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Go home, old men
The difference between two old men is that when one was born, the Doolittle raid was still being hailed, and when the other was born, a million starving Germans were hoping to survive come winter. One of them is about to perform the fatigued spectacle of giving an unmemorable speech to a carnival of cheering or stony-faced macaques on live television, while the other is trying to feed his fallen dreams of empire.
Kevin Williamson, formerly of National Review, now with The Dispatch, argued that anyone who willingly served under Trump should be put in “political timeout,” and never—or at least for a long while—hold public office again. “We do not need to put them in prison (we do not need to put many of them in prison) but we do need to put them in quarantine,” he wrote. Referring specifically to Nikki Haley, she “has shown herself to be an extraordinarily poor judge of character when it comes to matters of executive authority in government—i.e., when it comes to the very position she now seeks. More precisely, she has shown herself willing to set aside her better judgment for the sake of career expediency.”
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During the Trump years, it was hard enough finding qualified people to serve in his administration. Based on Williamson’s standard, anyone who chose to take an appointment should be disqualified out of hand, meaning that only scoundrels who wouldn’t deserve to serve in any office should have been selected to serve. Of course, many of those choices would not have been approved by the Senate, meaning that Williamson is suggesting Trump should have left basically every major agency and policy position unfilled for four years, so that some people in the GOP could preserve their ability to hold office later. It’s an absurd position, given that Williamson’s purpose (he wrote it) is not to punish them, but to “keep them out of positions of public trust. We should do that because the public cannot trust them.”
The benefit of 100% hindsight makes such judgments easy. But I think of course it’s punishment. Now, with Trump himself, the Senate had the chance to bar him from office, and didn’t. They left that for criminal lawyers and prosecutors. It may yet happen, and it may drag down many who actively participated in Trump’s stupid attempt at a putsch. They all deserve it.
But Haley, and others like former USDA chief Sonny Perdue, who currently serves as the Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, didn’t serve Donald Trump. They accepted appointments by him, but they served the government, and the people, of the United States. Government positions, even those who serve “at the pleasure” of the president, are not patronage. The fact that Trump wanted them to be so doesn’t make it so.
Punishing Haley for doing what she could to navigate the idiot-and-crook infested waters of Trump’s foreign entanglements, while doing a decent job at the U.N. (which has its share of idiots and crooks too), accomplishes very little. Williamson would be more on target if he went after all the 2016 candidates who bowed to Trump (how about Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, to start), along with the GOP leadership who let him take over the party. I think all of them should have been voted out of office (Mike Huckabee’s daughter will give the SOTU response) and never given another position of trust for their poor judgment.
As fun as it is to write about, none of this is going to persuade voters, because people have their own favorites. Nikki Haley is free to run. So is Gov. Ron DeSantis, and so is (if he decides) New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, neither of whom bear the scarlet letter associated with serving in a Trump administration post.
President Biden is simply too old to be doing this anymore, as is Trump. If both choose to continue their sad, slow-motion run for the presidency, I fear that the entire campaign will look like tonight’s performative circus tent, except instead of Congress it will be the voters sitting in the seats.
Both of them need to go home and let others run, and let the people decide if it’s worth punishing former Trump appointees.