Modern democratic politics, with its emphasis on things like transparency and full participation, has spawned a cottage industry of ironic “think pieces” lamenting the fall of the “good ol’ boy” network. Generally, these essays argue that smoke-filled backrooms where bosses and cronies would horse trade and get things done weren’t so bad after all.
Recent revelations about Donald Trump, Jr., including Tuesday’s stunning emails that he himself released, showing unequivocally that he was at the very least eager to collude with a person offering Russia-generated dirt on Hillary Clinton, make us yearn for the halcyon days of the swamp that his father was going to clean up.
Why? Because in life, you’ve got to take the good with the bad. And when you usher in a new era of outsiders, you can expect things to change for better and worse.
Donald Trump won the presidency by flouting the conventions of politics. And it very well may be that his presidency will be brought down by…flouting the conventions of politics.
There’s a reason why campaigns need seasoned disciplinarians who are part of the establishment to keep things in line. An improvisational candidacy, or presidency, leads to chaos—or worse.
Case in point: This meeting between Don Jr., and a Russian lawyer took place because of (a) a lack of values and character, and/or (b) ignorance of the law and ignorance of proper protocol. You can’t fix the former, but you can mitigate mistakes by virtue of creating a proper campaign infrastructure.
Appearing on CNN Tonight Monday, presidential campaign veteran Kevin Madden hinted at this when he noted that every campaign he has worked on had a rigid vetting process and a chain of command. “Therefore,” Madden hypothesized, “a meeting like this could have been prevented.”
It’s important to note that Madden, formerly a senior aide to Mitt Romney, is the kind of person at whom the Trump team might scoff. He would be considered too tied to the old ways of doing things—an establishment insider who just doesn’t get the way things are today. They might also view him as someone committed to playing by the Marquis of Queensbury rules, while they were busy playing by their own rules—by playing 8-dimensional chess.
Political professionals, assuming they are ethical and knowledgeable, know better than to attend a meeting such as this. When Al Gore’s team received a copy of George W. Bush’s briefing book, they knew enough to call the FBI.
One thing Trump’s supporters loved about him was that he was an outsider who would shake things up. But unlike other outsiders, Trump never truly empowered a grey beard to instill order. His operation consisted of lots of political novices who were either not ready for prime time—or second-tier operatives with delusions of grandeur who had previously not been deemed acceptable to the establishment.
This raises interesting questions. Does an outsider campaign that truly rejects consensus and premises about the political campaign/policy paradigm also inexorably reject consensus about the moral and ethical conclusions maintained by that group? Does a campaign that thrived by breaking the rules and protocols of campaigns sow the seeds of an administration that is destroying itself by breaking rules and protocols of governing? Does a team of iconoclastic and eccentric outsiders who aren’t part of Washington groupthink inevitably make mistakes that no traditional political Sherpa or operative would? Even if you set aside picking fights with the media and “deep state,” was this doomed from the beginning? Maybe they flew too close to the sun? Maybe the house always wins?