Responding to Russia

by Jim Geraghty

In today’s Jolt, we’ll explore a question of how and when to confront Russia, why the Senate is being a little more productive than before, and why Ohio governor John Kasich is the thing that wouldn’t leave. I know some you find clicking through on “READ MORE” to be a pain, so I’ll try to make it worth your while.

What Is the Wisest, Least-Dangerous Way to Confront Russia?

Our Michael Brendan Dougherty asks a fair question on the topic of whether the United States should provide weapons to Ukraine. Just what is it we want to achieve?

Ultimately, Ukraine is of peripheral interest to the United States and Western Europe even if annoying Russia has incredible appeal right now. Giving it arms, or extending to it a kind of quasi-membership in NATO might irritate Russia, but it would also create a new dependent for the U.S. And it could embolden Ukrainian nationalists to do something foolish, the way that Mikheil Saakashvili jeopardized Georgia in 2008 by acting provocatively once he thought he had the backing of the West. Punishing Russia is obviously at the top of our leaders’ minds. But arming Ukraine would mean escalating tensions precisely where American commitments can do the least good and are not at all credible. There are better ways to get Vladimir Putin’s goat. We should consider them, instead.

A few days ago I asked, “when do we feel like [the Russian government] has suffered sufficient consequences? What constitutes ‘winning’ to us?”

America’s Democrats were not so angry when Russia rolled into Crimea, when Russian-backed rebels shot down a passenger airliner, or when Russian spy planes and bombers fly near Alaska and other parts of American airspace. No, their anger at Russia begins and, I suspect, ends over their belief that Russia helped beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. The only proper “fix” in their minds is to make Clinton president; they’re not that concerned about Russia’s other hostile activities.

My fear in escalating our hostility towards Russia is that the Democrats will pull an Iraq War: support the conflict fully until the first setbacks, then suddenly reverse themselves and demonize the opposition as warmongers for agreeing with them.

Separately, how should we react when Russia does something we want them to do, like support us at the United Nations on sanctions on North Korea?

After a month of deliberations and negotiations, the Security Council on Saturday unanimously passed a resolution that would slash about $1 billion off North Korea’s annual foreign revenue.

China and Russia, the council’s two permanent members who resisted new economic sanctions on North Korea, ultimately endorsed the resolution, saying the rogue nation’s recent provocations were unacceptable.

This could be interpreted as a conciliatory step on their part. How do we want to respond?

That Do-Something Senate

President Trump receives a lot of grief for his slow pace of formally nominating cabinet officials, and the president has offered legitimate complaints about the Senate’s slow pace of confirming those nominations.

There’s finally some good news. Before heading out of town for the August recess, the Senate approved a lot of nominations. Four had recorded votes — FBI Director Christopher Wray, Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouilette, National Labor Relations Board Marvin Kaplan, and Kevin Newsom to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eleventh Circuit.
Another 65 nominees were confirmed by voice vote, including Kay Bailey Hutchison to be U.S. Ambassador to NATO, former Congressman Mark Green to be head of the U.S. Agency for International Development and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson to be ambassador to the United Kingdom. Yes, it’s a rebuilding year for our relationship with Great Britain.

Also, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has a quorum again! Now they can get started on those fifteen gas pipeline and pumping station projects seeking approval!

John Kasich, The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave

The New York Times contends — only somewhat convincingly — that Republicans are thinking about 2020 presidential race beyond a President Trump reelection campaign. One of their key examples is John Kasich:

Mr. Kasich has been more defiant: The Ohio governor, who ran unsuccessfully in 2016, has declined to rule out a 2020 campaign in multiple television interviews, and has indicated to associates that he may run again, even if Mr. Trump seeks another term.

Color me supremely skeptical of the notion that many Republicans of any stripe will be eager to support a John Kasich presidential bid in 2020.

John Kasich obviously doesn’t appeal to Trump supporters, but those of us who are critical of Trump on the Right don’t have particularly fond memories of the Kasich 2016 effort, either. The Ohio governor turned out to be more of an obstacle than an ally to the #NeverTrump crowd, because he kept dividing the non-Trump vote in the wildly unrealistic belief that his amazing comeback was always just around the corner.

Kasich never had significant support in the field; he barely met the threshold to qualify for the prime-time debate in his home state. He won just under 2 percent in the Iowa caucuses, and won a single delegate. Then he went to New Hampshire, which was supposed to be his strongest early state; he had held more than 100 town-hall meetings there. The good news is that he finished second in a crowded field. The bad news is that he won . . .  15 percent, 20 points behind Trump. With the modesty that became his hallmark, Kasich characterized his distant second finish as, “the light overcame the darkness of negative campaigning.”

He went on to finish fifth with 7.5 percent in South Carolina and 3.6 percent in Nevada. He flopped on Super Tuesday, and reached the point where there really wasn’t much point in remaining in the race. But like John Belushi in the old Saturday Night Live sketch, The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave, Kasich just hung around, ensuring that the opposition to Trump was always split between at least two candidates. Kasich continued to run, even as he performed worse than candidates who had already withdrawn from the race; as CNN described the Arizona primary, “It was a three-man race, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich came in fourth.” Kasich hung around until May 4, one day after Ted Cruz withdrew from the race, and Trump had already effectively won the nomination.

Did John Kasich’s determination to remain in the race make Trump the nominee? No, not by itself, but it certainly ensured that the Republican primary electorate was never given a binary choice between Trump and a more traditional conservative like Cruz.

If for some reason, Trump isn’t on the ballot in 2020, then Republicans will have better options than, say, a governor who’s always willing to criticize his own party and winning rave reviews from Joy Behar and the editorial board of the New York Times. And even if Trump is on the ballot and looks extremely unlikely to win reelection . . .  why would anti-Trump Republicans reward the Republican who played such a key role in his winning the nomination in 2016?

ADDENDA: Did you see that over the weekend, two Americans, Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman, beat the Fastest Man Alive, Usain Bolt, in the 100 meter dash? Maybe America really is great again.

I concur with our Kyle Smith’s assessment of Amazon’s faux-found Romanian Communist cop comedy Comrade Detective. The gist is that Channing Tatum and his friend Jon Ronson have uncovered the original footage of Romania’s long-lost and most beloved television series, a gritty cop drama from the 1980s (although the visual style looks more like the 1970s), where the cops uncover sinister American plots to smuggle in Jordache jeans and Monopoly board games, undermining their Romanian worker’s paradise. (They keep pronouncing the jean brand, “Jor-dock-key.”) Picture Miami Vice in Bucharest. My favorite line so far comes when a suspect appears to commit suicide, and the crusty police captain exclaims, “No man has the right to take his own life! That right is reserved entirely for the state!”

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty