Sometimes the unlikely happens – someone, somewhere, actually wins the lottery – but that’s a matter of probabilities. Buy a ticket and you have a chance to win. That’s only (highly) unlikely – but then there are things that just cannot happen, things that no one imagines can happen, that no one can imagine imagining happening. Donald Rumsfeld put it this way – “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”
But we were going to war in Iraq anyway – but that’s ancient history now. It’s enough to say the world is full of unprecedented surprises, total anomalies that simply pop up, like Vladimir Putin endorsing Donald Trump:
Donald Trump has said that he would “get along very well” with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The feeling is apparently mutual. Putin offered high praise for the billionaire businessman-turned-Republican presidential front-runner on Thursday during an annual news conference with reporters.
“He is a bright and talented person without any doubt,” Putin said, adding that Trump is “an outstanding and talented personality.”
And in remarks closely mirroring Trump’s assessment of the campaign, the Russian leader called Trump “the absolute leader of the presidential race,” according to the Russian TASS news agency.
Later that day Trump said back-at-ya:
“It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond,” Trump said in a statement released by campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks. “I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect.”
The CNN item here then goes on to do the usual “everyone should have expected this” thing:
Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist who authored the book “Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin,” said she believed Putin’s comments are “sincere” and that the Russian leader shares a lot in common with the brash billionaire.
“There’s a really aggressive posture to both men. Putin respects fighters and he respects aggression and he doesn’t respect sort of calm and deliberation,” Gessen said. “He wants a manly adversary. He wants somebody he can understand.”
Okay, we shouldn’t have been surprised:
Trump prides himself on his straight talk and often attacks his opponents for being “low-energy” or lacking the “strength and stamina” to be president, touting instead the need for a “strong” leader like himself.
Putin, a former KGB spy and avid outdoorsman, has staked his reputation on his macho image, with his press shop even releasing a photo of the Russian leader topless on horseback.
“Putin sees himself as someone who doesn’t mince words and who gets into verbal fights, as well as knife fights,” Gessen said. “And in fact Russians see him like that.”
They may be the same guy:
Putin and Trump also appear to share a similar global outlook, both viewing the world as largely a zero-sum game. For Trump, people are either winners or losers. For Putin, it’s Russia against the world. And in that outlook, there’s also a shared oversimplification, Gessen claimed.
“I think what Putin sees in Trump is somebody who’s shooting from the hip,” she said. “Somebody who sees things as being simpler than other politicians or evil journalists might try to make them seem.”
Putin hates political correctness just as much as Trump does, so this had to happen:
Trump said in October that he and Putin “are very different” but suggested that the two men could move beyond the frigid relations that have come to define U.S.-Russia relations under President Barack Obama.
“I think that I would at the same time get along very well with him. He does not like Obama at all. He doesn’t respect Obama at all. And I’m sure that Obama doesn’t like him very much,” Trump said then. “But I think that I would probably get along with him very well. And I don’t think you’d be having the kind of problems that you’re having right now.”
Putin referenced Trump’s reported desire “to reach another, deeper level of relations” with Russia in his remarks Thursday.
“What else can we do but to welcome it? Certainly, we welcome it,” Putin said.
Why did no one see this coming? Christian Whiton addresses that:
Putin – a natural if brawny showman who has posed fishing shirtless, shooting shirtless and horseback riding shirtless – said of Trump: “He’s a very lively man, talented without doubt.”
Thus did the man who embodies the parody of homoeroticism from the 1970s endorse one who embodies the parody of a blow-hard executive from the 1980s – but while Moscow has long been interested in American politics, what inspired the man who has essentially run Russia since 2000 to take the unusual step of commenting on the election process of an adversary?
Whiton thinks it comes down to empathy and desire:
The Donald’s approach to politics likely reminds Putin of himself and he empathizes. Not only do the two men share a love for spectacle and an appreciation of its ability to move low-information voters, but Putin also sees Trump’s self-reference as something Moscow can exploit.
