during the Obama years may have emboldened the mainstream media to convey the reality that the GOP was not a normal political party.
Ed:   One of the tragicomedies of the 2016 cycle was what happened to the Reformicons. In some ways, Trump was a sort of parody of what they were advising the GOP to do: pay more attention to the white working class; don’t just shill for the Chamber on immigration, etc. At the beginning of 2016, they were riding pretty high; some were advising Jeb, some Rubio, some even Perry. And they seemed uniformly horrified by Trump.
Eric:   I don't know if any of that would have made a difference. But it is the case that the subtext of virtually every piece of straight political reporting and CNN political segment in the Obama era was that the Republicans were not significantly more radical, corrupt, or dishonest than the Democrats.
Ezekiel:   We have an odd media culture in the United States — basically dominated by Democrats with conservative temperaments.
Ed:   Had Marco Rubio won the GOP nomination, I think the general election would have felt just like 2000, when the MSM was all but openly leading cheers for W.
Eric:   Yeah … although … that's less true when one includes Fox News and Sinclair under the heading of media. Republicans control an awful lot of the media. Especially, the televisual kind.
Ezekiel:   That’s true, I guess I just mean the “straight political reporting” part, as you said. But I agree.
Eric:   Right, right. You have Republican-dominated media with a radical temperament, and a liberal-dominated mainstream media that's afraid to take its own side in an argument.
Ed:   Some clever journalist or historian should go around to everyone doing reporting during the 2016 general election and ask them: “If you had known Trump might win, would you have done or said anything differently?”
Eric:   I would be an emphatic yes.
Ed:   I was probably more open to the possibility of a Trump win than most left-of-center writers. But subjectively, I had a hard time imagining it actually happening.
Ezekiel:   I would also have to say yes. But I guess I don't know what I'd actually change. I wrote fairly early on explaining what I thought Trump's appeal was and why I thought he had a shot, and later wrote a piece voicing my fears that Trump would win, polls be damned. But by Election Day I had come to believe I was wrong.
Ed:   I think if Trump goes down it will be interesting to see if the Never Trumpers make a comeback, or are left in the dirt by the more respectable Trump accommodators. I think the latter. Even if they’re all dumping on Trump as he leaves the White House: it’s kinda like being “prematurely anti-fascist” (those on the far left that opposed Hitler before he invaded Russia).
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