Hurricane Irma Sets Her Sights on Florida

by Jim Geraghty

Jim’s back from the cruise, and here’s what’s in the Jolt to make the click-through worthwhile: Didn’t we leave on this note? A terrible hurricane bears down on America’s shores, Trump practices the Art of the Complete Concession In Order to Get Good Press and enjoys it, and selected highlights from the just-completed Transatlantic National Review cruise.

Batten Down the Hatches, Florida Man!

If you’re in Florida and reading this right now – well, maybe you’ll want to save that cell phone battery. The outlook is about as grim as it gets:

Hurricane Irma tightened her grip on South Florida early Friday, becoming overnight what everyone has long dreaded: a monster hurricane bearing down on Miami and a coast with 6 million people.

Reliable forecast models projecting the storm’s path predictably began to agree on a final, fateful track, with a direct hit along the southeast coast Sunday. Irma is heading west and should continue moving in that direction over the next 24 to 36 hours, forecasters said early Friday, with hurricane conditions in the Keys and mainland starting Saturday night. Tropical storm-force winds should start in the morning.

Irma was located just under 450 miles southeast of Miami at 8 a.m., forecasters said. Sometime Saturday, the storm should begin making a critical turn to the north. But the turn will likely be too late to spare Florida from punishing hurricane winds that extend 70 miles from Irma’s center.

Once again, the odds are good that you know someone who’s evacuating or contemplating evacuation. If you’re north or west of the storm path, maybe ping them and let them know if they need a place to stay for a few days, you’ve got that  lumpy spare bed. In time, we’ll donate money for cleanup

Speaking of money for cleanup, you may have seen an unusual commercial during the football game last night: All of our living former presidents coming together for One America Appeal. President George W. Bush quoted another resident, “We’ve got more love in Texas than water.” According to the organization’s website, “all donations made today will go to help victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas through the Houston Harvey Relief Fund focusing on the greater Houston region, and the Rebuild Texas Fund assisting communities across the state.” President Trump tweeted his support for the effort as well. Sadly, I suspect the Presidents of the United States of America — the actual men, not the band – may need to launch a parallel effort for Florida in the coming weeks.

The Art of the Surrender

It’s not a good deal in the eyes of conservatives or Republicans, but I don’t get why anyone should be surprised. Trump has a much stronger appetite for good press than he does for limited government.  When President Trump does what Democratic Congressional leaders want, he will get good press. It appears we’re entering a new chapter of the Trump administration, one where he’s eager to work with the Congressional minority to enact his priorities rather than the majority:

Wednesday’s agreement on $15.25 billion in relief for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, combined with a three-month extension of the government’s funding and its borrowing limit, was followed by further outreach to Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.).

The Harvey package, originally proposed by Democrats and approved on an 80-17 vote, now heads to the House, which is expected to vote on it on Friday. The House approved a smaller hurricane aid bill, without anything else attached, earlier in the week. Many conservatives there are reluctant to vote to increase the debt limit without taking any other steps to curb federal spending. But most, if not all, Democrats are likely to support it, as are many Republicans from Texas, Louisiana and Florida, all states affected by or bracing for the storms.

You can see the logic from Trump’s perspective; he relied on Congressional Republicans to send him an Obamacare repeal and replace bill, and they couldn’t do it. So why shouldn’t he turn to the Democrats? He gets some agenda items done and he doesn’t end up looking foolish. The people who nominated him to enact a Republican agenda end up looking foolish.

Of course, a sudden shift like this on the president’s part will make for one of the more spectacularly awkward “strange new respect” moments for the media and some Democrats. “Hey, remember that president who we were pretty sure was a neo-Nazi white-supremacist fascist demagogic aspiring-dictator? It turns out he’s pretty reasonable when it comes to infrastructure spending and eliminating the debt ceiling . . . ”

[Insert “Mussolini made the trains run on time” joke here.]

Notes and Highlights from the National Review Cruise . . . 

The cruise was another reminder that we at National Review have the best readers in the whole wide world, and I thank each and every one of you, whether you were able to join us on the cruise or not, whether you read the print magazine or just the web site, whether you love us or just tolerate us or just read us to see what we’re rambling about now.