That’s the game here:
Putin famously began his career as an intelligence officer. One thing the young Putin would have been taught by his employers at the KGB’s First Chief Directorate, the agency’s center for foreign intelligence collection, is to look for character flaws that can be used to enlist a target as an agent or, short of that, an unwitting helper. It’s a fancied-up version of a con man looking for his mark.
It takes one to know one, as they say, and others were conned, and maybe Trump will be conned too:
Recent American presidents have been easy prey for Putin. George W. Bush, who thought he got a “sense of Putin’s soul,” mistook the Russian strongman for a friend. Barack Obama believed that a change in diplomatic tone would alter Putin’s calculation of his nation’s interests. Putin of course encouraged both vanities. The invaded people of Georgia and Ukraine can attest to who sized up who better.
The cherry on the cake would be a President Trump. Putin has no doubt observed that flattery works well on The Donald: from his tweets to TV appearances to debate performances, Trump is a lion to those who are critical and a lamb to those who suffer his repetitive imprecisions silently.
But there may be more to it:
Putin’s giddiness over Trump’s personal flaws shifts to outright desire when the candidate starts talking about U.S. policy toward Russia. In September, Trump said of the Russian leader: “I will tell you in terms of leadership he is getting an ‘A’…” As Putin put warplanes and a base in Syria – Moscow’s biggest push into the Middle East and Mediterranean rim since the Cold War – Trump said: “Putin is now taking over what we started, and he’s going into Syria, and he frankly wants to fight ISIS, and I think that’s a wonderful thing.”
This means that yet another U.S. political figure has mistakenly believed Russian interests will converge with America’s.
In reality, Putin has forces in Syria to shore up the dictator, Bashar al-Assad, and primarily fight Assad’s non-ISIS opponents. And the “A” in leadership The Donald awarded Putin was earned by ruthlessly suppressing domestic dissent, playing to the most base instincts of the Russian public and launching foreign wars of aggression.
No good will come of this:
Putin will happily pocket Trump’s naiveté. … When Putin sees Trump’s unique combination of self-reference and self-delusion about Moscow’s desire to assert itself at the expense of the West, he sees gold. Furthermore, he is assured that he could continue to expand Russia’s sphere of influence – perhaps even beyond the countries he has already invaded — all the while saying he is doing nothing of the sort.
Perhaps Trump is getting rolled, but at least the two understand each other, and Trump’s poll numbers will rise. A year ago it was this:
On Fox News, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani declared that Putin has shown what leadership is by acting boldly and rapidly to assert his nation’s interests in Crimea. Also on Fox, right-wing celebrity Sarah Palin suggested that the Russian president is far manlier than the U.S. president.
“Obama, the perception of him and his ‘potency’ across the world is one of such weakness,” Palin said. “Look it, people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”
In recent days, Rush Limbaugh has surprised himself (so he says) by finding admirable qualities in Putin that Obama lacks. He joins the ranks of numerous social conservatives, such as Pat Buchanan, who were already Putin fans due to his support for the Russian Orthodox Church and his opposition to gay rights.
In December, Buchanan wrote a column lauding Putin for his opposition to same-sex marriage. “While his stance as a defender of traditional values has drawn the mockery of Western media and cultural elites, Putin is not wrong in saying that he can speak for much of mankind.” Buchanan wrote. “He is seeking to redefine the ‘Us vs. Them’ world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism of what he sees as a decadent West.”
Putin was their hero. Now Trump can be their hero too, and this endorsement now makes perfect sense. The two of them can rule the world and the rest of us can go about leading our boring and pathetic little lives, as it should be. Still, Putin’s ringing endorsement of Donald Trump came as a total surprise – but perhaps it was one of Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns, that we should have known. Oh well. Now we know.
Oh yeah, and now we know that Congress is going to pass a budget with no fuss and muss – there will be no government shutdown over defunding Planned Parenthood or keeping all Syrian refugees out in the cold or anything else. No absolute demands came up. The idea was to keep the doors open and the government running through October 1, 2016, the end of the government’s fiscal year, and oddly no one fought about it:
Congress on Friday is poised to clear the year-end tax and spending deal as lawmakers seek to wrap up the remaining congressional business with members itching to head home for the holidays.
