Don’t be Shocked (Shocked!) by Alaska Threats

There was instant outrage over reports that the Trump administration was threatening Alaska's senators.

In this May 31, 2017, file photo, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, right, with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks during a news conference in Anchorage, Alaska. Zinke called Alaska's two Republican senators, Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, to warn them of repercussions for the nation's largest state if they failed to toe the Trump administration line on health care, according to a published report.

By Jonah Goldberg Published on July 28, 2017

It’s a bit of a cliché to quote Casablanca when it comes to Washington’s gift for manufactured outrage, but the classics are classics for a reason. When Captain Louis Renault orders Rick’s saloon shut down, Rick (played by Humphrey Bogart) protests: “How can you close me up? On what grounds?”

Renault (played by Claude Rains) replies, “I am shocked — shocked — to find that gambling is going on in here!”

Then, a croupier walks up to Renault and hands him some money: “Your winnings, sir.”

“Oh, thank you very much,” Renault says. “Everybody out at once!”

Washington’s Outrage

The scene came immediately to mind amidst the instant outrage over reports that the Trump administration was threatening Alaska’s senators. On Tuesday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted not to move to debate on the Senate health care bill. That angered the president. She “really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!” the president complained on Twitter Wednesday morning.

Rewarding your friends and punishing your enemies isn’t some breach of the established rules of politics; those are the established rules of politics.

That afternoon, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke called both Murkowski and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, according to a story first reported by the Alaska Dispatch News. “I’m not going to go into the details,” Sullivan told the paper, “but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs [policies] and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop.”

The story sent “shocked — shocked!” shock waves across Washington. How dare the Trump administration threaten the state of Alaska!

Come now.

The Established Rules of Politics

Let me say up front that what Zinke did may be politically unwise. It may be unethical. It may be crude.

But it’s not illegal. It’s normal.

Every administration in American history, and every regime since the first city-states formed in Mesopotamia, has played some version of this game, not merely from time to time, but every single day. Rewarding your friends and punishing your enemies isn’t some breach of the established rules of politics; those are the established rules of politics.

Every White House has a political operation that reminds policymakers that this state should get better treatment than that state for one political reason or another. It’s the job of the policymakers to know when to listen to that guidance and when to ignore it.

No one runs for federal office in Alaska without promising to bring home the bacon from Washington.

FDR, Congress and Alaska

The proper symbol of FDR’s imperial presidency wouldn’t be a ball and scepter but a carrot and a stick. Roosevelt held his coalition together by awarding massive defense contracts to Southern states whose senators were the barons of the defense and appropriations committees. His freshly minted Social Security Board threatened to withhold funds from states that resisted compliance with the Aid to Families with Dependent Children welfare program. LBJ’s Health, Education and Welfare Department threatened to terminate funds for states that didn’t enforce civil rights.

Congress is no better. It has used the Highway Trust Fund time and again to force states to comply with its will. In 1974, Congress declared that any state that didn’t set its speed limit to 55 mph would see the money spigot turn off. In 1975, Congress did the same to force motorcyclists to wear helmets. In 1984, the same technique was used to raise the legal drinking age.

And now let’s discuss the great state of Alaska, a place I love and have spent much time in. (My wife is from Fairbanks, and much of her family is still there.) Alaska fancies itself a land of rugged individualists. Its nickname, emblazoned on its license plates, is “The Last Frontier.” A more accurate nickname might be “The New West Virginia” for its addiction to pork. At the height of the earmark era in Congress, Alaska ranked No. 1 on the list of recipients, thanks largely to former Rep. Ted Stevens, the self-styled “Emperor of Earmarks.”

No one runs for federal office in Alaska without promising to bring home the bacon from Washington. In fairness to Alaskans, one reason that’s seen as necessary is the federal government controls so much of the state (about 60 percent of its land is controlled by Washington).

Murkowski herself lobbied for months for a special Alaska-only carve-out under the Better Care Reconciliation Act — the nearly $2 billion “Kodiak Kickback.” It proved to be not enough, but the “for sale” sign had gone up.

