“If Ed Meese is not a good man, there are no good men.”
Thus spoke President Ronald Reagan about one of his closest aides, Edwin Meese III, as the Washington media zeroed in on Meese. Reagan, no fool, was always well-aware that the attacks on Meese weren’t really about Meese at all — they were about getting Reagan.
None of which stopped the vociferous attacks on Meese, the conservative’s conservative who had been Reagan’s chief of staff in the California governor’s office and become a senior counselor in the White House before being appointed Attorney General.
In September of 1981 the New York Times ran a featured piece headlined:
Number 1 Man on Reagan’s Staff Answers His Critics
Considering the fact that the “Number 1 man” on any president’s staff is the White House Chief of Staff — which in 1981 was James A. Baker III — the article was a perfect send up of that media favorite: depicting the White House -of-the-moment as a land of fierce internal rivalries that have caused nothing but chaos. And most importantly, finding those closest to the boss on the staff of the Republican president-of-the-moment and targeting him or her with bad press until he — or she — quits.
Here is a sample of the genre from the Reagan-era that appeared in that 1981 Times story:
In fact, like the two largest lads on the schoolyard, Mr. Meese and Mr. Baker carefully avoid fights with one another. Despite their amity, there are enough foul-ups and personal conflicts, after eight months on the job, for strains to surface in so large and ambitious a group as a Presidential staff.
Reagan himself would complain in his diary about this kind of thing, clearly irritated. In 1983 he was writing of “our W.H. problem of leaks & in house rivalry in the staff,” “leaks probably by subordinates in behalf of their bosses” and that they were “intolerable.”
Even Meese’s briefcase was not immune, described mockingly in the Times story as a “bottomless pit,” with this follow-up:
The fact that no official will repeat such talk on the record affirms a central fact of existence in the Reagan Administration: As counselor to the President, Edwin Meese 3d is the most powerful figure on the White House staff.
And right there is the old time-tested media formula. Find the person seen as “close to the president” who hence doubles as one of if not the “most powerful figure on the White House staff.” Target for relentless, gossipy negative press — shake, bake, and wait until they can’t take it anymore or the President has had enough. Then, when their replacement is appointed and settles in? Repeat.
All of this comes to mind in the wake of several days of Jared and Ivanka stories. The Wall Street Journal editorial page headlined it this way:
The White House Family Business
Jared and Ivanka have to decide if they’ve become political liabilities.
In which, among other things, the WSJ says this:
Politics is blood sport, as presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner is learning the hard way. The 80% of Washington that wants Donald Trump out as President is now targeting Mr. Kushner as a means to that end.
… Mr. Kushner’s enemies piled on Tuesday with an egregious leak to the Washington Post that foreign countries including China and Mexico have discussed how to exploit Mr. Kushner’s vulnerabilities in negotiations. Imagine that: A foreign country trying to exploit the weaknesses of American counterparts. The leak gave away to the foreign officials who discussed this that the U.S. was spying on them. Let’s hear no more complaints from the media about compromising “sources and methods.”
However outrageous, the leak is proof that the long knives are out for Mr. Kushner, and they’ll keep slashing….
Mr. Kushner and Ivanka have to decide if they’d serve themselves and the President better by walking away from their formal White House roles.
The idea that “The 80% of Washington that wants Donald Trump out as President is now targeting Mr. Kushner as a means to that end” is true enough. But let’s be clear.
The long knives were out for Ed Meese in the day, and Meese was not the President’s son-in-law or daughter. What he was, by virtue of being personally and ideologically close to the President, was a target for those who couldn’t abide Reagan. There is nothing — repeat nothing — new here.
Move ahead in time and the name Karl Rove should ring a bell. Rove, like Meese, was close to the president he served — George W. Bush. He was, give or take, the Number 1 target of Bush-haters in the media (and outside it). There was for Rove, as is also true now with Jared Kushner, the brush-back warning of the independent counsel, with Patrick Fitzgerald the Robert Mueller of the Bush era.
In other words, the more things change the more they stay the same. And just as Ed Meese or Karl Rove were assets to their presidents, not a liability, so too are Jared and Ivanka serious assets to this president. Smart, talented, capable — they are merely going through what is the routine Washington and media “treatment” of powerful presidential aides who are, well, smart, talented, and capable — and who have their president’s confidence and trust.
This time, however, there is what might be called Trump’s Trump Card.
A New York financial insider informs of the obvious. Obvious, that is, to those not infected with Trump Derangement Syndrome and by definition incapable of looking down the political road. Outside of those in the media and the American Left (but I repeat myself) determined to, as the WSJ put it, be slashing away at Jared and Ivanka, there is now talk surfacing of a very different potential exit from the White House for the two rising stars on the political scene.
Can you say “Ivanka for Governor of New York”?
Yes, indeed, there are those New Yorkers who think that as the Andrew Cuomo-era sputters to its end — that Ivanka Trump is exactly the person who could rejuvenate the State GOP and win the New York Governorship. Criticism of nepotism would be rendered useless in a race to succeed the governor who was the son of a governor. In a state that elected the non-New Yorker wife of a President to the U.S. Senate. Democrats recently answered President Trump’s State of the Union Address with a speech by Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III, the grand-nephew of a president, the grandson and grandnephew of United States Senators, and the son of a Congressman. Not to mention Trump critics would get what they want — Jared Kushner would move out of the White House. To the Governor’s Mansion as First Husband.
Which is another way of saying that Trump critics — and those of Jared and Ivanka specifically — would be well advised to be careful what they wish for. After all, many of these same people loved it when Hillary Clinton use to exclaim “I suppose it’s fair to say: don’t you someday want to see a woman president?”
It would be richly ironic if the drive to push Jared and Ivanka out of the White House — ultimately sends them back. Giving all those Hillary fans exactly what they say they want: the first woman President.