Trying to spark a new romance, or even arrange a weekend tryst, is not always easy. It’s impossible with the help of spectators eager to throw things, not orange blossoms but sticks and stones with sharp edges. But that’s how Washington tries to conduct diplomacy, circa 2018.
A tryst is not exactly what Donald Trump is trying to arrange with Kim Jong-un, the Rocket Man-cum-summiteer, but the president is getting all the help he doesn’t need in dealing with the threat of nuclear mischief in Asia.
The Democrats are damning the president’s work with praise offered through gritted teeth. They’re particularly worried, so they say, that the president dispatched Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA and prospective secretary of State, to work on the details of the summit without taking them into his confidence.
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut says he doesn’t trust the seat of Mr. Trump’s pants, nor Mr. Pompeo’s or Rocket Man’s either, but those pants are where the senator says he’s afraid the preparations are taking place. “That would be disastrous,” the senator says, though he does concede that talking is “a good thing, not a bad thing.”
Other Democratic senators grumble their “good” wishes, though Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Ron Wyden of Oregon say they’re still not going to vote to confirm Mr. Pompeo for secretary of State. They’re pouting that Mr. Pompeo’s secrecy excluded them from news and gossip he picked up in Pyongyang.
The harshest pouter is Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who had been measured for his prison stripes before he beat a bribery rap. “I can tell you,” the senator says, “even in his private conversations with me, he didn’t tell me about his visit to North Korea. Now I don’t expect diplomacy to be negotiated out in the open, but I do expect for someone who is the nominee to be secretary of State, when he speaks with the committee leadership, and when he was asked specific questions about North Korea, to share some insights about such a visit.”
Mr. Pompeo kept his insights to himself because he knows that a U.S. senator is the last man (or woman) in town to trust with a secret. The top-secret details of what Mr. Pompeo would have told them would have been on CNN, ground zero of the Democratic impeachment project, as soon as Mr. Menendez could step outside and get his smartphone open. This White House has been widely rebuked by the Democrats for its leaks and chaotic way of doing business, and often deserving of such rebuke, but this time it kept a secret. If there’s anything worse than a leak in Washington, it’s being left out of the leak.
And if there’s anything worse than a national calamity, it’s for the wrong man getting the credit for making it go away. If Donald Trump achieves a dramatic breakthrough on the Korean peninsula, the credit and praise for it will be muted if it makes any noise at all on the other side of the partisan divide. The president can count on it.
Mr. Pompeo’s work in preparing for the U.S.-North Korea summit, which you might think would draw support for his confirmation, has only given cover to several senators, nearly all of them Democrats, who are determined to deny the president his choice of secretary of State. They’re swimming against the tide of history; such nominees usually win unanimous confirmation, or close to it. Hillary Clinton was confirmed as secretary of State in 2009 by a vote of 94 to 2.
But we’re in virgin territory. The Democrats, still mired in the mud of the presidential campaign past, just can’t give up their fantasy that something will turn up to reverse the result and send Hillary to the White House, after all. Given the intensity of Democratic hatred and the slender margin by which the Republicans control the Senate, the Pompeo nomination might well fail.
The growing evidence that Robert Mueller has failed to find the smoking gun, or any gun at all, in his search for proof of collusion with Vladimir Putin to cook the 2016 election, only makes Democrats more determined to find another way to destroy Donald Trump. Bloomberg News reported Thursday that it had learned that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general supervising the Mueller investigation, had told the president that he was not a target of Mr. Mueller.
This would put the cat among the pigeons but for the fact that the cat took up residence there weeks and months ago, and the pigeons bill and coo the same old song we’ve heard so many times. The bombshell cometh, but it never arrives.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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