Despite some grumbling in both parties over the contents of the deal – a $1.1 trillion spending bill and a $622 billion package of tax cuts – it is expected to be approved by both chambers… On Thursday the House passed the tax portion of the agreement on a 318 to 109 vote. If the spending bill passes the House, it will be rolled into one package with the tax measure that the Senate is expected to clear for the president’s signature later in the day.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday expressed confidence the deal will make it into law.
What? Where did all the fighting go? Damn, these people started acting like we had a functioning government:
House Republicans provided most of the needed votes, 241, to pass the tax package, which House Democratic leaders oppose because they say it is too expensive and does not do enough for low-income workers. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) opposed the tax agreement but said she will vote for the spending bill. …
House Democratic votes will be needed to pass the spending bill on Friday due to Republican discontent with the size of the package and the lack of policy provisions on issues such as immigration and abortion that conservatives pushed to include in the deal.
No one is happy with the total package, but few are totally outraged, and the government will keep functioning, which is the way things are supposed to work, theoretically. No one expected this:
Pelosi added that many of her members are particularly concerned that the bill would roll back the ban on oil exports. While Pelosi does not support that policy, she argued that Democratic leaders were able to secure in the deal policies they support by not seeking to block the inclusion of the export ban language.
“I feel that what we did in the bill more than ten times offsets the damage that exporting crude oil does,” she said.
This is called compromise. No one thought we’d ever see that again, or this:
On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the agreement a good compromise that includes provisions that benefit both parties. He outlined victories for Democrats, including expanded funding for domestic programs and expanded tax credits for alternative energy production.
“Sometime in the darkness, the bill was finalized,” Reid said “No legislation is perfect, but this is good legislation.”
On Thursday, presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in an interview on Fox News that senators should try to slow down consideration of the bill to force leaders to renegotiate over whether language should be included to crack down on the ability of Syrian and Iraqi refugees to come into the United States.
“We can most certainly slow this process down and force them to go back and make changes to it,” he said. “There’s no doubt that we can and we should and we will.”
Soon after, however, Senate leaders locked in an agreement to vote on the year-end package Friday if it passes the House.
Rubio was ignored. The job was to keep the government open, and Mike DeBonis points out that the sensible person here was Paul Ryan:
The bill will pass despite the possibility that a majority of Republicans will vote against it – just as they voted against fiscal deals negotiated by Ryan’s often-besieged predecessor, John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).
But there has been a distinct change in tone for the House GOP under Ryan. The negotiations over the spending bill, for example, took place in much the same way and produced similar results as they did under Boehner, but with almost none of the acrimony or divisiveness that had become the hallmark of Boehner’s tenure.
Ryan decided to be a mensch about it:
The conservatives who balked at Boehner’s top-down leadership style say Ryan has sent the right signals, even if the final product of the spending talks isn’t any more palatable to them than what Boehner might have negotiated. At its core, the deal that is expected to be approved this week is one essentially set in motion by Boehner. …
Pressed about the difference under Ryan, rank-and-file lawmakers could not point to specific changes made by the new speaker. His reforms to an internal group that doles out committee assignments were cosmetic, at best, and his early decision to have a wide-open amendment process on a massive highway funding bill has been followed by mostly closed consideration of legislation that needs to pass quickly.
On the Boehner vs. Ryan question, House Republicans tend to split into two camps; those who say they trust Ryan more than Boehner, and those who are giving him the early benefit of the doubt. The latter group has decided to rally around the new leader, saying that the real verdict on his leadership will come next year.
Either way, no one was fighting about everything:
Ryan, 45, is part of the more conservative wing of the Republican conference, ideologically and generationally, in a way that Boehner, 65, never was. That has afforded Ryan a level of trust and credibility among the rank and file, which has allowed him to be more upfront in setting expectations about what can and cannot be achieved.
Because so many conservatives did not trust Boehner, he was always in the position of trying to shore up support for the next leadership election. The result was that he was forced, at the beginning of each negotiation with President Obama, to promise his GOP troops that he would fight for their demands harder than ever before. This led Boehner into repeatedly over-promising and under-delivering.
