Good morning Austin:
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn was one of eight people interviewed Saturday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to be President Donald Trump’s choice to replace James Comey as FBI director.
Comey was fired for – well you name it:
- Failure to bring charges last summer against Hillary Clinton for her handling of her emails
- Failure to stop investigating whether there was Russia interference in the 2016 election to benefit Trump — and potential complicity by the Trump campaign.
- Failure to pledge loyalty to Donald Trump, president of the United States.
- Telling Congress, “It makes me mildly nauseous to think we might have had some impact on the election.” (I mean seriously, who says that about their boss and expects to keep their job.)
- Being a six-foot-eight showboat and grandstander.
Having fired the head of the FBI, the rules of reality TV recommend a competition to replace him. Announce potential candidates, interview them, and give the public a chance to cheer and hiss, before making a selection.
I’m surprised that Cornyn ended up on Trump’s list, and I’m even more surprised he would be interested in the job. Maybe he’s not. Maybe he just calculated that the smarter and more respectful course was to play it out, go through the process, but without any intention of winning the competition.
What Cornyn may have going for him with Trump is that he has, as has been observed, a looks-the-part quality, whether it’s being a judge, a senator or, why not, FBI director.
From the intro to a Q-and-A Texas Monthly’s Jake Silverstein conducted with Cornyn in 2010, headlined, the Gentleman from Texas:
Tall and white-haired, with the bearing of the state Supreme Court justice he once was, Cornyn has become a go-to television Republican, appearing regularly on the news programs to dispense his particular style of Concerned Conservatism. Even railing against the Obama administration, Cornyn never seems angry; he only seems . . . concerned. He has a habit of flexing his forehead while speaking, drawing together his eyebrows in an expression of gentle worry that gives everything he says a vague air of condolence, as if he’s just come from a funeral. In an era of tea party rage, he has found a niche as the kindly face of the Republican brand.
Three years earlier, in a 2007 Texas Monthly piece – Big Red – toward the end of Cornyn’s first term, Paul Burka wrote:
If you were to encounter John Cornyn at, say, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, a place where you might reasonably expect to see notable folk, you would immediately think to yourself, “That man is a United States senator.” Indeed, shortly after his election in 2002, USA Today described him as “a casting director’s dream.” He stands six feet four inches tall in the black custom boots he wears to work every day. As a young man, he was so self-conscious about his prematurely white hair that he waited until he turned 32 before filing for district judge in San Antonio, as if an additional year would have made a difference, but today it gives him a veneer of statesmanship. You can’t help but notice the size of his head: It’s quite long and rather narrow, an impression enhanced by a receding hairline. He has a soft face that does not tense up in anger. Even when his words are sharp, his voice is muted and nonthreatening. You would come away from your airport encounter with the feeling that he’s someone to be reckoned with.
Burka noted in that profile, that, after one of Cornyn’s notable forays into right-wing politics, Jon Stewart remarked on the Daily Show, “What an absolutely handsome crazy person”
But, for the last five years, Cornyn has appeared the soul of moderation, simply by standing next to his junior colleague, Ted Cruz.
Still, if Cornyn actually wants to close the deal with Trump, he could really use a nickname.
Trump likes nicknames, both negative — Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco, Crooked Hillary — and positive. For example, I doubt that James Mattis would be secretary of defense were it not for his nickname, Mad Dog. It appears that Mattis is anything but a Mad Dog, which is good, but we nonetheless can thank the misnomer for getting him where is today.
But I’m not sure if Cornyn, who as far as I can tell is a man of reasonably even disposition and respectable habits, has any good nicknames, except maybe Big John, or, I suppose, Big Bad John.
(George W. Bush, a nicknamer with a more gentle humor than D.J. Trump, called Cornyn Corndog, not as good as Pootie-Poot for Putin, Turd Blossom for Karl Rove, or Quasimodo for Dick Cheney.)
