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Misbehaving Presidents’ Mixed Messages

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We don’t win anymore. When was the last time we won? Did we win a war? Do we win anything? Do we win anything? We’re going to win. We’re going to win big, folks. We’re going to start winning again, believe me. We’re going to win.

– President Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February 24, 2017

Isn’t winning a great message to hear from a sitting U.S. president? Contrast that to the Obama years, plagued by gargantuan failures and losses. For example, most telling was the actual level of U.S. unemployment: 95 million able-bodied Americans absent from the workforce. (The U.S. Department of Labor repeatedly claimed the rate hovered around a measly 5 percent.) Such a diet of consistent falsehoods included Obama’s famous, “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it.” That whopper earned him left-leaning Politifact’s Lie of the Year in 2013.

Interestingly, misrepresentation is the defining characteristic of modern-day Democratic presidents (and failed hopeful Hillary Clinton). All that’s now required is a slick persona, a tenuous grasp on truthfulness and the gift of honeyed words earnest in their bewitching power to distract the public. With Hillary’s hubby, his failings were of a personal nature, embarrassing peccadilloes highlighted by an affair with a then 22-year-old intern. Remember Bill’s infamous claim, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss [Monica] Lewinsky.” (The scandal rocked his presidency, but didn’t end it. Ultimately, he received a pass because adultery was successfully spun as a private matter. However, his public disgrace affected his ability to govern much more gravely then was acknowledged at the time.) Also detrimental to the nation, were Barack Obama’s numerous untruths. Like Clinton, he was abetted by a fawning press—and a foolishly forgiving electorate.

That same latitude is never granted to their Republican counterparts. Remember, George H. W. Bush’s broken pledge, “Read my lips: no new taxes”? That one flip-flop cost him his 1992 re-election bid. By contrast, Barack Obama, not Ronald Reagan, was the true “Teflon president” . His big government tenure was “transformative” in all the wrong ways: obtrusive, over-regulated and overtaxed (read: the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ObamaCare mandate because its legal basis is a tax!). Combine those systemic problems with a ballooning federal government, wasteful programs, deficit-spending and virtually doubling the nation’s debt: a record-shattering 9.3 trillion! That’s more in Barack Obama’s eight years than all previous presidents combined (read: 212 years from Washington (1789) to Clinton (2001))!

In retrospect, the pre-election electorate was ravenous for a new voice, specifically an unapologetically pro-American one. (Hillary Clinton isn’t that. Essentially, she promised a de facto Obama third term.) Enter the plain-speaking Washington outsider, a billionaire capitalist, who brashly articulated all things wrong with progressives in government. Central to that message was the concept of winning: obviously for himself and theoretically, one hopes, for the country. Today, how is that goal achieved by threatening the Tea Party’s Freedom Caucus? Ironically, he attacks the very group he should champion:

“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” — President Trump’s tweet at 9:07 AM on March 30, 2017

Under any circumstances, it’s frankly nonsensical to ever conflate conservative Republicans with militantly obstructionist Democrats. Such groups are naturally philosophically opposed: political oil and water! For a campaign promise thwarted, he calls out the Freedom Caucus for rightfully scuttling Paul Ryan’s disastrous “ObamaCare Lite” replacement? Thus, in the superficial name of “winning,” isn’t that precisely like burning a village to the ground in order to “save” it?

The political landscape is, and remains, ripe for meaningful change. However, as of late, Mr. Trump’s appealingly razor sharp campaign rhetoric is not living up to his muddled actions. To again reference the same CPAC speech:

“I’m here fighting for you and I will continue to fight for you. The victory and the win were something that really was dedicated to a country and people that believe in freedom, security and the rule of law. Our victory was a victory and the win for conservative values.”

A self-proclaimed guiding principle negated by his recent rant against House Republicans who stand for that precise thing! Immersed in the Washington swamp, allied with House Speaker Paul Ryan, is it possible he’s lost sight of what conservatism means in concrete terms? After all, words are insubstantial compared to policy and practice. For his part, Mr. Ryan talks an equally good game. (Recall, he’s been in Congress since 1998. That’s 17 years before he assumed leadership of the lower chamber on October 29, 2015. For further context, for the last 7 years, the GOP has promised to repeal and replace ObamaCare.) With his reputation as a policy wonk, where has Mr. Ryan been all this time? His Johnny-come-lately response was a rushed bill—with the Republican brand simply slapped on—that fundamentally lacked bipartisan consensus: no Democratic support and not enough Republicans to pass the measure.

The American Health Care Act should have been a free market solution to health-care, but it wasn’t. Hopeful for a “win,” President Trump mistakenly backed Ryan’s loser: a bureaucratic 3-phased shell game that would have kept the government behemoth in place with superficial changes like substituting tax breaks for government subsides. So, it’s wrong to scapegoat the Freedom Caucus for their lack of support. This debacle—this legislative “Rosemary’s Baby”—is all Paul Ryan’s mad creation. For this mess, he should be replaced forthwith. To that end, someone from the Freedom Caucus would be fitting.

Thus far, Mr. Trump’s dealings with Congress have not lived up to his appealing CPAC rhetoric. The author of “The Art of The Deal” need not play things so fast and loose by vilifying other Republicans. While he owes the Republican establishment nothing, he would be wise to adopt the following Reaganesque Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any conservative. To do otherwise artificially divides the GOP against itself. And given their demonstrated lack of effective leadership, they need all the help they can get.

Polarizing allies won’t achieve the right results for the American people. Still, Trump’s willingness to work with everyone is exactly what President Reagan did. In that regard, “The Great Communicator” effectively went directly to the American people over the heads of his detractors (as The Donald does with his well-conceived tweets). Yet, Mr. Reagan never used the bully pulpit to literally bully anyone. Therefore, killing his Tea Party darlings in this way is something “The Gipper” would never do. That’s not winning; it’s reactionary, shortsighted and ultimately self-defeating.

Lasting success for America equals a staunchly conservative agenda. To get there, Mr. Trump needs to appropriate the cohesive framework of principles embodied by the Freedom Caucus. Going forward, embracing them—rather than Paul Ryan’s ilk—would greatly aid his cause. For instance, they would make an ideal legislative sounding board while he makes deals and takes constructive action. As modern history clearly demonstrates, only Democrats get away with misbehavior and mixed messages. Those types of mistakes are invariably fatal to the prospects, and success, of any Republican president.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and are not not necessarily either shared or endorsed by iPatriot.com.

David Hunter

David L. Hunter: Associate Editor at "Capitol Hill Outsider" & freelancer. On Twitter and blogs at davidlhunter.blogspot.com. See: The Washington Post, The Washington Times, "FrontPage Mag," "Freedom Outpost," "Patriot Post," "Canada Free Press" and "American Thinker." Email: [email protected]

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