It’s lucky for President Trump that being stupid per se isn’t (yet?) grounds for impeachment, because if it was, his recent call for Beijing’s aid to investigate the Biden family’s possibly corrupt activities in China would surely qualify. In fact, it’s hard to think of a presidential action in recent memory that fails on so many substantive and political grounds. And no, I don’t agree with Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio that the President was simply trying to troll the press.
Even so, it’s still possible that this episode could have a silver lining for Trump-World.
First, let me repeat my previous position that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Mr. Trump probing Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China, Ukraine, or anywhere else, and whether they’ve improperly or illegally influenced U.S. policy toward those countries while his father was Barack Obama’s Vice President. In fact, since the current challenges and opportunities facing Americans nowadays from both countries have been strongly affected by policy decisions made during the Obama years, every American caring about the nation’s interests should want to know more about the Bidens’ goings on.
Nor should Joe Biden’s presidential bid this year shield him from scrutiny. In fact, as the President has pointed out in remarks on the Bidens and China, the former Vice President’s White House bid makes full disclosure absolutely essential. After all, as Mr. Trump has asked, “How would you like to have, as an example, Joe Biden negotiating the China deal if he took it over from me after the election? He would give them everything. He would give them everything. How would you like to have that?”
Can Americans be certain that a President Biden would sell his country down the river in China trade talks or on other fronts? Of course not. Can they be certain that Biden let China off the hook on various important interests, or urged doing so, since Hunter (successfully) began soliciting Chinese business in 2010? No on that score, too. But the uncertainties created and the undoubted, ongoing possibility of various payoffs are precisely why conflict of interest laws are on the books to begin with.
Moreover, conflicts of interest are especially important to investigate when it comes to countries like China and Ukraine. For there, governments and/or the oligarchs to which they’re closely connected call all the major economic and business shots.
Of course, claims abound that Mr. Trump is vulnerable to comparable (or even worse) charges. But regarding the Russia allegations, they’ve been big news since his 2016 Republican primary campaign began gathering real steam. In addition, after his inauguration, they were thoroughly examined by a Special Counsel probe that lasted nearly two years. And so far he’s still innocent until proven guilty in a legal sense. In addition, and revealingly, the current impeachment probe isn’t attempting to revive any of these charges.
Policy-wise, the Trump Russia record has been mixed, including support for measures (like strengthening the U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe right up against Russia’s borders, and strongly backing the American fossil fuels production revolution), that plainly aren’t pleasing Moscow.
It’s true that Trump daughter Ivanka operated a business that made shoes and apparel in China and imported these wares into the United States. I’d joined the ranks of those who believed those ties should have been severed at least once Mr. Trump became the Republican nominee. But Ivanka Trump has now shut down her China business. And can anyone seriously believe that in return for whatever copyrights she received from Beijing while her father was in office, that the President has taken it easy with China? After tariffs on literally hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese products that have deeply wounded China’s economy? And a Taiwan policy that has poked Beijing in the eye on an issue of deep importance to China’s leaders and many of its people?
By contrast, it’s entirely legitimate – and important – to point out that the Obama-Biden record on both China trade and security issues was an eight-year exercise in coddling Beijing.
And both leaders’ records get to much of the reason why the President’s ask to Beijing was so boneheaded. Whether the Bidens are playing dirty or not, how can it help but legitimately expose Mr. Trump to the same kinds of conflict-of-interest charges he’s leveling against Biden? Indeed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now making them. Moreover, it’s not as if China has anything like an impartial, rule-of-law-dominated criminal justice system. And let’s not forget the so-called political optics of his gambit at precisely the time when Beijing is violently repressing democratic protests in Hong Kong. “Appalling” isn’t too strong an adjective.
Just as bad, the President’s ask undercuts one of his most effective campaign themes – that for decades, his predecessors and their cronies had conspired with foreign governments like China’s to shaft everyday Americans on trade issues in particular. Just think back to his Inaugural Address. So now the same Chinese regime that’s conspired with Swamp-ers from both parties is supposed to help a President damage someone he’s labeled (with good reason) as a prime member of that corrupt complex?
The only justification I can think of for the China ask – at least politically – is the following (and don’t think I’ve got a lot of faith in this speculation): Now that Beijing has brushed off the President, he could turn around and contend that the Chinese are helping the Bidens cover up. Substantively – and whether this objective is being sought intentionally or not – the China ask could result in Mr. Trump taking a harder line on the trade talks.
More credibly, and encouraging in my eyes given my doubt that any verifiable China trade deal is possible: Even had Beijing complied, the President could come under enough Pelosi-like pressure to make impossible the kind of cosmetic deal that in principle could have solved some big potential China-related political problems heading into the election (i.e., with farmers angered at losing a big export market, or consumers outraged at tariff-induced higher prices).
The problem is that constructing these kinds of tortuous scenarios should be completely unnecessary, because, as I’ve stated,
>the Bidens’ conduct has been so questionable;
>the China-related case against them looks so compelling:
>Mr. Trump surely can get enough damning foreign government information about their doings from less substantively and politically controversial sources like Australia and, yes, Ukraine (to which the Democrats seem strongly devoted); and
>consumer and farmer complaints aside, the Democrats will have a devil of a time this coming election year making political hay by accusing the President of being too tough on China.
So the China ask looks an awful lot like another damaging and completely unforced Trump error. Nonetheless, the next time such a blunder seals his political fate will be the first. And even though my above scenario is pretty far-fetched, who can still confidently say that the President’s string of good luck has finally run out?