The Donald Trump playbook works for Matt Bevin

May 24, 2017 at 10:44 am
Matt Bevin

Gov. Matt Bevin is pulling the con that Donald Trump wishes he could.

From passage of his take-no-prisoners, conservative legislative agenda to his stranglehold on the media and shady cronyism that goes virtually unchallenged, Bevin and the Kentucky GOP are pulling off the political coup that Trump envisioned.

Drain the swamp? How about: Adorn the swamp with gold… everything, and an extra scoop of ice cream for Swamp King Matt.

Early on, the similarities between Bevin and Trump were evident. Yet, as the naked Emperor Trump continues to sink in the swamp of his own making, Bevin and Kentucky Republicans are working from the same playbook — and succeeding.

Control the message? Check. Avoid the media? Check. Pass and sign everything on the conservative Christmas list? Check. Appoint your millionaire and billionaire friends to powerful, profitable positions? Check. Award the same ruling class of oligarchs no-bid government contracts? Check. Use your office to leverage lucrative personal deals... like a sweetheart deal on a new mansion in Anchorage? Big check.

Yes, Bevin must be tired of all this checking. Trump must be looking down to his Mini-Me with envy.

For instance, in Kentucky, Bevin has made it so a press release from your press secretary is all you owe the media. He and his office regularly ignore reporter questions. On April 26, LEO ran esteemed political know-it-all Al Cross’ column that explained Bevin’s reticence and quest to pour his own unfiltered, extra-pulp messages. The public gets the real story from his Twitter feed and Facebook posts.

Unfortunately for Trump, he still has to answer to a national press. Sure, he tries to send out his loyal spinsters to tell the grandest fairy tales. His allies in the conservative media might even deliver that message straight over their state-news network. Alas, as Trump has moaned, the spokespeople — such as the White House press secretary — don’t speak with 100-percent accuracy all the time, which creates more pesky follow-up stories... unflattering and embarrassing.

While Trump has threatened to stop daily press briefings, Bevin has already done so: no press conferences and unscripted interactions with the media, unless they are of his choosing.

And then there is the fact that the Bevin administration is actually getting stuff done, while the Trump administration wallows in fractured politics and scandal of its own making.

Bevin has signed whatever legislation the Koch-funded Kentucky Republican Party has sent to him. And, to be fair to Big Don, it’s a much smaller agenda than Trump has to deal with. Right-to-work, charter schools and anti-Planned Parenthood legislation is not nearly as complicated as, you know… healthcare. The GOP got its Supreme Court appointment, but really that was Mitch McConnell’s doing.

Trump has been his own legislative obstructionist: tripping up on policy details with little more than a primitive understanding of issues, and issuing tweets that derail any legislative cohesion. The only successes Trump can honestly lay claim to have been autonomous actions — executive orders — mostly just rolling back what his predecessor had established.

Then, there is cronyism. This, perhaps, is where both Bevin and Trump have largely succeeded. From billionaires Betsy Devos and ex-oilman Rex Tillerson in D.C., to Bevin’s church congregation and house-swap buddy here at home, both have brought the wealthiest, fattest of rats into their swamps.

Looking for a state board appointment — say the UofL Board of Trustees or state pension board — be sure to shake Bevin’s hand at church on Sunday. It worked for the Baptist pastor whom Bevin appointed as adoption czar, with a $240,000 no-bid contract… despite having zero obvious experience. Oh, and that guy Bevin appointed to the pension board — he and Bevin brokered an eerily-covert house purchase. Confounding it more, the same house seller invested in a company partly owned by Bevin. He gets a $140,000 income tax credit as a result.

So while Trump faces obstacles, and Bevin seems to be barreling along, the next few months and years will be a test of their strategies — because controlling the message, engaging in shady cronyism and ramming through austere, conservative legislative agendas won’t actually make voters’ lives better.

And then, the con will be on all of us.