Friday, June 15, 2018

Michael Barone: Will we get tired of so much winning?



Will we get tired of so much winning?

By Michael Barone | Washington Examiner

It has been a week full of wins for Donald Trump — at least from the perspective of those who share Trump’s view of the way the world works, and perhaps even for some who don’t.

Exhibit A is Trump’s summit meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Singapore. In their self-congratulatory joint statement, the two leaders stated that North Korea committed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” and the United States agreed “to provide security guarantees” to North Korea.

Critics said that that’s not airtight language, and argued that Kim came out better than the author of The Art of the Deal. He got cancellation of U.S.-South Korea military exercises next March in return for promises that his regime has repeatedly broken.

But Trump was having none of this. In place of the “fire and fury” he threatened not so long ago, he rhapsodized about new condominium developments replacing the Hermit Kingdom's shoreline artillery emplacements. And unlike previous U.S. negotiators with Korea, his diplomacy was very personal: the president who began his Manhattan real estate career at 25 noted that Kim took power at 27.

Similarly personal was the appeal in the four-minute video produced by the National Security Council. Of 7 billion people on earth, only a few can make a difference, the narrator said, adding that history need not be repeated but can evolve. Hokey, critics said, but "Dilbert" author Scott Adams, who famously predicted Trump’s election based on his persuasive powers, said his “first reaction” was that “it might be the best thing anybody ever did in a negotiation. Period.”

The personal touch, by the way, distinguishes Trump’s outreach to North Korea from Barack Obama’s to Iran. The Iranian regime is a group project, with many leaders with ideological and economic interests in continuing hostility to the United States. Obama’s hope that he could change its outlook clearly went unrealized.

Kim Jong Un’s regime, in contrast, appears highly personal, one in which the leader can order the sudden deposition and death of an uncle who is a key official. That regime’s behavior, Trump is betting, will change if he can change the mind of just one man.

Of course, this may not work out. But the argument is that nothing else has, and with North Korean nukes now poised to hit the West Coast, it’s worth trying. “The world is safer than it was a week ago,” writes the veteran Washington Post foreign correspondent David Ignatius, “and Trump is getting some deserved global applause.”

“In expected value terms, this is the biggest triumph of the Trump presidency,” blogs contrarian economist Tyler Cowen. “The negative commentary I am seeing is mostly sour grapes misplaced frustration, and it is weak in the quality of its argumentation.”

Trump’s almost affectionate treatment of Kim Jong Un is something like the relationship — making friends with supposed enemies — that he’s cultivated with the rapper Kanye West. In that case the obvious goal is that he and his party will improve on the 8 percent he won from blacks in 2016.

And make no mistake, it’s Trump's party — something that seemed highly unlikely when he rode down that escalator three years ago this month. Trump has near-unanimous job approval among self-described Republicans, and his clout in Republican primaries was demonstrated in one of his smaller victories last week.

Just three hours before polls closed in the South Carolina primary on Tuesday, Trump tweeted his endorsement of Katie Arrington against first district incumbent and frequent Trump critic Rep. Mark Sanford. The challenger got 51 percent and avoided a runoff by just 366 votes. Did the tweet make the difference?

Another apparent Trump victory came without much notice, as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy blocked the efforts of some Republican moderates and all House Democrats to get the 218 signatures required to trigger a roll class on a bill that would legalize the so-called Dreamers without strengthening immigration enforcement.

That was not the deal Trump had in mind when he promised to sign a bill legalizing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients and at the same time strengthening enforcement. Ryan and McCarthy promised roll call votes next week on such a bill, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and another as yet to be drafted by Republican moderates.

These developments may not all turn out to be Trump wins. The immigration bills probably won’t pass and will fall short of Trump goals; Trump endorsement tweets may produce unelectable nominees; negotiations with North Korea may go nowhere.

But maybe, as Trump has predicted, we’re going to get tired of so much winning.