Perhaps the world is changing. The week ended with startling news from the world of Proudly Political True Christianity:
Jerry Falwell Jr., one of President Trump’s most prominent and controversial evangelical supporters, will take an indefinite leave of absence from his role as president and chancellor of Liberty University, the board of trustees announced on Friday.
The news comes days after Mr. Falwell posted, and then deleted, a photograph on Instagram of him posing alongside a woman with his pants unzipped and his arm around her.
Oops. And “an indefinite leave of absence” usually lasts forever. He’s gone, and this was a big deal:
Under the Falwell family’s leadership, Liberty has grown in five decades from a modest Baptist college to an evangelical powerhouse with cash investments and endowments of nearly $2 billion, nearly 46,000 undergraduates and a campus that sprawls across Lynchburg and neighboring counties in Virginia.
The university was founded by Mr. Falwell’s father as a bastion of social conservatism, one that was unabashedly assertive as it trained what it called “Champions for Christ.”
Jerry Prevo, the chairman of the board, said in a statement that Liberty had experienced academic, financial and spiritual success during Mr. Falwell’s tenure.
“Unfortunately, with this success and the burdens of leading a large and growing organization comes substantial pressure,” Mr. Prevo said. He added that the decision for Mr. Falwell to take a leave of absence “was not made lightly.”
But the guy was, in the end, a jerk:
In the photograph, both Mr. Falwell and the woman have their pants unzipped. His hand is close to her chest. “More vacation shots,” the post said. “Lots of good friends visited us on the yacht. I promise that’s just black water in my glass.”
Mr. Falwell responded to criticism of the photo earlier this week in an interview with WLNI, a local Lynchburg radio station. “Yeah, it was weird. She’s pregnant. She couldn’t get her pants zipped and I was like trying to like … I had on a pair of jeans I haven’t worn in a long time and couldn’t get zipped either. So, I just put my belly out like hers. She’s my wife’s assistant, she’s a sweetheart. I should have never put it up and embarrassed her. I’ve apologized to everybody. I promised my kids I will try to be a good boy from here on out.”
He’ll try to be a good boy? No, he’s already gone:
Students from Liberty expressed outrage about the photo on social media. Several pointed out that it was in direct violation of the school’s code of conduct.
They can’t smoke, or drink, and must dress modestly, these young men and young women cannot dance with each other, or at all. Even touching is discouraged, but Jerry is who he is:
Mr. Falwell has been involved in a number of controversies in recent years. In May he tweeted out Blackface and Ku Klux Klan imagery, prompting demands for his firing and resignations of at least four Black faculty and staff members. In April a student filed a class-action lawsuit against Liberty over how it has handled the coronavirus pandemic. Last year the former editor of the Liberty student newspaper wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post calling Mr. Falwell out for silencing students and faculty who spoke out against his support of Mr. Trump.
He makes fun of black folks, Liberty University is a no-masks and no social distancing kind of place, because that whole coronavirus thing is a hoax to make Trump look bad, and no one on campus is allowed to say a disparaging word of any kind about Donald Trump, and now he’s gone:
Calum Best, 22, who graduated from Liberty in May and who has spoken out against Mr. Falwell’s political activity, called the move “a victory.”
“It feels like they did it more because they were embarrassed, more than because it was the correct thing to do,” he said. But, he said, “It’s great that he’s gone.”
“He is the one who holds up Liberty’s culture of focus on money, material well-being, political nationalism,” he said. “Without Falwell gone, we can’t really change any of that.”
And now they can change that, and there does seem to be something in the air. At Politico, David Siders notes this:
The culture wars aren’t working for Donald Trump. His law-and-order rhetoric isn’t registering with suburban voters. One of his leading evangelical supporters, Jerry Falwell Jr., was just photographed with his zipper down. Immigration isn’t provoking the response it did in 2016, and NASCAR has spurned the president.
