Were it not for the ominous overtones it holds for the nation’s governance, the “drain the swamp” flap that erupted last week between President-elect Donald Trump and two of his best-known surrogates would be the perfect lighthearted holiday story.
“Drain the swamp” was one of Trump’s favorite stump speech applause lines during the presidential campaign. He would blast Washington insiders and ethical violations and promise his audience that when he was elected, he would “drain the swamp.” Wild applause would ensue, perhaps not so wild as the reaction to “Lock her up” or “big beautiful border wall,” but wild enough.
Alas, Trump confessed at a “thank you” rally in Des Moines on Dec. 8 that he always thought “drain the swamp” was “hokey,” but kept it up because it was popular. This was a month after the election, a month Trump spent on the biggest swamp expansion since the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan of 2000.
On December 21, in an interview on NPR, Trump apologist Newt Gingrich said he’d been told that the president-elect “now says it was cute, but he doesn’t want to use it anymore.”
The next morning, former Trump campaign chairman Corey Lewandowski told “Fox and Friends” that “drain the swamp is probably somewhere down at the bottom” of Trump’s priority list.
Lewandowski should hope so. He and another former Trump insider have announced plans to open their own consulting shop just down the street from the White House. Access to the administration will be their calling card.
Later that day, Trump took to his trusty Twitter account to say that “Someone incorrectly stated that the phrase ‘DRAIN THE SWAMP’ was no longer being used by me. Actually we will always be trying to DTS.”
Like everything else in Washington, drain the swamp now has its own acronym.
The Trump transition team has not abandoned its five-point plan for ethics reform. The plan includes a five-year ban on becoming a lobbyist after leaving the executive branch, asking Congress to enact a similar ban, broadening the definition of “lobbyist” to include various titles like “consultant” and “strategic adviser” and cracking down on lobbying and campaign donations by and for foreign governments.
These are fine ideas. But they would carry more weight if Trump’s own business interests did not intersect with 18 foreign governments and if he revealed his tax returns so that people could understand the extent of his actual and potential conflicts of interest.
The swamp would look a lot drier if the CEO of ExxonMobil had not been nominated to be secretary of state and if five current or former Goldman Sachs investment bankers had not been tapped for top posts, including treasury secretary.
No wonder Trump is uncomfortable with draining the swamp. He’s staffing up with alligators.
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