The Cummins premise
Bud Cummins’ premise that President Donald Trump’s behavior is irrelevant gets stressed closer to the breaking point nearly every day.
To refresh your memory, Cummins, of Little Rock, is the former U.S. attorney who was Trump’s campaign chairman in Arkansas. Now affiliated with a pro-Trump political consulting firm in Washington, he has explained that we’ve had presidents before who were phonies.
He concludes, ergo, that we may as well have a president who is no phony, but transparently of low personal character. He asserts that transparently bad presidential behavior doesn’t matter if the economy is fine and taxes lowered and the border more secure and ISIS competently fought.
To be precise and fair, Cummins doesn’t use, and would dispute, the phrase “low personal character” for this man-child president he continues to stand by with a loyalty only beginning to approximate that of Jeff Sessions.
I am the one invoking the phrase confidently, based on the evidence.
Cummins merely acknowledges that Trump sometimes tweets or says things he wouldn’t.
In other words: He has standards for himself, but he relaxes them for the supposed leader of the free world.
It’s an interesting rationale — that you bestow your endorsement on a 71-year-old man for the office of president despite actions for which you’d put your child on timeout.
It’s that being a well-behaved president is not as important as being a well-behaved child.
It’s that Trump’s responsibility as our national leader is not to be a role model, but to facilitate lower taxes and tighter immigration policy and maybe, only maybe, a different policy on health insurance.
It’s that the presidential proof is in the pudding, not the man.
Of course it’s contradictory. Republicans impeached Bill Clinton for low character, for lying about sex, even as the economy was firing on all cylinders and the deficit was coming down.
I wrote at the time that Clinton should resign the presidency because he’d disgraced it, and, anyway, it would help Al Gore if he ran as an incumbent. I was both consistent about behavior and a tad mercenary like Cummins.
The latest example of how the Cummins premise works is the sad case of Sessions, an eager right-wing extremist who became infatuated early and embraced Trump’s presidential candidacy before any other prominent Republican would dare do so.
He got appointed attorney general and began work on effecting some of the extremism he’d merely dreamed about as a garden-variety senator from Alabama.
But along the way, the Justice Department he newly headed undertook an investigation of Russian meddling in the last presidential election. The investigation came to include the issue of whether the Russians meddled to help the Trump campaign, with which Sessions was highly involved.
Based on advice from his staff about an ethical responsibility to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, Sessions recused from the investigation and ceded the matter to his chief deputy, who named special counsel Robert Mueller for the Russia-Trump matter.
Now Trump is furious that Sessions conceded to ethical standards rather than shield him from the investigation. Trump has turned publicly cruel to a poor sycophantic sap who had the naïvely misguided audacity to think his hero would permit him to abide by professional behavioral standards in the office to which he was so proudly and joyously appointed.
Trump has chosen to ridicule the poor eager-beaver relentlessly — first in an interview with the New York Times, then in tweets.
He has browbeaten Sessions for not using the Justice Department to re-investigate Hillary Clinton (she’s been cleared already) and thus abuse the FBI in a way reminiscent of Nixon that we might have thought the nation had learned from and gotten better than.
Bad behavior often is a manifestation of irrational thinking. And it is clearly irrational for Trump to berate his own loyalist even as that loyalist performs his job in a way Trump’s right-wing base admires.
But none of that matters by the Cummins premise, which is to look away from all that and only to the economic indicators. How about that stock market? Now if we can only get taxes down.
Ican hear devotees of the Cummins premise now: At least Trump is being open about his misbehavior. What about John F. Kennedy putting in his own brother as attorney general, presumably to have his back in the way Trump expected Sessions to have his?
That’s a classic rush to the lowest common denominator. The impropriety of the Kennedy brothers’ indefensible nepotism nearly 60 years ago is no license for abuse now.
It is, however, a classic playground defense. You know the line, usually delivered in the form of a whine. It goes like this: “He did it first.”
It’s a powerful argument for fourth-graders, though they seldom prevail.
It seems to work best at the presidential level in the Trump Era.