Even an attempt by a New York Democrat to take down the National Rifle Association – a lawsuit announced Thursday by state Attorney General Letitia James – looks unlikely to juice Trump’s reelection hopes.
“America has changed,” said Frank Luntz, the veteran Republican consultant and pollster. “Every person who cares about the NRA is already voting for Trump. Suburban swing voters care about the right to own a gun, but they don’t care about the NRA.”
Yes, the NRA is so last week, or last century:
A brawl between the NRA and New York once would’ve been turnout gold for a Republican president. And some Republicans and Democrats alike on Thursday suggested that Republicans could use the episode to stoke turnout among Trump’s base.
But the NRA is not the institution it was in American politics even four years ago, when it spent heavily to help Trump win election. Beset by financial problems and infighting, public support for the NRA has declined during the Trump era, falling below 50 percent last year for the first time since the 1990s, according to Gallup. At the same time, nearly two-thirds of Americans want stricter gun laws.
That’s when voters are even thinking about gun control. Three months before Election Day, they mostly aren’t – it’s all about coronavirus and the economy, stupid. That’s a problem for Republicans even the NRA has acknowledged.
Siders references internal NRA memos wondering how to get the membership, and the rest of the country, to think about guns again. But there’s no way, so Trump is in trouble:
The culture wars of old, said Paul Maslin, a top Democratic pollster who worked on the presidential campaigns of Jimmy Carter and Howard Dean, seem “miles away from where this election is right now.”
Gun control and other cultural issues, he said, “are always a backdrop and a way for Trump to maintain his base. But again, his base is 42 percent. Where’s the other 5 to 6 percent he needs going to come from?”
No one else is coming to rescue him, and that’s where this gets interesting:
Within hours of the lawsuit’s announcement, some Democrats did raise concerns about the effect that it could have on turnout. One Democratic elected official in Pennsylvania likened it politically to a Republican attorney general suing to dissolve Planned Parenthood, saying, “If this is the election of our lifetime, and I believe it is, why risk it?”
But given Trump’s inability to harness any other cultural issue so far in the campaign, it will likely take a Hail Mary for him to make it work. Trump has been running consistently behind Biden nationally and in most battleground states – unaided by issues surrounding civil unrest and the flag. Trump’s best chance, most Republicans and Democrats agree, is for the coronavirus or economy to turn around or for his law-and-order rhetoric to gain traction.
The coronavirus will get worse and worse. A miracle cure before Election Day would be a miracle. Trump keeps saying it will just go away, in fact, it’s going away right now. But there are the dead bodies, a thousand deaths a day, day after day after day. And that means the economy cannot possibly turn around, and all his talk about Black Lives Matter young thugs overrunning white American dream-suburbs is getting embarrassing.
This isn’t working. The Washington Post reports this:
A growing number of Republican women are sounding the alarm about continuing loss of support for President Trump and the GOP among female voters ahead of the November election, warning that the party is in danger of permanently alienating women if it doesn’t change course.
Yes, Republican women are warning their own party:
Trump’s flailing response to the coronavirus pandemic and his move to inflame nationwide racial tensions are exacerbating an already precarious situation, according to interviews with female Republican lawmakers and GOP pollsters focused on female voters.
Women now favor presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by an eye-popping 23 percentage points, according to an average of national polls since late June. And White women, a majority of whom backed Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, are starting to abandon the president.
“There was a gender gap when it came to Hillary Clinton, but now there is a gender chasm,” said GOP strategist Sarah Longwell, who has been conducting regular focus groups with female Trump voters who no longer approve of the president. “Trump has created an environment where women are not particularly interested in the Republican Party, where the Republican Party doesn’t seem like a place for women.”
But none of them says that too loudly:
Although GOP pollsters and strategists spoke freely about the problem, many Republican women in Congress were reluctant to criticize Trump or party leaders publicly, fearful of triggering the president’s wrath. Privately, one female lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly about internal frustration, said male GOP leaders have done little to address the problem, but she also suggested that not much can be done until Trump is out of office.
After all, it’s just one thing after another:
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) was accused of using a vulgar and sexist expletive to describe Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). He denied he said the words and offered an apology that was widely criticized as insufficient.
In the same week, the highest-ranking House Republican woman, GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), came under fire from her male colleagues for criticizing Trump on some national security issues and supporting Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert.
Within days, Trump tweeted a term for women out of the 1950s: “Suburban Housewives of America… Biden will destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream. I will preserve it, and make it even better!”
Across Washington, Republican women groaned at the phrase “housewives.”
“I’m like, really? Just stop talking, please. Gentlemen, STOP talking,” said GOP strategist Sarah Chamberlain, who has tried to help her party appeal to female voters. “We need women around the country to recognize that the Republican Party is not just what happened that week.”
But that’s every week now. Republican women are simply giving up:
The exodus of women has been particularly distressing to Republican strategists because many of the women are die-hard conservatives on issues such as abortion and police power who have reached a tipping point when it comes to Trump.
Once willing to overlook controversies because their families were doing well, the security these voters felt with the booming economy is now gone because of the pandemic, the pollsters say. Now they are worried about their children, their elderly parents and their livelihoods – and they don’t see Trump as a leader who can protect them.
“Suburban voters, including women, are center-right voters. Democrats don’t own them,” said Liesl Hickey, the former executive director for the National Republican Congressional Committee who has been conducting research on the suburbs. “But Republicans must make a compelling policy-focused case to earn their support.”
But that’s not Trump’s way:
The Trump campaign in recent weeks has sought to appeal to “Suburban Housewives,” as the president put it, through appeals to law-and-order and security. Via videos of protesters toppling statues, or police battling demonstrators, the Trump campaign has warned that a Biden-led America would be more dangerous for mothers and their families.
“We won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” Lara Trump, who is heading the Women for Trump initiative at the campaign, said in her statement.
Female GOP strategists, however, say the strategy is off the mark and reflects the president’s clear misunderstanding of many female voters. Rather than turning to him as a savior, they’re increasingly blaming him for the chaos and uptick in racial tensions, as well as the increasingly devastating pandemic.
He wants to rile them up. They want him to do his job. This will never work.
This was never going to work. David Brooks wrote a major piece about that:
Jonathan V. Last thinks President Trump is here forever. Last, the editor of The Bulwark, a conservative site that’s been hostile to Trump, argues that if Trump loses in November, he’ll claim he was cheated out of the election. He’ll force other Republicans to back up his claim. He’ll get a TV show, hold rallies, and be coy about running again in 2024.
He’ll still be the center of everything Republican. Ambitious Republicans will have to lash themselves to the husk of the dying czar if they want to have any future in the party. The whole party will go Trump-crazed and brain-dead for another four years.
Perhaps, but Brooks disagrees:
My guess is that if Trump gets crushed in the election, millions of Republicans will decide they never liked that loser and jerk anyway. He’ll get relegated to whatever bargain basement they are using to hold Sarah Palin. But something will remain: Trumpism.
The basic Trump worldview – on immigration, trade, foreign policy, etc. – will shape the GOP for decades, the way the basic Reagan worldview did for decades. A thousand smarter conservatives will be building a new party after 2020, but one that builds from the framework Trump established.
On immigration, stop all of it, on trade, screw everyone and sneer at them, on foreign policy, walk away. Is that it? Brooks says no, not exactly:
If you came of age with conservative values and around Republican politics in the 1980s and 1990s, you lived within a certain Ronald Reagan-Margaret Thatcher paradigm. It was about limiting government, spreading democracy abroad, building dynamic free markets at home and cultivating people with vigorous virtues – people who are energetic, upright, entrepreneurial, independent-minded, loyal to friends and strong against foes.
