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Outsiders vs. Insiders: In Trump’s world, if everyone thinks the same someone isn’t thinking

With friends like these who needs enemies?

The old axiom came to mind last week when I read Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker’s comments regarding three top members of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Cristiano Lima of Politico reported, “Corker, addressing an NBC News report that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson considered resigning in frustration over his role, painted the former ExxonMobil executive — along with Trump tweetChief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis — as having a calming influence in the administration.

“’I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis and Chief of Staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos,’ Corker told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon.

“The Tennessee senator expressed sympathy for Tillerson, who he said is in an ‘incredibly frustrating place.’ Corker added that Tillerson ‘ends up not being supported in the way I would hope a secretary of state would be supported.’”

Among the many thoughts that rushed to my head upon pondering Corker’s queasy comments were -- what grants Tillerson the right to feel “frustrated” in the first place? At the behest of the president-elect last winter former Exxon-Mobil CEO Tillerson was tasked with carrying the new administration’s foreign policy vision forward, representing the duly elected president’s unique conception of America’s place in the world both at home and abroad.

Nowhere in the secretary of state’s job description does it indicate he can make policy. Under our constitutional framework the elected guy – the president – gets to tell his inferiors (well, that’s what they are, right?) what to do and they should respectfully go out and do it. Differences of opinion will invariably crop up on such important topics but the chain of command is crystal clear and we all know whose decision is final. It’s so basic even a dunce like Bob Corker knows it.

The same certainly applies to Secretary Mattis and chief of staff Kelly as well. Trump is the head honcho, the guy who sits behind the big desk and is responsible for steering the massive ship. The president, not his advisers, is the one who is accountable for choices he makes and it’s him who the voters entrusted with the nuclear codes and setting the tone for foreign nations to gauge.

So where’s the controversy? Assuming reports are true (here’s thinking they’re not) that Tillerson called Trump a “moron,” haven’t every one of us at certain points in our lifetimes had serious disputes with a boss or superior and uttered some unflattering adjectives to describe him or her to someone we trust?

I’d say it’s human nature, not treachery. As another old saying (attributed to General George S. Patton) goes, “if everyone in the room is thinking the same thing then someone’s not thinking.”

A more serious issue surfaces when a member of the GOP ruling class -- like Bob Corker -- shoots off his mouth to the media planting the seeds of dissension in a senate that already is at odds with not only the president but also the party’s donors and grassroots backers. Let’s not forget Corker recently announced he wasn’t running for reelection but still has over a year left in Washington to cause heaps of trouble for people seeking to drain the swamp.

It should also be remembered Corker himself was rumored to be in consideration for Tillerson’s job (back in January), and even before that, some speculated Trump was thinking about naming the Tennessean to the GOP presidential ticket. What a disaster it would have been to attach an obviously unfaithful establishmentarian to the inside of Trump’s executive branch. It makes me shutter just thinking about it.

Even if the media likes to portray the dust-up as just the latest sign the new administration is unbalanced and its leader incompetent, in the big picture, Trump’s reported tiff with his top advisers is nothing novel within the context of history. America’s first president, the peerless George Washington, had numerous disagreements with his cabinet underlings and fellow founding fathers including quarrels with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Bill of Rights scribe James Madison, who was a prominent member of the House of Representatives in the earliest days of the republic.

Literally behind Washington’s back Jefferson and Madison schemed to create a political party that was not-so-secretly undermining the president’s desire to remain neutral in the ongoing conflict between Great Britain and France in the early 1790’s. Because Washington saw his former revolutionary comrades as being disloyal to him he cut them off completely; the door to Washington’s proverbial dog house swung one-way only.

Thankfully the same doesn’t seem to be the case in the Trump presidency where the chief executive not only appears to tolerate differences of opinion, he values them. What Trump doesn’t condone, however, is “friends” like Corker going out of their way to blabber to the enemy (in this instance the establishment fake news industry) about internal conflicts of his staff.

