Because President Donald Trump was effectively denied a first term by a small band of senior law enforcement personnel (and perhaps some in the intelligence community) who from the start wanted him hamstrung or worse, his accomplishments on the judiciary, the military’s rebuild and deregulation are even more remarkable.
The economic recovery needed again is best left to the president who did it once, not to the return of the entropy of the Obama-Biden years.
Public confidence in the president should grow because, for the first time in his tenure, there is growing “alignment” on priorities among the “big five”: Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and national security adviser Robert O’Brien. Pence, Pompeo and Barr are principals, of course, and Meadows and O’Brien are staffers. But if those two staffers aren’t on the same page, the gears grind and the president’s vision cannot be implemented. It is now an article of faith inside the West Wing that not since then-Chief of Staff James Baker and then-national security adviser William Clark worked together in Ronald Reagan’s first term have these two officials been in such harmony with the principals and with each other.
My reporting tells me the West Wing believes $40 billion is needed in COVID-19-related defense spending, but I don’t have confirmation that Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the military chiefs of staff agree.
Will the Pentagon get on board and push for the measures everyone else, including the commander in chief, seems to have rallied around?
The Pentagon has slow-rolled the president on the naval build-up he wants. There is still — 40 months into his presidency — no plan for the 355-ship fleet Trump called for in 2017. (The Navy currently lists 299 deployable ships and submarines in its active fleet.) The West Wing now wants additional spending for defense, both to respond to needs that have arisen from the pandemic and to match the nation whence the virus originated: the People’s Republic of China.
The most pressing need is for $12 billion to cover cost overruns in defense production caused directly by shutdowns of weapons plants. That is an obvious necessity. The same is true for some $6 billion to secure the “defense-industrial base” from Chinese meddling and investment. Many of these are single suppliers of mission-critical military materials that need shoring up.
There’s a need for additional instruments of power as well. A dozen F-35B Joint Strike Fighters for the Marine Corps and the same number of F-35As for the Air Force are needed — now. As is another Virginia-class attack submarine (some say two, but a minimum of one is critical) and an array of Coast Guard ships. These platforms will eventually deploy to parts of the Pacific where freedom of navigation of the seas and the ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party to dominate the South China Sea are likely to collide. There is a need to buttress unseen defenses as well across the entire Pacific theater. Some of it is exotic stuff — hypersonic missiles and directed energy weaponry. Let those in the Senate GOP caucus with ears hear. And act.
The total defense portion of the Phase 4 rescue bill should clock in around $42 billion, which Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., confirmed for me on-air Tuesday. “I would say that you are very well-sourced indeed,” the senator replied when I asked if the spending desired by the White House includes billions to extend the sea lives of Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates (which is not popular among some in the Pentagon).
“Alignment” is a hot new phrase in the world of professional sports. It was used by Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam in a shakeup of the franchise front office and coaching staff, and is intended to convey shared values and approach. The Browns have lacked that for the two decades since their return to Cleveland.
Trump’s White House has suffered from nonalignment, primarily because of the vast effort spent responding to the attack on its legitimacy, but also because of a mismatch of visions between various combinations of White House chiefs of staffs and national security advisers. The vice president and secretary of state have shared and implemented Trump’s agenda, but that’s certainly not been the case at the Office of Management and Budget and often in the Pentagon.
Whenever Congress gets around to appropriating the next huge chunk of funds to cope with the pandemic and its economic aftershocks — likely before Labor Day — we will learn whether the alignment holds and the president can make sure the fourth rescue bill seeks to repair damage done to national security, as well as to the economy.
Hewitt hosts a nationally syndicated radio show on the Salem Network and is a political analyst for NBC, a professor of law at Chapman University’s law school and president of the Nixon Foundation.