Paul Ryan’s rejection of earmarks, discussed here this morning by my colleague Andrea Ruth, is a brilliant example of learning from Vladimir Putin about how to deal with Trump. Putin, a ruthless and cunning politician, has figured out that Donald Trump is a very, very simple man. Flatter him, and he’ll love you, no matter how awful you or your policies are. Insult him, and he’ll hold a grudge.
What does this have to do with Paul Ryan and earmarks? Well, I’m not going to portray Paul Ryan as the greatest foe of earmarks in U.S. history, but opposition to earmarks has been his position for years. His 2012 campaign Web site said:
With pork-barrel spending corrupting Washington, I have been a leader in the fight against earmarks. I have pledged not to submit any new earmark requests until the abusive spending process is cleaned-up in Congress.
But Congresscritters love earmarks. They get to brag about bringing home the bacon. They miss them. What to do?
Ryan has found that he can get what he wants — and get in Trump’s good graces — by saying: “Hey, Donald Trump said he was going to drain the swamp and this is part of it.” That way, Ryan achieves what he wanted anyway . . . by giving Trump the credit.
This is, of course, a standard negotiating skill: you get further with people when you’re nice. And politicians are skilled at getting along with people. It’s just that Donald Trump is far more susceptible to flattery than most.
The problem is, both sides realize this . . . and the smarter Democrats, rather than whipping up their base by demonizing Trump, will praise him as a way of achieving their own goals. They have a better chance with Trump than they would have with a President who had core principles, and/or who could see through opportunistic flattery.
Take Obama. Trump railed about NATO for months, making our support sound very tenuous and conditional. Then Obama spent an hour and a half with Trump, lavishing attention and insincere compliments on him — and the next thing you know, Obama was telling the world that Trump’s commitment to NATO is unwavering.
The next four years are going to be a sickening display of flattery by politicians seeking the support of Donald Trump. I couldn’t do it myself, which is one of over a thousand reasons I will never be a politician.
But GOP politicians will succeed more often if they can follow the example of Ryan and Putin, and flatter Trump. If they can portray conservative principles as Trump’s own, and any conservative position as something the People asked for in voting for Trump, we may get some good things done.