Just a Show

But the outrage is all part of the show. As Hyman Roth says in The Godfather Part II, “This is the business we’ve chosen.”

Zinke’s heavy-handedness will probably backfire because standing up to threats is one of the only things that plays better in Alaska than accepting porcine bribes.

But the outrage is all part of the show. As Hyman Roth says in The Godfather Part II, “This is the business we’ve chosen.”


Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. You can write to him by e-mail at, or via Twitter @JonahNRO.


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  • Gary

    Forget McCain. His cancer will soon remove him from the Senate. Find a way to unseat Murkowski, Collins, Graham, and other liberal Republicans.

    • Chip Crawford

      Come to that conclusion after much prayer, did you?

      • Gary

        Didn’t have to pray about it. If the reports on McCain’s health are true, his days in the Senate are short. And I am all for that.

        • Chip Crawford

          Is that God’s attitude concerning the man? You may not like or agree with him, but aren’t you a Christian? Thought we were to be redemption minded … If he is soon to leave this world, wouldn’t prayer be in order at least concerning that eventuality?

          • Gary

            I assume you are praying for McCain. We’ll see how much influence you have with the Almighty.

          • Hmmm…

            Doesn’t sound like He has much with you …

          • Gary

            You may have yourself fooled into believing you are perfect, but I’d bet you haven’t convinced anyone else.

          • Hmmm…

            Nah, probably not. Bless you.

          • Chip Crawford

            I see. You don’t know he’s real. As for the rest after this, perfection is not required on our part. Good news, because we can’t swing that. Jesus lent us his perfection as our substitute; he stood in our place, so we could be made whole and be accepted to God. That’s salvation. I’ll bless you too, and be praying for you, because you need him too. Don’t think you’re better than us or that we have a crutch. Receiving Jesus as your substitute will put you on good ground for the life to come, and be a tremendous source of life and hope and peace now and everything that’s good.

          • Gary

            I already have a reservation for Heaven. Designated and paid for. Before you pray for me, lets see if you can convince God to save McCain before he leaves this world.

          • Chip Crawford

            Conversion involves receiving the spirit of God … a new spirit, old things passing away, making Jesus Lord, having the fruit of the spirit as God’s word describes. Apparently, you have little teaching in the word, but it’s your harsh spirit that is the most concerning. Please be assured of the matter and not take it for granted. Bitter toned words don’t go with the new creature’s new nature.

          • Gary

            I’m unconvinced about your piety. I want to see if God will answer your prayers about McCain. If he does, then I’ll pay more attention to what you have to say. But if He doesn’t then you will have proven God doesn’t pay much attention to you either.

          • Chip Crawford

            You have a religious orientation, instead of a relational Christian, word orientation. I never attempted to convince you of piety; again, your frame of reference. It’s not who impresses God; it’s who finds out what he says and does it. He is not a respecter of persons, but of faith – believing what he has said. You don’t get God to save people; you pray according to his word. What does it say about how to pray for the unsaved? Can you answer that? It’s a matter of obeying his word. Dig out how to pray for the lost and do it, and you will have an entirely sounder frame of reference.

          • Gary

            If you can’t get God to save people, what’s the use of asking God for their salvation?

          • Chip Crawford

            You pray the Holy Spirit draw them. they have free will, it’s not a strong arm thing, you know. You ask the Lord how to pray for them; everyone has unique circumstances. You pray the Lord will send laborers across their path, when you are not in their path yourself. Need someone to share with them. These things come from scriptures of course, that you may recognize. We find out how things work from the word, and get in line with them. Our own ideas don’t work. It matters. Base prayer on the word. Ask for specific things, that they may know the Lord and his power. Scripture. Believe for it. Keep at it. Spend a little time listening to hear cues about how to pray further, to pray this time, as things fluctuate. The Holy Spirit is sent to lead us into all truth, provide the guidance, gives us cues as we wait on him. He turns the light on, so we’re not working in the dark.

          • Gary

            If they have “free will” wouldn’t it be better to talk to the person, instead of praying to God for them? And, is God not going to do anything unless someone asks him to save someone?

