Prop Cop Closes Shop: What's Next for Trump's Favorite Sheriff?

All hat, all prattle

Politics Features David Clarke
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Prop Cop Closes Shop: What's Next for Trump's Favorite Sheriff?

What’s next for influential conservative actor David Clarke? Sheriff Clarke resigned at 3:16 pm Thursday as law-boss of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin. He wasn’t forthcoming on why—he hinted that he was moving onto another opportunity. Could this be an effort to add even more fabulous medallions to his uniforms? According to NPR:

David Clarke Jr., a prominent supporter and campaign supporter of President Trump’s, drew an end to his controversial tenure as Milwaukee County sheriff Thursday, submitting his resignation to the county clerk in a letter that consisted of a single sentence. Clarke, who was elected as a Democrat, had served as Milwaukee County sheriff for nearly 15 years, first by appointment and then election in subsequent terms. ... Clarke elaborated on his brief note in a statement released later that day. “After almost 40 years serving the great people of Milwaukee County, I have chosen to retire to pursue other opportunities,” Clarke said. “I will have news about my next steps in the very near future” — in fact, he tweeted Friday that the announcement will come next week.

Apparently, big-hatted vagueness did not die out after the Nineties Country Music Awards. Clarke, who has been a Trump surrogate in the last two years, and spoke at the Republican National Convention, will probably nab a spot in the national government. What position is unclear. He came close in June, according to the Times, but unpleasant information came to light, and he declined:

In June, Sheriff Clarke notified John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary at the time, of his decision not to accept the senior position that had been offered to him, according to an adviser to the sheriff. “Sheriff Clarke is 100 percent committed to the success of President Trump, and believes his skills could be better utilized to promote the president’s agenda in a more aggressive role,” the adviser, Craig Peterson, said in a statement at the time. Mr. Peterson said then that Mr. Clarke had met with President Trump to discuss other roles — both inside and outside the government — that the sheriff could take on to help carry out Mr. Trump’s agenda. As recently as Sunday, the president tweeted an endorsement of Mr. Clarke’s book, “Cop Under Fire,” calling the sheriff “a great guy.”

If Washington doesn’t pick him up, he is assured of a place on Fox News, which would pay even better. NPR noted that Clarke was

... no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year, jailers under his watch drew the attentions of prosecutors, who launched an investigation after an inmate died of dehydration. A jury recommended prosecutors file charges against more than half a dozen of Clarke’s employees for allegedly turning off water to the dead man’s cell. Clarke, who was not charged himself, accepted the move as “part of the process” and denied any wrongdoing, noting he “cannot control someone who comes in in bad medical health that is a heroin user or has all of these other ailments and they happen to die inside that facility downtown.”

The quiet exit was unusual for him. Typically, Clarke brags his way in and out of every room. Like a desert lizard, he requires hot air to function. Why no bluster this time? Two possibilities. I suspect Clarke is either under investigation, or has been hired to fill a new job. If it’s the latter, then leaving like a normal person was probably part of the hiring agreement.

The local reaction was telling. Per David Bice at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

In his words, he was simply retiring. Or resigning. Or quitting. Available at the drop of a Stetson to join Sean Hannity, the sheriff couldn’t muster the energy — or interest — to stand before the voters of Milwaukee County, the ones who elected him to his $132,290-a-year job four times, to explain exactly why he was leaving before his term was up. In the past, Clarke has been quick to argue that he has no problems handling his national media commitments and activities while still doing his day job. ... Besides, he said at the combative interview, he was needed elsewhere. “This is not Mayberry R.F.D.,” he added saying he can be easily reached when on the road. “For some reason, for some reason, my voice has grown nationally.” Fox News and Breitbart News were beckoning. Many of Clarke’s critics have argued that Clarke lost interest in Milwaukee County long ago.

Clarke spent the first part of his career as a nonentity. He climbed up the ranks in Wisconsin, but not without incident. He allegedly used force against a young man, and CNN said he botched his way through his master’s degree. Then Trump arrived, and Clarke blossomed. He called Planned Parenthood “Planned Genocide,” and zealously criticized Black Lives Matter. Fox News sought him at every turn. How could Clarke turn them down?

Bice argued that Clarke had skillfully turned his Trump-favoring shtick into a highly remunerative side hustle. The lawman became a catch for far-right audiences. Bice estimated $370,000 had come the Sheriff’s way through the big-heartedness of various conservative circles. What did his record matter? Like Trump, he was all empty hat and dogwhistle.

We all know why this is. Clarke’s real job is to be Trump’s advance guy. That’s what he’s been doing since the Age of Donald began. All the people our President loves have this in common: they give good interview. That’s the only common factor. Not competence, intelligence, kindness, or experience. Merely the ability to appear on Trump’s sole source of information—cable news—and say what Trump would say, if Trump could master complete sentences. In the Eighties, the Donald would call up reporters. Using a fake name, he would say wonderful things about himself for the journalists to transcribe. Now that he is sort of President, Trump can no longer ring up gossip columnists. So he has people who do that for him. Clarke is one in a long line of willing mouthpieces. What did it matter that, (as Bice writes) five people had died at the Milwaukee County Jail since the beginning of 2016? What did Clarke care when scandal hit the jail? He had bigger, oranger fish to fry.

Clarke was always an odd choice to be Trump’s paladin. If I wanted to give money to hear a hilariously bad cops talk, I would rent the Police Academy movies, all hundred of them. To say nothing of his accessory fetish. Clarke loves his medals. There is probably a universe where wearing clothes literally maketh man—in that world, all the people sporting “WORLD’S BEST GRANDPA” shirts really are the world’s best grandpa—all of them. All at once. But in this world, we have a name for people who brag too much about their decorations: gamers. Clarke wore whatever legitimate ornaments he could scrap together, and that was goofy enough. But he had real power to go with his jewelry, and that was the most dangerous thing about him. He acted as king of a Midwestern airport for years until he got noticed by the right-wing press. The law loves to help those that help themselves, and who has helped himself more than Sheriff Clarke?

Wherever he gets placed, Clarke will live out the rest of his days as a well-paid talking head. He will have another job, another bit of flair to add to the gimmicked-up uniform he already wears. Perhaps Secretary Clarke—perhaps Cabinet Officer Clarke. That would suit the man. After all, Clarke adores uniforms. If that’s the case, why doesn’t he buy a dry-cleaner, and cut the rest of us free from his fantasy? I remember being fifteen too.