I was thinking last night after the news broke that the fallout from the strike isn’t just a risk for U.S. national security, it’s a risk for Trump’s political coalition. Most righties, even populist righties, will cheerlead the president’s decisions because that’s what populism amounts to among most casual Republican voters. It’s why Trump never took much heat on immigration from the right during the border crisis even though he neglected to make the wall an urgent priority during his first two years in office. Why? Because populism — to most — means being pro-Trump. If the president dragged his feet on the wall, well, he had his reasons. He’s doing his best. Have faith.
The same will be true of the Soleimani strike, I expect. The Week notes that Hannity called into Fox last night (he was on vacation) to praise Trump for his “huge victory” and “total leadership.” Brian Kilmeade described himself as “elated” by the Soleimani news this morning on “Fox & Friends.” And understandably so — Soleimani was a figure of unusual malevolence in the modern world. Most Fox viewers will cheer along as the network celebrates Trump’s achievement. But there are some principled nationalists out there who’ll make unhappy noises about this development and one of them happens to be the network’s 8 p.m. guy. He was restrained last night in the wake of the news, at least with respect to criticizing the president, but his unhappiness is evident in the clip below. The bureaucrats who populate “official Washington” and have been pushing for war with Iran for years are “liars, and they don’t care about you, they don’t care about your kids, they’re reckless and incompetent, and you should keep all of that in mind as war with Iran looms closer tonight,” he sniffed, once again singling out the now long-gone John Bolton. At one point he wonders if Trump got “out-maneuvered” by the hawks surrounding him. Blaming the president for anything is risky business on Fox, but blaming the nefarious “deep state”? That’s the way you make Trump criticism safe for consumption on FNC.
If the confrontation with Iran does blow up, how many righties will end up in the Hannity camp and how many in the Tucker camp? The first will be bigger, but how much bigger?
The irony of Carlson trying to lay this strike off on Trump’s advisors rather than on the president himself is that the operation was so surprising, arguably even reckless, that it “feels” more like a Trump idea than something that the Mark Espers and Mike Pompeos of the world would propose. Trump believes in nothing as ardently as he believes in showing strength; in particular, he seems to define himself politically by contrasting his strength with Barack Obama’s weakness. (Tearing up the nuclear deal with Iran is a prime example.) He spent the past few days listening to lefties hoot at him that the assault on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad by Iranian-backed militias was his own Benghazi, proof that he was no more capable of stopping fanatics from menacing American diplomats than the last guy was. Answering that provocation with a mega-provocation by decapitating the Quds Force reads like Trump saying, “Oh yeah? Watch this.” And given the president’s reluctance to hit back hard over previous Iranian provocations, like the downing of a U.S. drone last summer and the attack on a Saudi oil facility, it’s hard to believe that he was suddenly somehow talked into going big now by taking out Soleimani. If he could resist the Espers and Pompeos before, he could resist them this past week. Odds are he enthusiastically supported killing Soleimani in the interest of making a statement to Iran — and North Korea — about how much escalation he’s willing to tolerate before turning cutthroat. And making a statement to the American left that, unlike their hero O, he wasn’t afraid to risk escalation in the name of deterrence.
If the reporting bears out that suspicion, we’ll see how heretofore Trump-loving nationalists like Tucker react. Will … this talking point resurface?
The president repeatedly predicted years ago that his predecessor would attack Iran in order to get re-elected. pic.twitter.com/9zGciVOCjy
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) January 3, 2020
It was always strange that Trump suspected O of being cynically bellicose towards Iran when, of course, the Obama legacy is one of being too naively eager to repair diplomatic relations. But those tweets were at least true to Trump’s nationalist instincts, believing that most/all foreign adventures are a racket of some kind. Will Carlson go that route too? Imagine Fox’s 8 p.m. host wondering openly on its airwaves whether the president might be pursuing a “wag the dog” strategy to sidestep impeachment and guarantee his reelection with a bit of well-timed jingoism.
Speaking of wary nationalists/paleocons:
If we are to go to war w/ Iran the Constitution dictates that we declare war. A war without a Congressional declaration is a recipe for feckless intermittent eruptions of violence w/ no clear mission for our soldiers. Our young men and women in the armed services deserve better.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) January 3, 2020
Paul’s been consistent on that point through the years, knowing that Congress’s enthusiasm for bold foreign action tends to shrink when they’re forced to take personal responsibility for it by authorizing it in a floor vote. But it’s laughable to still be complaining about it in 2020. Absent a massive invasion on the scale of Iraq, the executive and legislature have worked out a nice arrangement between them — the president gets to do what he wants and Congress gets to keep its head down and see how things play out before speaking up pro or con. We’ll see if Tucker makes an issue of that too once Iran inevitably retaliates. If, God forbid, bombs go off on the New York subway, does Trump get to answer that unilaterally or is that the point where Congress has to weigh in?