If anybody does call Cornyn Big John — and I don’t know that anybody does — it would be because of a memorable video from Cornyn’s 2008 re-election campaign
My favorite stanza:
We’ll call folk, we’ll hustle, we’ll outwork our foe.
We’ll tell souls in Texas you must get six mo’.
But that place out yonder needs more men like you.
Who shoot straight, and talk straight and enjoy a good brew.
At the time, Jon Stewart did a parody ad for a fake rival candidate, Joey Bernstein, aka Big Jew.
He’s a big city boy from an Ivy League school who thinks tofu is tasty and veal is cruel.
His Friday Night Lights are a candle or two.
But lest it be forgotten, in the original Jimmy Dean song, Big Bad John is buried alive in a mining disaster.
With jacks and timbers they started back down
Then came that rumble way down in the ground
And then smoke and gas belched out of that mine
Everybody knew it was the end of the line for big John
(Big John, big John)
Big bad John (big John)
Now, they never reopened that worthless pit
They just placed a marble stand in front of it
These few words are written on that stand
At the bottom of this mine lies a big, big man
(Big John, big John)
Big bad John (big John)
(Big John) big bad John
I think there are only two ways it ends, and in either outcome, Cornyn is an object of hate and scorn by a big chunk of the American people, as either Trump’s chump and patsy, or as a Republican Judas.
Either he agrees with Trump that there is nothing to this Russia investigation and calls a halt to it or completes it with a finding exonerating Trump and his campaign, or he pursues an investigation that cripples the Trump presidency.
He simply can’t win and I think he would be crazy to accept the position.
So, having said all that, why am I suggesting that Cornyn take the job if it is offered?
Because I think any patriotic American ought to put nation above self and answer the call of duty?
No, because, as I said, I can’t see Cornyn or anyone leading the FBI at this moment and in this situation in a manner that will bind the nation.
No, I think he should go for it out of the purest self-interest – my own.
Because, if John Cornyn left his U.S. Senate seat to lead he FBI, it would turn 2017 from an off-year, to the best election year ever.
Gov. Greg Abbott would get to appoint a temporary successor to Cornyn, who would serve until the November general election, when all candidates of all parties would compete to serve the remainder of Cornyn’s term. If no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote, there would be a runoff.
One tweet hints at just how good this could be.
When Cornyn was up for re-election in 2014 there was some free-floating Cruzian energy looking for a primary challenger for Cornyn. David Barton thought about it but passed. At the time, I suggested to Stickland that he should go for it and even offered him what I thought was, at that moment in time, an ingenious slogan: STICK WITH CRUZ.
Didn’t happen, but that was during Stickland’s first session.
Now in his third session, I think we can all agree he has outgrown the puny stage of the Texas House.
On Friday, Asher Price looked at a few potential names of people Abbott might appoint — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul and Roger Williams, both of Austin, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman — but Patrick has since reiterated that he is only interested in running for re-election as lieutenant governor.
On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso is already running to challenge Cruz, who is up in 2018, but if Cornyn’s seat were up, he could first run for that and still run against Cruz if he doesn’t win. Alternatively, he could stick to running against Cruz, and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, who passed on running in 2018 at least in part because he would have had to surrender his House seat to do it, could run to serve the rest of Cornyn’s term without risking his House seat.
But I am not getting my hopes up that any of this will come to pass, Marco Rubio’s encouragement notwithstanding.
The high point of Rubio’s campaign was that time he went all Trump on Trump and suggested at a Dallas rally that Trump might have wet his pants at a debate the night before.
But Trump, at a subsequent rally in Fort Worth, came back with his Rubio water bottle mime, and Little Marco was through.
Let’s look at Rubio’s Trump Score – a measure designed by FiveThirtyEight.