Corker didn’t say so explicitly but he likely feels Tillerson, Mattis and Kelly would be instrumental in preserving the establishment’s disastrous Iran deal if Trump can be persuaded to keep it. Corker himself played a leading role in making sure Obama’s signature foreign policy “achievement” received legal sanction though the agreement was never constitutionally ratified by the senate and therefore does not possess the full force of law behind it.

The fact Corker will soon be spending all of his retirement hours on the golf course frees him up to say practically anything he wants no matter how stupid and inane it sounds to people reading his comments. It’s the type of entitled attitude that infests the Capitol Hill GOP ruling class and what is driving conservatives across the country to try and be rid of them.

It won’t be easy; the establishment has its promoters, even among the so-called conservative commentary class. Notorious #NeverTrumper Kevin D. Williamson wrote in National Review, “What, exactly, is the case for a ‘purge’ of Republicans who fail a Trump loyalty test? He’s unpopular, he has no substantive agenda, he has been on every conceivable side of issues ranging from abortion to health care to gun control, and his main interest is the service of his vanity. [Vice President Pence’s Chief of Staff Nick] Ayers proposes a midterm bloodletting within the Republican party for that?

“Poor Mike Pence. It’s not like his reputation was ever going to recover from his abject, boot-licking performance as Donald Trump’s vice president, but this is the sort of thinking that comes from his chief of staff? To say that Pence has not exhibited exemplary judgment over the past year and a half or so would be generous. Some people will endure any degradation to stand close to power, however fleeting.”

Keep in mind Williamson writes for a supposedly conservative publication, National Review. By the sound of his dripping sarcasm and contempt for the current administration – and the people who voted for it – you would think the writer was applying for a job at Mother Jones…or CNN.

The snide arrogance of the establishment and its catcallers reveals a true inability to appreciate what last year’s election was all about. Williamson may be searching for an agenda that Trump and Pence represent but the sixty-million-plus Americans who cast votes for the GOP ticket had no such problems grasping what Trump actually stood for.

Many of the campaign’s policy details were left open for Congress to eventually fill-in, but there’s nothing ambiguous about saying you’re for repealing Obamacare, cutting taxes, defeating ISIS and enforcing America’s immigration laws (among other things). Williamson and his establishment #NeverTrump cohorts may not get that the “common folk” understand populism and hold expectations for the political class to fulfill; the people who actually do the work and must live under the incompetent and corrupt government sure realized what Trump was about.

The Constitution set up a framework for representatives of “We the People” to govern the country, not a conglomeration of intellectual oligarchs who sit around in stone castles studying poetry, gobbling truffles and ruling by decree. The election of 2016 was all about rejecting the ruling elites, not perpetuating them. Maybe Williamson himself should do a little reading.

At least the GOP’s donors seem to have gotten the message – they’re demanding action. Alex Isenstadt and Gabriel Debenedetti of Politico reported, “With the GOP’s agenda at a virtual standstill on Capitol Hill, the party is contending with a hard reality. Some of the party's most elite and influential donors, who spent the past eight years plowing cash into the party’s coffers in hopes of accomplishing a sweeping conservative agenda and undoing Barack Obama’s legislative accomplishments, are closing their wallets.

“The backlash is threatening to deprive Republicans of resources just as they're gearing up for the 2018 midterms. Party officials are so alarmed that North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, who oversees fundraising for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told his colleagues at a recent conference meeting that donations had fallen off a cliff after the Obamacare flop. The committee’s haul plummeted to just $2 million in July and August, less than half of what it raised in June.”

And yet the establishment dumped $8 million (from Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund) into the Alabama GOP primary run-off trying in vain to save appointed Senator Luther Strange’s job.

Donors aren’t stupid; they may have a lot of money but they don’t want it squandered unwisely. It’s gotten to the point where making a contribution to the GOP establishment is the same as throwing it away – or in the case of the do-nothing Congress, paying not to get anything accomplished.

It’s not quite equivalent to sending money to the enemy, but close.

In the end, it could very well be true that Trump has serious policy divergences with his advisers; whenever you’re new in town and strive to do things differently conflicts are bound to arise. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact Washington must change -- or it will fail. A little discord is therefore acceptable.

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