Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of Donald J. Trump's swearing-in as President of the United States, and one could be forgiven for feeling as winded as Rosie O'Donnell after a 100-meter
This is a good time to pause for reflection and a sense of perspective. Here is what I wrote on Inauguration Day 2017:
The goal of the conservative, during the Trump presidency, must be to neither reflexively oppose Trump nor reflexively shill for Trump. The goal for us must be, like a well-trained home plate umpire, to call balls and strikes as we see it. And we will call those balls and strikes not out of fealty to ad hoc cults of personality, but out of fealty to our timeless principles.
Stand for moral clarity and oppose moral relativism. Support rule by neutral law and oppose rule by capricious men. Support national sovereignty and oppose outsourcing that sovereignty to transnationalism. Support the separation of powers and oppose the modern despotic presidency. Support federalism and oppose the centralization of power in Washington, D.C. Stand with the liberalized West and existentially oppose the global jihad. Stand for free enterprise and unshackled markets and oppose proto-fascistic “economic nationalism.” Support the private inculcation of civic virtue and oppose heavy-handed government indoctrination. Love life and oppose the destruction of innocent life. Love liberty and oppose the whims of those who would deprive us of liberty’s eternal blessings.
To be sure, this remains my exact approach. The "Good Trump"/"Bad Trump" dichotomy, as popularized by my good friend and editor-in-chief of this wonderful site, Ben Shapiro, remains the absolutely correct lens through which to assess the unfolding Trump presidency. When Charles C.W. Cooke and Jonah Goldberg (both adherents of the "Good Trump"/"Bad Trump" dichotomy) of National Review took to task rabid Trump Derangement Syndrome™-afflicted "conservatives" Jennifer Rubin and David Frum, respectively, they were incontrovertibly correct in doing so. It is intellectually honest to stand by cherished values, morals, and principles. It is intellectually dishonest to subordinate those values, morals, and principles to the peculiar identity of the individual elucidating such a value, moral, or principle at a particular snapshot in time.
The proper conservative approach to year two of the Trump presidency is thus precisely what it was in year one.
Which is why it is much more fun to instead use this symbolic juncture to make some predictions. From James Comey's firing to Neil Gorsuch's nomination to tweeting about Mika Brzezinski's possible facelift to the disgraceful Charlottesville nadir to Bannon's ouster to "s***hole"-gate, the first year of the Trump presidency really saw it all — well, except for Obamacare repeal. What a whirlwind it has been!
In no particular order, here are eight predictions for what we will see in year two:
1. Anthony Kennedy will retire after this Supreme Court term. Without any doubt, our most mercurial swing justice has enjoyed his elongated stint as de facto philosopher-king of our post-judicial supremacy world. But, while Kennedy's vote on a given issue may be wobblier than a drunk on a unicycle, those close to him and with whom I've chatted over the years always indicate that Kennedy thinks of himself as a capital-r Republican — someone who thinks he believes that America is greatest with a flourishing Reaganite agenda of free enterprise, federalism, and peace through strength. While the Senate electoral map in 2018 is fantastic for the GOP, the severity of Trump's down-ballot effect is, at best, unknowable, and at worst, potentially carcinogenic. If Kennedy wants to ensure a Republican president will nominate and a Republican Senate will confirm his successor, this summer would be the time to step down. The fact that Trump's first Supreme Court nominee was someone straight out of well-coiffed Federalist Society central casting (Gorsuch), and not a comparative bomb thrower (like, e.g., my initial preference of Bill Pryor), only increases the likelihood Kennedy will retire this summer. I predict he will do so.
2. Not a single additional mile of new border fencing with Mexico will be built. As an immigration hawk who ardently believes that illegal immigration is utterly anathema to the very concept of popular sovereignty enshrined by the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution, I take no pleasure whatsoever in making this prediction. But Ann Coulter should prepare for more disappointment, because the much-vaunted Trump Wall just is not happening. It turns out that the guy who (kind of/sort of) wrote "The Art of the Deal" loves taking himself hostage during immigration debates — at least, that is, when he shows any grasp of the immigration issue at all. Furthermore, while Democrats (wrongly) view the Trump Wall as a Berlin Wall-esque symbolic ode to totalitarianism, most pro-sovereignty border hawks on the Right (properly) concede that an actual physical barrier is pretty far down the list of other desired pro-enforcement and legal immigration reform measures, such as ensuring universal E-Verify, implementing biometric tracking visas, and ending chain migration. Add all of these factors together and it follows that no new physical fencing on the Mexican border will be built.
3. The most ambitious legislation conservatives could possibly get is a modest welfare reform. The inestimable Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy center recently broke this down well. Senate Republicans may not even agree to use the budget-reconciliation process (whereby a piece of budget-related legislation can pass with 50 votes instead of 60 votes) before the 2018 midterm elections. Mitch McConnell and Senate GOP leadership show no particular interest in taking on anything even remotely controversial, such as health care or entitlement reform, in an election year, and a well-connected D.C. politico friend of mine personally close with McConnell recently told me that he does not expect Senate Republicans to even attempt reconciliation this year. If they do, modest Bill Clinton-esque tweaks to welfare — devolving programs to states with various work requirement-related strings attached — seems to be the most likely outcome. There will sadly be no major reforms of bankrupting programs such as Medicare or Social Security in an election year.
4. The Mueller probe will unravel of its own accord. As a skeptic of the Trump-Russia-collusion narrative, I've long thought that if there is actually any actual fire to accompany the ubiquitous Trump-Russia smoke, it would have been uncovered by now. I think Andrew C. McCarthy at National Review is exactly right when he reasoned how the George
Snuffleupagus Papadopoulos indictment in October was actually exculpatory of Trump, and the Mueller probe is independently suffering a crisis of public legitimacy as more information comes about how stacked the team of lawyers is with partisan Hillary Clinton-supporting Democrats ("insurance policy," anyone?). Meanwhile, the latest bombshell on the Hill is a classified House Intelligence Committee report containing "explosive" information about the overt politicization of the Obama FBI and the unholy provenance of the infamous Steele dossier whence the Trump-Russia-collusion narrative initially sprang. When Reps. Ron DeSantis and Matt Gaetz tweet this aggressively, then something is likely up.
The Mueller probe seems to be on its last legs. Trump is not idiotic enough to fire Mueller, but the probe has been compromised and has already taken a hit in public polling. It will be dead by the end of the year, and there will ultimately be no charges brought on anything related to alleged collusion with Russia.
5. The U.S. will shoot down a North Korea ICBM. The dangerous situation with North Korea shows no serious signs of deescalating, rote conciliatory gestures by the North aside. It seems obvious that a state as rogue as the North — especially one that has so conscientiously developed its nuclear and missile programs, going back decades — will continue to test its ICBMs with reckless abandon, unless and until it is stopped from doing so. There is only so long that key regional U.S. allies such as Japan can tolerate a tinpot pudgy ogre-led dictatorship shooting ICBMs overhead willy-nilly. And if the U.S. wants to maintain the solemnity of its nuclear deterrent and prevent an all-out nuclear arms race in the Pacific, Trump is eventually going to have to act. Though imperfect, we do have the technology to shoot down North Korean ICBMs. All we are lacking is the political will — and perhaps a Commander-in-Chief just trigger-happy enough to exercise that will. Trump is just devil-may-care enough, just unhinged enough, and (counter-intuitively) just viscerally savvy enough to be that guy.
6. Trump will kill the Iran nuclear deal. The Iran nuclear deal — which I colorfully lambasted as a "harrowing Chamberlain-esque capitulation to the forces of evil and fundamentalist jihadism" during its public debate — is but one of many Middle East geopolitical issues (including the Palestinian boondoggle, the failed Kurdish independence referendum, and the Saudi/Emirati-led blockade of Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood-financing Qatar) where President Trump's "outsider" novice instincts are more in line with reality than those of the sclerotic D.C. foreign policy establishment. Trump's rhetoric on the Iranian regime is increasingly scorched-earth, he was mightily courageous in providing moral sustenance to the regime's recent protesters, he has already decertified that Iran is in compliance with the deal, and he has now issued what seems to be a final ultimatum to Congress to "fix" the deal in line with certain of his principles. The problem, even if Congress does provide such a legislative "fix," is that there actually is no possible fix. Here was John Bolton in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed:
The Iran agreement rests on inadequate knowledge and fundamentally flawed premises. Mr. Obama threw away any prospect of learning basic facts about Iran’s capabilities. Provisions for international inspection of suspected military-related nuclear facilities are utterly inadequate, and the U.S. is likely not even aware of all the locations. Little is known, at least publicly, about longstanding Iranian-North Korean cooperation on nuclear and ballistic-missile technology. It is foolish to play down Tehran’s threat because of Pyongyang’s provocations. They are two sides of the same coin.
Trump will realize this soon enough — indeed, he is already a good part of the way toward doing so. The Iran nuclear deal will die this year.
7. Jeff Sessions will resign or be fired. It is difficult to see how the oft-maligned U.S. Attorney General survives this second year of the Trump presidency. Trump turned on Sessions remarkably early on, following Sessions' recusal from the Russia investigation, and ever since the Alabamian has seemed like a bit of a dead man walking. I have nothing whatsoever against Jeff Sessions aside from his troglodyte approach to civil asset forfeiture, and friends whose opinions I trust all unanimously say he is an upstanding individual of the highest moral fiber. But he has not been in Trump's good graces since shortly after Inauguration Day, and Sessions has been running on borrowed time. I predict he will be out by the end of the year. Kris Kobach, current Kansas Secretary of State and renowned immigration/voter integrity hardliner, would be a fantastic replacement — as would a certain Texas Senator named Ted Cruz.
8. Republicans will keep their Senate majority but lose their House majority. In a normal midterm election year, with a Senate map this good (Democrats are defending 24 seats, including many states Trump won in 2016), Republicans might be able to overcome the usual systemic disadvantage suffered by the presidential incumbent's party and expect to pick up a small handful of seats. As it stands, with generally milquetoast non-incumbent Senate candidates across the board (with the notable exception of Josh Hawley in Missouri) and with Trump having the worst approval ratings of any president, at this juncture of a presidency, in the modern era of polling, the GOP would be lucky to tread water. And it will do so: Nevada is likely lost for the GOP and Arizona will be a nail-biter, but Missouri is a likely pick-up, and many other states (Florida, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana) all should be in play for a non-presidential cycle electorate (which are generally whiter and more Republican-leaning). I predict Republicans end up gaining one or two seats on the Senate side. On the House side, Democrats need to flip 24 seats in order to regain control; the post-World War II midterm election average is a loss of 25 seats for the presidential incumbent's party. Post-2010 census pro-GOP gerrymandering cautions against a monstrous Democratic wave, but the dire straits of Trump's approval rating and the metastasizing pandemic of veteran Republican congressmen all across the nation retiring rather than facing an expected bloodbath are both quite ominous. I predict Democrats regain the House — but barely.
It could be another wild year. Let's all eschew the Tide pod lure and try to make it through together.