Here is an explanation of how the Trump Score is calculated:
Donald Trump has Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress — it’s the first time since Barack Obama’s first two years in office that the same party has controlled the U.S. Senate, the House and the White House. Trump’s ability to enact his policies, therefore, will largely come down to how often GOP senators and representatives buck the president’s agenda and, conversely, how often Democrats work with him. To help keep up with this, we’ll be tracking how often members agree with Trump and how that compares with expectations.
We’ll be using two primary measures for each member of Congress: the “Trump score” and “Trump plus-minus.”
The Trump score is a simple percentage showing how often a senator or representative supports Trump’s positions. To calculate it, we add the member’s “yes” votes on bills that Trump supported and his or her “no” votes on bills that Trump opposed and then divide that by the total number of bills the member has voted on for which we know Trump’s position.
We’ve set a few ground rules for how we’re planning to count things:
- To determine Trump’s position on bills and joint resolutions,1 we’ll look for a clear statement of support or opposition made by him or by someone on his behalf. We’ll generally stick to bills themselves, but we may include amendments when Trump makes a statement about them.2
- If there’s a Senate vote requiring Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie and we don’t know Trump’s position on it, we’ll assume that Trump supports it if Pence votes “yes” and opposes it if Pence votes “no.”
- Votes in favor of Trump’s Cabinet-level and Supreme Court nominations count as votes in support of him.
- We’ll count any veto-override votes as bills that Trump opposes.
We’re also calculating a metric that we’re calling plus-minus. Plus-minus measures how frequently a member agrees with Trump compared with how frequently we would expect the member to, based on Trump’s 2016 vote margin in the member’s state or district. (The “predicted score” is calculated based on probit regression.) Put simply, we would expect a member in a district where Trump did well to be more in sync with him than a member in a district where Trump did poorly. As members vote on more bills, their predicted agreement score will change.
Here is Conyn’s Trump Score.
I don’t know how much the Trump Score tells you.
Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, another former Trump primary rival, has the lowest Trump Score of any Republican.
And here’s another former rival’s Trump Score.
But the score doesn’t measure how often a senator says or does things to contradict or resist Trump beyond Senate votes, where Graham obviously rates higher than most others.
On Sunday’s Meet the Press, Graham also shot down the idea of a Cornyn appointment.
While we’re staying on the FBI director, eight people interviewed yesterday. One of them is a colleague of yours, Sen. John Cornyn. Two were women, could be the first woman to ever head the FBI. You’ve got a former FBI agent and then a former member of Congress. Let me ask you this – in this political environment, do you think it is the right time to have the first ever FBI director with an elected political background, which is what it would be if either Mike Rogers or John Cornyn were named.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:
No. I think it’s now time to pick someone who comes from within the ranks or has such a reputation that has no political background at all that can go into the job on day one. You know who does the FBI director work for? To me, it’s like appointing a judge. The president actually appoints the judge, but the judge is loyal to the law. The president appoints the FBI director, but the FBI director has to be loyal to the law. John Cornyn under normal circumstances would be a superb choice to be FBI director. But these are not normal circumstances. We got a chance to reset here as a nation. The president has a chance to clean up the mess that he mostly created. He really I think did his staff a disservice by changing the explanation. So I would encourage the president to pick somebody we can all rally around, including those who work in the FBI.
Todd got a similar response from Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.
There’s eight candidates that were interviewed yesterday, two of them have an electoral background, a sitting senator in John Cornyn and a former member of Congress. Some have bipartisan backgrounds like a Fran Townsend served in both the Clinton and Bush administration. Anybody jump out as a favorite of yours or somebody that you could foresee supporting?
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:
You know I’ve generally made it a practice, Chuck, of not commenting on nominees publicly. Let’s see who they nominate. But I, as I said, certainly somebody not of a partisan background. Certainly somebody of great experience and certainly somebody of courage.
If Cornyn were selected, we would see a lot of replays of his recent encounter with Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general fired by Trump.