          • Chip Crawford

            You are not in proximity to say, John McCain, so you pray for his intersection with a believer who can witness to him in his areas. There’s a scripture which says no one comes to the Lord unless the Holy Spirit draw him. God has chosen to use prayer rather than act arbitrarily. There are certain legalities because there is an enemy out there, who is a legalist, so we stick with the word. Usually, a lot of people contribute to someone coming to the Lord, like a parent’s prayers over the years, various incidents of hearing the word, others sharing their experiences. It is surprising the people who may have or are praying for you. Certainly, JM has those doing that in his wide circles. But when someone comes on your heart, just pray for them. Let God work it out; don’t try to figure it out. Sometimes you will know the results; others not so. Prayer helps us as well. You have a way of being more at peace with someone your are praying for … There are a lot of actions and interactions along the way to a person actually being open to hearing the Gospel. God does not force him self on anyone; he beckons, leads, draws. It’s the devil who pushes and presses (not that people get saved, but a general aspect of him).

          • Gary

            I’ll pray that God will remove McCain from the Senate, and you pray for his salvation.

          • Chip Crawford

            Is it God’s will to remove Mr. McCain from the Senate? That’s your idea. It may not be his. We get our prayer ideas from God, pray his will. You can’t pray in faith unless you have heard from God, through his word or his still, small voice indicating it to you. It takes faith, believing God, to get things done. You believe God by taking hold of something he has said.

            God is a spirit, not a mind. We have a spirit indwelt by him, if we have received Jesus as our Lord. We must operate in the spirit with God.
            If you just pray what you think is right without hearing from God, you are trying to get him to do what you think is best instead of what he knows is best. We don’t know what he knows unless he tells us. Just pray his will be done unless he has told you what it is. What is revealed in the word generally is his will, such as his saying he will that all men be saved and come to a knowledge of him. Don’t you realize that if a man gets born again, his heart is changed and that affects all of him?

            Christianity is not people meaning well and pushing their ideas on God and others. It is a relationship with God that goes both ways, a communication, that we live and operate from, out to others. We hear from God and share that with those around us.

            Making Jesus lord is just that. It’s not just keeping the 10 Commandments, though that is part of it, but allowing him to tell us what to do, which is what we should want. He knows all, and will tell us things we need to know about situations. And he is love; it will be good. That’s part of prayer, hearing from God, listening for his instruction, prayerfully searching the word for wisdom on matters, and then you know where you are. It’s all dead works without that vital element.

          • Dean Bruckner

            Wasting your time, you are, probably.

          • Chip Crawford

            God knows. Who is to say seeds won’t come up somewhere. The HS is involved; he gives the increase.

          • Dean Bruckner

            I agree. Thanks!

  • Dean Bruckner

    Rhode Island, the best natural harbor on the East Coast, lost most of the Navy because it voted wrong in an election in the 1960s.

    Punish Alaska until the pips squeak!

    • Talkin_Truth

      Why punish all of Alaska? Thousands and thousands of Alaskan were going to lose their health care under Trumpcare and needlessly get sick and die after being financially devastated.

      You would punish a whole state because their Senator voted against that?

      • Gary

        Since you don’t know what “Trumpcare” would do, or not do, there is no way you could prove what you said.

      • Dean Bruckner

        Well, you did elect her. Under our federal system, states do have, and should have, primary accountability to the federal government. Vote that Lisa Murkowski and her vile ideologies and self-serving attitude out of office. Until then, suck it up.

        The best motto for Alaska I ever heard is this: “Alaska is what America was.” Stand up for the Constitution, come hell or high water!

        Actually, apparently there is a way to punish Congress by revoking their fat cat Obamacare subsidies. President Trump should do that tomorrow. That would be enough, and would let Maine, Arizona and Alaska off the hook.

  • Talkin_Truth

    I’m not shocked but I still don’t approve.

    Our tax dollars should be used wisely to help people and make the country safer and better.

    Our tax dollars should not be used by a political party to push a political agenda. Anybody who considers themselves a fiscal conservative should agree with me.

    • Dean Bruckner

      Our federal tax dollars should be spent on things allowed by the Constitution, and nothing else. That would take care of the fiscal problem immediately.

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