Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Listen: we lost on DeVos, but that's okay. Put it in context.

"ἂν ἔτι μίαν μάχην Ῥωμαίους νικήσωμεν, ἀπολούμεθα παντελῶς."
Today, Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the United States Senate to be the next Secretary of Education for President Donald J. Trump.  Despite weeks of outraged calls and emails and letters, we were not able to flip more than two Republicans.  Only Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins voted against her, and because the Republicans have a two-vote majority, that made it a tie.  Vice President Mike Pence performed his only constitutional duty and broke the tie, voting to confirm DeVos.  In a statement after the vote, DeVos wrote, "I appreciate the Senate's diligence and am honored to serve as Education Secretary. Let's improve options and outcomes for all US students."

We lost, right?

Listen, I've said this before, but it's still true: Donald Trump is the newly-elected president of the country and he has majorities in both houses of Congress.  He should not have any trouble at all in confirming pretty much all of his nominees, particularly not Education.

Trump has gone longer with fewer of his nominees being confirmed than any previous president.

In part, this is his own fault: his transition team was notoriously tempestuous, with its original leader (Chris Christie), his team, and all of their work ejected halfway through.  Trump has also nominated people with an unusually high number of ethical or financial problems.  His nominee for HHS, Sen. Tom Price, has a penchant for using his position to enrich himself.  His nominee for labor, Richard Puzder, not only had been employing an undocumented immigrant (which famously has sunk several nominees in past administrations) but is also a stereotype of the rapacious corporate monster type. Neither has been confirmed yet, although the Price vote is coming soon (Puzder isn't even out of committee yet!).

But still, it's very unusual for a new president with a compliant Congress to have so much trouble installing his nominees, especially since the rules were weakened in the last Congress to make it easier.  And the strain is taking a toll on him.

Look at Trump's polling.  The Gallup Daily has his approval dropping down to about 43% and hovering there, essentially at the level of Republican partisans.  And his disapproval?  It's gone from a terrible 45%, unprecedentedly low for a new president, all the way to 54%.

And the lower he goes, the more his allies will abandon him.

That's what we saw with the DeVos vote.  The president has been in office two weeks and his own party is already voting against him.  President Trump is so unpopular that he will go down in history as the first president to need a Vice-Presidential tie-breaker to get a nominee confirmed.  The fight to just barely confirm a famously terrible nominee hurt him even more -- grizzly bear attacks are now a joke around schools -- and broke the solidarity of his party.  We should hope all of our "losses" are like this one.

Plutarch tells a story about a war between Pyrrhus of Epirus and the Roman Republic.  After one great battle between the two powers, Pyrrhus found that he was victorious: the enemy was destroyed.  But the cost had been heavy, and almost all of his own soldiers were dead as well.  And so when a soldier congratulated Pyrrhus on his victory, the king wryly replied, "ἂν ἔτι μίαν μάχην Ῥωμαίους νικήσωμεν, ἀπολούμεθα παντελῶς."

Or, in English:  "If we are so victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined."

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