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Congress & the Goldilocks Presidency


According to the Weekly Standard it would be a good thing if T. Rump is not engaged, but not too not engaged, but not too engaged either. Or something.

Indeed, for many on the right, Donald Trump’s inattentiveness presents not just a possible silver lining to his tenure but a best-case scenario. An unengaged president who is vaguely amenable to conservatism on the policy front could make it possible for congressional leaders, working with administration appointees and mobilized activist groups, to achieve many of the goals conservatives have been pursuing for years (far longer than Trump has been a Republican).

Exceptionalism means never having to be sorry that your side elected a president who is overdrawn at the First Bank of Fucks and has the attention span of a dog at a squirrel farm. In fact, it means being glad about it. After all, he’ll sign anything we give him. Just tell him it’s an autograph for a fashion model who really digs yams, hooray!

But wait, maybe not Hooray, because it turns out that a lot of work goes into getting to the point where there is something for him to sign.

The process of enacting big reforms, after all, requires a great deal of time and energy. In each case, key congressional committees would hold hearings, administration and Hill staffers would negotiate details between the branches, the two chambers, and hundreds of members’ offices, and White House personnel would juggle countless decisions. This means there are multiple points of entry for good proposals, but also that there are endless demands on the attention of all involved.

So like … maybe? Congress could like? Do more? Of the? Heavy? Lifting?

In the absence of an opinionated final arbiter who could always be brought in, the policy process can easily become far less, rather than more, productive. If President Trump is indeed to remain above the details, and if the executive branch is unlikely to be able to compensate for his relative apathy or absence, congressional leaders may have to think very differently about their own role in the policy process. That might make for some opportunities, but only if members of Congress are prepared for what to many of them will be an unfamiliar and challenging task.

I.e., the jobs they were elected to do. Minus standing around and shouting No! to anything President Obama proposes and producing Plans for a Better Future that are thee parts stock photos and graphics, one part chili farts. Thank God for lobbyists. The can do all of that stuff, provided they produce a sound bites version that Rep. Talking Head can recite.

This would be a good thing, to be sure. That presidents have been so central in the policy process—which ought to be, after all, a fundamentally legislative process—is a historical reality but not a constitutional imperative. On the contrary, it is a function of Congress’s willful ceding of authority over decades. A recovery of that authority would be most welcome,

Indeed. And to be sure. Where the hell’s Wm. de Worde when you need him?

but it would require a conscious decision by members of Congress,

Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Oh wait, there’s more.

rooted in a recognition of its necessity. Simply assuming a disengaged president will serve their policy interests is not nearly enough. Conservatives in Congress would need to restructure some fundamental processes and rules—above all the budget process—to make them more friendly to how Congress functions and less dependent on an assertive and engaged executive. And they would need to want and seek the responsibility to set priorities.

When I think of today’s GOP the phrase Want and seek responsibility completely fails to spring to mind. I mean, the entire essay is about what Congress should do because the next president doesn’t care about his job.

What Republicans will want and seek are some Democrats they can hide behind. At which point Democrats ought to check to make sure they still have their wallets and say No, get thee in front of me.

Making that the norm would be no easy feat, especially in the service of not just one large piece of legislation but the management of a more extended and varied agenda involving numerous separate policy areas, committee jurisdictions, and interest groups. It would require members of Congress to agree among themselves without presidential pressure, prioritize among their preferences, and demonstrate enough discipline and confidence in their leaders to enable them to make deals that would stick.

Indeed and to be sure, Republicans are good at lockstep marching. Getting them to line up behind Ryan and What’s-his-face won’t be a problem. But the authors overlook (by accident, surely!) the fact that Trump isn’t Corporal the Right Honorable Lord C.W. St. John Nobbs and he won’t be content to wave during public appearances and eat pig feet.

Trump is a vindictive and temperamental asshole who is going to assert his authority (real or imagined) whenever the mood strikes. I’m not sure what Ryan and that other guy will be able to do when this happens, but I’d pay to watch the film. The authors want to believe (or at least want the readers to believe) that this will be like planning party for adults when there’s a teenager who just wants to sit in her room playing video games in the house. In reality this is planning a party when there’s a practicing alcoholic in the house. She’s going to barge in like an escapee from the cast of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or worse, but no one knows when. (The key difference being the party planners deserve our sympathy and the Republicans deserve our laughter.)

A disengaged chief executive therefore should not be seen as a boon to conservative policy-making or constitutional restoration. It may well be that a disengaged Donald Trump is better than an engaged one, from the point of view of conservative governance. But to think of disengagement as above all a silver lining is to be far too sanguine about its implications. That doesn’t mean conservatives should want Trump to be hyper-engaged, but it does mean we should be realistic about what is achievable in the coming years.

And I threw this in because it supports my theory that Jonah Goldberg leases out his unpaid interns.

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