Ryan’s deeper well of trust in the conservative wing has allowed him to be far more forthright in delivering bad news than Boehner usually was.
“He doesn’t tell us what we want to hear and then not do it,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). “If he says he’s going to do something or try to do something, he does. He’s been getting up and saying, ‘That’s not going to happen, and you know that’ on several occasions, and it’s been productive.”
Isn’t that how things are supposed to work? The surprise here was that they did work, but Paul Waldman notices something else that’s very odd here:
These bills contain both things Republicans want (like allowing oil exports, extending a research and development tax break for businesses, and delaying the “Cadillac Tax” in the Affordable Care Act) and things Democrats want (like extending the child tax credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit).
But whether you’re happy with the overall balance of line items in the bill, one thing’s for sure: it will increase the deficit rather substantially.
While there are some Republicans complaining about that, what they’re really mad about is the things they didn’t get, like banning Planned Parenthood from getting Medicaid reimbursements. In short, what mattered, for both sides, was the substantive details, and to some degree the politics, that is, Republicans not wanting to suffer the fallout from another shutdown crisis.
It seems that all that talk about the deficit simply disappeared, as it should have disappeared long ago:
Let’s be honest: despite all their talk about what we’re handing to the next generation and how government should balance its books just like a family does, when it comes down to actually making choices, Republicans are no more concerned about deficits than Democrats are. Crying about the deficit is a tool they use to constrain policies they don’t like. When it comes to the policies they do like, how much the government will have to borrow to fund them is barely an afterthought. So can we stop pretending they actually care about deficits?
That was a joke anyway:
They often convince the public that deficits are a serious problem that needs addressing, because most voters have only the vaguest understanding of how the government operates, and words like “debt” become a stand-in for “the economy.” And they have allies among those sometimes referred to as the Very Serious People in Washington, who gravely intone that government can’t do things like mitigate the effects of a recession if doing so will add to the debt. But when Republicans actually have to make choices, there’s a simple calculus at work: the programs they don’t support anyway, like food stamps or Medicaid, should be cut because we just can’t afford them. But the programs they do support, like military spending, not to mention tax cuts that will increase the deficit? Well, we just have to do those things, because they’re necessary.
Consider that the biggest Democratic policy initiative in recent years was the Affordable Care Act, which was completely paid for through taxes and budget cuts within Medicare. The ACA not only didn’t increase the deficit, it decreased it. The biggest Republican policy initiatives in recent years, on the other hand, were the Bush tax cuts and the Iraq War. The former cost somewhere between $2 trillion and $3 trillion while the latter cost around $2 trillion. There was no attempt to pay for either one, meaning the cost was just added to the deficit.
They may have been kidding about the deficit all along:
When George W. Bush took office, they wanted to cut taxes, particularly on the wealthy, so they did. They wanted to invade Iraq, so they did. If any Republican said, “It would be nice to do this, but it’s going to increase the deficit, so we shouldn’t,” they would have been laughed out of the room. And all those Republicans who today say that they don’t think that Bush was a real conservative because he didn’t curtail spending? If you don’t remember them loudly objecting at the time, that’s because they didn’t.
And now they’ve just given up:
And all the Republicans running for president have tax plans that would send the deficit into the stratosphere. They wave away the consequences by saying that they’ll come up with some package of (yet unspecified) budget cuts, or even better, that despite all historical evidence, this time cutting taxes will lead to such an explosion of economic growth that the deficit will actually fall (this is known as a belief in the “Tax Fairy”). But the truth is that they just want to cut taxes, and if one of them becomes president, that’s what he’ll do. And nobody on the Republican side will care what it does to the deficit.
So, can we stop talking about the deficit now, finally? Stranger things have happened. Congress passes a budget and no one throws a hissy-fit and forces a government shutdown – they just do their jobs. How did that happen? Sometimes what’s totally unexpected is rather nice, even if it’s rather rare. As for Putin’s endorsement of Donald Trump, that was totally unexpected too. Okay, they’re long-lost brothers, separated at birth – got it. That clarifies matters, perhaps, or perhaps not. There are only so many political anomalies any one can handle in one day. That one will take some getting used to.