COMMENTARY — Trump’s triumph, Pruitt’s problems, and Renzi’s role
Published: June 16th, 2018
Oklahoma City – Count me among the traditional conservatives who have doubts about the substance of President Donald Trump’s announced accord with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. Concerned about Kim’s stability and the history of American flirtations with dictators (FDR with Stalin, Nixon with Mao, and Obama with Castro, to name only three), I withhold the cheers and applause, pending evidence of actual results.
Nonetheless, I have found myself hoping some measure of real peace in the real world flows from recent events that that some have deemed “Trump’s Triumph.” Time, and Kim’s future behavior (as opposed to his execrable past behavior) – not Trump’s good intentions and joyous celebrations among his fervent political base — will tell the story.
Staying focused on recent events: In the midst of Trump’s seeming vindication on the world stage, so soon after his shocking performance at the G-7 meetings in Europe, there is a serious decision in the near-future for the chief executive. That is, what to do about Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s calamitous behavior on the national stage?
The issue was put this way in a June 13 National Review editorial, entitled “Scott Pruit should go.” (https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/06/scott-pruitt-should-resign/)
The venerable organ of the Right commented, “[W]e are now at a point where a good week for Pruitt sees only one report of behavior that is bizarre or venal. He seems to have used government employees to secure a job for his wife and to get a discount on a mattress. His top aides got hefty raises, and Pruitt first told Fox News he did not know about those raises and then told a House committee that he did. He reportedly told aides to find reasons for him to take official trips to countries he wanted to see, and had security aides run errands such as searching for his favorite lotion. And that’s just the start.”
It seems clear:
“This is no way for any public official to treat taxpayers. It also makes it practically impossible for Pruitt to make the case for the Trump administration’s environmental policies — a case that we continue to believe deserves to be made. It does not help that Pruitt’s conduct has left him nearly alone at the agency. Many of his top aides have fled and paranoia seems to consume those who remain.”
Those comments were posted on the Internet just 24 hours or so before that latest (and, here at home, rather large) shoe dropped.
Within a few hours on Friday (June 15), eight news organizations reported versions of new stories disclosing that Pruitt, former Attorney General of Oklahoma, had procured those near-the-50-yard-line tickets to the Rose Bowl for himself and his family at a “face value” price that was … well – sports fans would say Pruitt got a steal on the tickets.
The broker for landing the tickets was Renzi Stone, a powerful public relations guru in Oklahoma City and a member of the Board of Regents at the University of Oklahoma.
To be clear: OU was playing Georgia in that New Year’s Day game in Pasadena, one of the semi-final contests enroute to the national title game. (In a good contest, the Bulldogs beat the Sooners, 52-48.)
Stone, a longtime political ally and friend of Pruitt, says he does not do business with the EPA, although there are some pesky details that professional journalists closer to the scene than your humble servant are exploring fully.
Stone insists there’s nothing inappropriate or untoward in all of this. Pruitt, who performed well in the theatrical setting of recent congressional oversight, points to his policy achievements to defend himself with the Trump base.
Still, crises of confidence always have contexts. The context here is that Pruitt’s behavior since his arrival in the nation’s capital (without reference to matters of public policy) look and sound a lot like he is comfortable living in “the swamp” his boss promised to drain.
Which brings to mind a story, from the late, great conservative reporter, commentator and educator M. Stanton Evans. Stan related more than once – a few times in my hearing, over drinks at his favorite Capitol Hill hangout – the following story, referencing the works (as opposed to the words) of some (a minority, but a notable one) of the young conservatives who flocked to D.C. after Reagan’s election in 1980.
The Evans tale, in short form:
“After the election, a lot of young conservatives took jobs in the Reagan Administration. They were determined to clean out the cesspool Washington has become. But after having some power for a year or so, and getting used to life in D.C., they decided the environment was really more like a hot tub.”
So, we have Stone – who played a powerful behind-the-scenes role in the ouster of Kirk Humphreys from the OU Regents last winter – arranging things for his friend in a way (and in a context) that at the very least raises questions.
Consider this from that same National Review editorial, posted before the Rose Bowl ticket story broke: “When President Donald Trump nominated Scott Pruitt for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, he looked like he would be a bright spot for the administration: a smart and tough advocate for deregulation and the rule of law. Since his confirmation he has withdrawn such overreaching regulatory initiatives from the Obama administration as the Clean Power Plan, and helped persuade the president to announce plans to withdraw from the Paris global-warming accord. We have applauded these moves, and still do.”
After recounting Pruitt problems preceding the Rose Bowl ticket story, National Review concluded as follows:
“We share most of Pruitt’s views about environmental policy. But the same could be said of many other people, including Andrew Wheeler, the agency’s deputy administrator, who would become acting administrator upon a vacancy in the top job. Pruitt is replaceable. And he should be replaced.”
George Tomek, a retired Oklahoma City newsman, commented on one of my sites, “I’d say when the National Review says it’s time for Pruitt to go, it’s time to go. He’s left enough pig tracks a blind man could follow.”
It’s more likely that the opinions of people other than George and me will govern in this matter. A guy named Jim Inhofe, Republican U.S. Senator from Tulsa, told conservative journalist Laura Ingraham (who wants Pruitt out), “I’m afraid my good friend Scott Pruitt has done some things that really surprised me. If that doesn’t stop I’m going to be forced to be in a position where I say, ‘Scott, you’re not doing your job.’”
Late in the week, Inhofe said he’d asked Pruitt for a face-to-face meeting.
The president has applauded Pruitt’s policy performance, albeit with the caveat that he’s “not happy about certain things.” (https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/06/15/scott-pruitt-and-his-family-received-rose-bowl-tickets-from-energy-pr-executive-letter-claims/)
Donald Trump may feel, and often acts as if, he is invulnerable after everything that has been said about him in the past three years.
But to be candid, Pruitt is not Trump – and what about Renzi Stone?
Do Pruitt and Stone want to bring the swamp home to Oklahoma?
NOTE: McGuigan is founder of CapitolBeatOK.com, an online website, and publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper in Oklahoma City. He is the author of three books, and the co-editor of seven, including Crime and Punishment in Modern America (University Press of America/Free Congress Foundation).