I asked former attorney general Michael Mukasey whether he thought former FBI director James Comey’s July 5, 2016 press conference, during which he criticized Hillary Clinton for sloppy handling of classified material but not recommending criminal charges, was Comey’s version of “splitting the baby like King Solomon.” (You’re probably familiar with the story: Two women came to King Solomon, each claiming to be the mother of an infant, with no way of determining who was telling the truth. King Solomon suggested that the child should be cut in two, which each mother having half. One mother, horrified at the thought, immediately conceded her claim, saying she would rather have her child raised by another woman than to see it cut in half. The King ruled that her willingness to sacrifice demonstrated she was the real mother, and awarded her custody.)

Mukasey agreed, but pointed out, “Comey forgot that King Solomon is remembered as wise because he didn’t actually split the baby. If he had, he would have been remembered as Solomon, that maniac who ran around chopping babies in half.”

Author and all-around savant Mark Helprin is deeply concerned that the United States has a much smaller military than it will need to meet the challenges to come. He wants to see 1,000 F-22s, a 500-ship Navy — and preferably a 600-ship one – missile defense, and a lot more air capacity to rapidly deploy troops – C-5, C-17, and C-130 cargo aircraft.

In a panel discussion touching on national security, our David French raised a thoroughly unnerving thought that the North Korean regime’s nuclear capacity and appetite for risk grow concurrently — so that as they develop more weapons and more precise delivery systems, they will behave more aggressively and provocatively toward the United States and its neighbors. This appetite for conflict is almost certain to lead to confrontation.

 John Hillen, who chairs NR’s board of directors, began by asking the audience where the Libyan nuclear program was right now. The answer is in Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, voluntarily surrendered after the Iraq War. We hear a lot about the failures in American foreign policy, and we ought to, but it is worth remembering that previous administrations have managed to defuse a few bombs in their time. He offered a skeptical assessment of whether Afghanistan could ever become a stable country; in his time there he found it so far behind in poverty, technology, and tribal divisions that it couldn’t be fairly described as Stone Age banditry; it still “aspires to Stone Age banditry.”

James Lileks to Douglas Murray, trying to summarize the differences between, say, Nancy Pelosi and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn: “Our Left is not as lefty-left as your Left.”

On one of my panels, Reihan Salam, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Kevin Williamson noted that at least two big economic debates of our time — the long term stability of our entitlement programs and trade — are marked by concentrated costs and dispersed benefits.

Most government spending is the reverse, dispersed costs but concentrated benefits: We would all benefit from lower taxes if the government reduced spending, but those who benefit from farm subsidies, the National Endowment for the Arts, or the Weed Agency raise holy hell whenever someone proposes cuts to those programs.

Americans are wary about entitlement reform, because they know that if the United States shifted from Social Security – where you get a monthly payment, no matter what — to universal 401(k)s that gained or lost value depending upon the market’s performance, many would be better off, but some people could make bad investments and end up with less than they would have with the status quo.

Similarly, almost all Americans enjoy the fruits of free trade; if you don’t believe me, check your clothing labels. But we’re all moved by the image of a closed factory, with a padlocked gate and “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS” sign. Free trade benefits most people but less expensive imported goods will hit some domestic producer hard, and that minority is a lot more visible than the modestly reduced prices for all of those imported goods.

I mentioned a point that isn’t original but is still worth keeping in mind when discussing public opinion on economic issues like this: Human beings are largely moved by stories and images, not by numbers and data. The numbers might say that collectively Americans are better off with free trade, but we remember the images of the shut-down factories and workers being laid off – and that influences people’s thinking and reactions much more than numbers on a spreadsheet.

This is one of Trump’s gifts; unlike policy wonks, he thinks in stories and images instead of numbers or data. This may not make for better policies, but it is a campaigning gift for connecting with people. Unsurprisingly, President Trump’s performance so far was a regular point of discussion on the cruise; I’d say most NR cruise-goers were still Trump fans, some vocally and strongly so, quite a few generally pleased but irked with the Tweeting and drama.

ADDENDA: Thanks to Philip DeVoe for filling in while I was on the cruise. I saw several readers declaring on Twitter that Philip nailed the tone of this newsletter so well, they didn’t even realize that I wasn’t writing it. And let’s face it, there’s no higher compliment than being mistaken for me.

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty