Ready … aim …
It’s been forever since we fired arrows to take stock of the conventional wisdom of our uncommonly volatile political age. Donald Trump has commanded our single focus. Naturally, we must start there.
President Trump—How could a man possibly mess up the presiden- cy with the economy performing well, with ISIS in retreat and without a major terrorist incident on our soil?
There would be only one way. He could fail by behaving so poorly and erratically as to be overwhelmingly disapproved of personally or feared as mentally or emotionally unstable. That’s how Trump finds himself with an approval rating below 40 percent, as low as 33 percent in one poll.
But there is this consideration: With personal behavior as his problem, he could always improve his standing with better behavior.
Or could he? Is he capable? It begins to appear not.
Having Robert Mueller find some dubious business deal of his with Russians … that’s idle speculation at this point, though a factor as long as a grand jury is in place and Mueller’s assignment remains to investigate any other matters arising from the Trump-Russian campaign collusion charges at the center of his work.
Chief of Staff John Kelly—He has said his job is to manage the White House staff, not the president. Wrong. His job, if done properly to produce positive results, must be to manage both. He must jerk two knots—one in the neck of the White House staff and another in the neck of the madman in the Oval Office.
Kelly can turn this White House staff into the tightest ship known to White Houses, and Trump can undo it all with one tweet or one ad-libbed editorial abandonment of the teleprompter.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders—She is defending the indefensible, and there’s no defending that, but even the New York Times has profiled her as low-key, competent and potentially a vast improvement over Sean Spicer.
In an interview with the Times, she said there’d been a time or two when Trump said something that bothered her—only a time or two?—but that good Christians know we all sin and fall short.
Yes, all are imperfect, but I’ll leave to more qualified theological debate whether that truth is properly used as a crutch and get-out-of-jail card for the likes of Trump.
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton—Trump’s favorite senator, according to conservative radio kingmaker Hugh Hewitt, doesn’t deserve the Arkansas support he can take for granted while he nurtures his national profile.
As Trump behaves in a way that renders the GOP presidential nomination in 2020 uncertain, Cotton is potentially what they call a “fusion conservative.” That means a Republican politician conceivably able to meld the Trump base with the Tea Partiers with the evangelicals with the Koch-nourished economic right-wingers.
This guy is as ambitious as a young Bill Clinton was, and, in a way, as formidable. He is not the gifted retail politician Clinton was—no one is—but he seems adept in positioning himself, whether from proud bluster on defense to cautious finesse on health care.
That Arkansas politics has turned entirely upside down since Clinton’s time is evidenced by the criticism Clinton got for neglecting Arkansas for his national ambition while Cotton barely bothers with Arkansas and gets home-front attaboys for it.
That’s what happens when cable news and the Internet nationalize all politics.
Democrats—They need, and don’t have, a “fusion liberal” to blend Bernie Sanders and the establishment. “A better deal” sounds like what it is—a contrived attempt at a slogan, akin to “make American adequate again.”
French Hill—Because he is the doctrinaire conservative Republican congressman from Central Arkansas, he will be called to account for voting for that Obamacare repeal bill that was so bad that Trump called it “mean” weeks after he celebrated it.
Hill will survive politically because Saline, Faulkner and White counties will wipe out Pulaski County’s Democratic majority. But he’ll be put on defense on health care in ways that Steve Womack, Rick Crawford, Bruce Westerman, John Boozman and Cotton won’t.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson—He has only one problem, which is my repeated published insistence that, if we’re going to be stuck with a Republican governor, he’s the one to be stuck with. I believe him to be the center-right counterpoint to the center-left Mike Beebe, and that, between them, Arkansas has been fortunate and well-led.
Bret Bielema—We’re enduring the chronic irrational exuberance besetting Razorback football fans. Switching to a 3-4 setup on defense puts more subpar linebackers on the field than before and doesn’t affect whether your defensive backs can cover receivers. In a scrimmage Saturday, Austin Allen completed 19 of 23 passes against his team’s secondary.
The good news is that 6-6 teams regularly go to bowls anymore.