For decades conservatives were happy to live in that paradigm. But as years went by many came to see its limits. It was so comprehensively anti-government that it had no way to use government to solve common problems. It was so focused on cultivating strong individuals that it had no language to cultivate a sense of community and belonging. So, if you were right of center, you leapt. You broke from the Reagan paradigm and tried to create a new, updated conservative paradigm.
And that’s where this went wrong:
On Sept. 15, 1997, William Kristol and I wrote a piece for The Wall Street Journal on what we called National Greatness Conservatism. We argued that the GOP had become too anti-government. “How can Americans love their nation if they hate its government?” we asked. Only a return to the robust American nationalism of Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay and Theodore Roosevelt would do: ambitious national projects, infrastructure, and federal programs to increase social mobility.
The closest National Greatness Conservatism came to influencing the party was John McCain’s 2000 presidential bid. He was defeated by a man, George W. Bush, who made his own leap, to Compassionate Conservatism. (You know somebody has made a paradigm leap when he or she starts adding some modifying word or phrase before “Conservatism.”) This was an attempt to meld Catholic social teaching to conservatism.
Sam’s Club Republicans, led by Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat, pointed a way to link the GOP to working-class concerns. Front Porch Republicans celebrated small towns and local communities. The Reformicons tried to use government to build strong families and neighborhoods.
Cool, and pointless:
Most actual Republican politicians rejected all of this. They stuck, mostly through dumb inertia, to an anti-government zombie Reaganism long after Reagan was dead and even though the nation’s problems were utterly different from what they were when he was alive. Year after year, GOP politicians clung to a dead paradigm and ran the same anti-Washington campaigns and had no positive governing philosophy once they got there.
Steve Bannon’s leap finally did what none of us could do. Donald Trump and Bannon took a low-rent strand of conservatism – class-based ethnic nationalism – that had always been locked away in the basement of the American right, and overturned the Reagan paradigm.
Bannon and Trump got the emotions right. They understood that Republican voters were no longer motivated by a sense of hope and opportunity; they were motivated by a sense of menace, resentment and fear. At base, many Republicans felt they were being purged from their own country – by the educated elite, by multiculturalism, by militant secularism.
And that was that:
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump and Bannon discarded the Republican orthodoxy – entitlement reform, fiscal restraint, free trade, comprehensive immigration reform. They embraced a European-style blood-and-soil conservatism. Close off immigration. Close trade. We have nothing to offer the world and should protect ourselves from its dangers.
So the party is a mess now:
The Republican Party looks completely brain-dead at every spot Trump directly reaches. Off in the corners, though, there’s a lot of intellectual ferment on the right. But if there is one thing I’ve learned over the decades, it is never to underestimate the staying power of the dead Reagan paradigm.
The Wall Street Journal editorial page stands as a vigilant guardian of the corpse, eager to rebut all dissenters. The former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania are staunch defenders of Minimal-Government Conservatism. Senator Ted Cruz seems to be positioning himself for a 2024 presidential run that seeks to triangulate all the pre-Trump and pro-Trump versions of the party into one stew.
And if Joe Biden defeats Trump and begins legislating, as seems more and more likely, there’s also the possibility that Republicans will abandon any positive vision and revert to being a simple anti-government party – a party of opposition to whatever Biden is doing.
Brooks hopes that doesn’t’ happen. He discusses, one by one, current Republicans who might save the party, but Donald Trump is still president at the moment, and he’s still pretending to lead by saying that one day he might just do something:
President Trump on Friday signaled he was ready to forge ahead without Congress to try to address lapsed economic relief measures for millions of Americans, but he stopped short of declaring negotiations dead.
The path forward remained unclear, as he used a press conference Friday evening to discuss steps he might take but he didn’t stipulate whether he would follow through.
“If Democrats continue to hold this critical relief hostage, I will act under my authority as president to get Americans the relief they need,” Trump said.