The most basic problem for Cornyn, or any of the other candidates to be FBI director, is how one could possibly come to an understanding with Trump about the job amid, as Peggy Noonan put it on Face the Nation, “all the chaos, like the bag of chaos that Donald Trump carries with him every day and everywhere, that is self-destructive for him and self-sabotaging, I think.”
From Ross Douthat in Sunday’s New York Times:
THROUGHOUT the 2016 primary season, two sentiments took turns reassuring Republicans as they watched Donald Trump’s strange ascent:
At some point, Trump will start behaving normally.
If he doesn’t, he’ll self-destruct or quit — or else somebody in authority will figure out a way to jettison him.
It isn’t surprising that people once believed these things; I clung to the second sentiment myself.
What is surprising is that after everything that’s happened, so many people believe them even now.
The reaction to the sacking of James Comey is the latest illustration. Far too many observers, left and right, persist in being surprised at Trump when nothing about his conduct is surprising, persist in looking for rationality where none is to be found, and persist in believing that some institutional force — party elders or convention delegates, the deep state or an impeachment process — is likely to push him off the stage.
Start with the president’s Republican defenders. Not the cynics and liars, but the well-meaning conservatives who look at something like the Comey firing and assume that there must be a normal method at work, who listen to whatever narrative White House aides spin out and try to take it seriously.
In this case this meant saying, well, there was always a reasonable case for firing Comey over his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, the president was just following his deputy attorney general’s advice, and anyway it would be simply nuts to fire someone out of pique while they were investigating your campaign’s ties to a foreign power, because that would just bring more attention to the investigation, so surely not even Trump would be that crazy, right?
This last remark was not exactly the admission of obstruction of justice that liberals quickly claimed, since Trump immediately added that he accepted that firing Comey could lead to a longer investigation, which he wanted “to be absolutely done properly.”
It was, instead, a window into an essentially sub-rational and self-sabotaging mind (as were the tweets that swiftly followed), whose obsessions make it impossible for Trump not to act on impulse, whose grievances constantly override the public interest and political self-interest both.
But it was not a new window: This same self-destructiveness was evident at every turn in the campaign. So the only mystery is why otherwise-rational Republicans persist in hoping for anything save chaos from a man who celebrated clinching the nomination by accusing his rival’s father of having had a hand in killing J.F.K.
And how can Republicans hope to engage in an effective program of behavior modification with their president, when that rival, whose father he suggested “had a hand in killing J.F.K.,” is now an unselfconscious cheerleader and enabler for Trump.
Here was Ted Cruz last May.
I’m going to do something I haven’t done for the entire campaign. For those of you all who have traveled with me all across the country, I’m going to tell you what I really think of Donald Trump.
This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth. And in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying.
He accuses everybody on that debate stage of lying. And it’s simply a mindless yell. Whatever he does, he accuses everyone else of doing. The man cannot tell the truth, but he combines it with being a narcissist, a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.
Think about the next five years: the boasting, the lying, the picking up the National Enquirer and accusing people of killing JFK, the bullying. Think about your kids coming back from school and emulating this.
I believe that when Ted Cruz said that — and more — it was something he believed with every fiber of his being. I imagine he still does.
But that’s not what Trump hears or thinks.
When both the president and Cruz appeared at a National Rifle Association event in Atlanta at the end of last month, Trump told the crowd that he initially “really liked” Cruz, then “didn’t like” him, and “now like [him] a lot again.”
“Does that make sense?” he asked. “Senator Ted Cruz. Like. Dislike. Like.”
Yeah. It makes perfect sense.
Trump liked Cruz early in their rivalry when Cruz was an obsequious foe — praising Trump at every turn hoping to inherit his following when Trump, inevitably, fell by the wayside. Trump didn’t like Cruz when Cruz dropped that pose to become Trump’s most serious opponent and, ultimately, severest critic. And now that Cruz is once again obeisant, he likes him again.
John Cornyn would be crazy to take the FBI job.