That was a warning. He just might begin to lead, but no one knew what he meant:
At the press conference, Trump said he was preparing to sign executive orders that would pay unemployment benefits through the end of the year, offer eviction protections that have lapsed and also provide student loan relief. He was circumspect on some of the details, though.
For example, he was asked if the government would continue paying the $600 enhanced unemployment benefit that expired last month, and he responded “I won’t say that yet.”
He also said he wanted to sign an executive order that would defer payroll taxes – retroactively – from July through December of this year. It was unclear how this would work and whether taxpayers would end up owing money in back taxes in January…
Cutting the 7.65 percent payroll tax, which comes out of workers’ salaries and goes to fund Medicare and Social Security, has been a long-standing goal for Trump. Lawmakers in both parties question the value of such a move, partly because it would do little to help workers who are not actually employed.
Those with jobs would get a tad more money in each paycheck. The forty million or more who are unemployed get nothing. Funding for Medicare and Social Security dries up, and those with jobs would have to pay those differed taxes later anyway. No one in either party thinks this is a good idea. Trump thinks this is leadership, but he doesn’t think much:
One target is to attempt to provide some relief to jobless Americans whose enhanced $600 weekly unemployment aid expired at the end of last month. White House officials have looked at potentially redirecting money from other programs toward unemployment benefits. Another target is to provide eviction relief for Americans who had been protected by a congressionally authorized eviction moratorium that also expired last month.
The moratorium covered renters who live in homes with federally backed mortgages, which the Urban Institute estimates to be 12.3 million households. Democrats agree the administration can unilaterally extend the eviction moratorium, but argue that is of limited value without providing financial support to renters.
But wait, there’s more:
Democrats insist the White House can’t spend money without approval from Congress, but Trump has pushed the boundaries of executive authority in the past, including his move to declare a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border so he could raid Pentagon funds to build his wall…
White House officials are looking at moving funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency into a program that could pay jobless benefits, people briefed on the discussions said.
This is hurricane season. FEMA would have no funding left to help out. Damn, leadership is hard:
Democrats want $915 billion to help states and local governments whose budgets have been decimated by plummeting tax revenue, but Republicans offered only $150 billion. There was also disagreement on money for schools, testing, housing, child care, the postal service, the census and voting…
Brooks was right about the corner Republicans had painted themselves into, so comprehensively anti-government that it had no way to use government to solve common problems, and of course the day ended with this:
Russia is “using a range of measures” to interfere in the 2020 election and has enlisted a pro-Russian lawmaker from Ukraine – who has met with President Trump’s personal lawyer – “to undermine former vice president Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party,” a top U.S. intelligence official said in a statement Friday.
The remarks by William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, were some of the most detailed to date about foreign interference in the presidential race and come after earlier criticism from Democratic lawmakers that Evanina had not shared with the public some of the alarming intelligence he gave them in classified briefings.
Okay, he shared:
Evanina also said that the government of China does not want Trump to win reelection in November, seeing the incumbent as “unpredictable.” Evanina described China’s efforts to date as largely rhetorical and aimed at shaping policy and criticizing the Trump administration for actions Beijing sees as harmful to its long-term strategic interests.
By contrast, Evanina described Russia as actively engaged in efforts that are reminiscent of the Kremlin’s attempts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.
“We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former vice president Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment,'” Evanina said.
He noted that a Ukrainian lawmaker who has been in contact with Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, is part of a Russian disinformation effort.
“Pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption – including through publicizing leaked phone calls – to undermine” Biden and Democrats, Evanina said.
That’s devastating, but Trump showed leadership:
Asked during a news conference Friday if he believed the intelligence assessment, Trump said that “it could be,” before directly contradicting part of the finding by saying, “The last person Russia wants to see in office is Donald Trump, because nobody’s been tougher on Russia than I have, ever.”
When a reporter pointed out that his answer was not in line with the intelligence community, Trump said, “I don’t care what anybody says.”
And that’s the problem.