By The Editorial Board
Aug. 31, 2022 6:44 pm ET
One reason Democrats are thrilled to keep Donald Trump at political center stage is because they know they can count on him to continue his revenge campaign against fellow Republicans. Even by that all-too familiar standard of behavior, the former President’s smears against his former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao are especially ugly.
Mr. Trump has been pursuing a vendetta against Mitch McConnell since the Senate GOP leader denounced the former President’s role in the events of Jan. 6. Mr. Trump calls him “a broken down hack politician,” despite Mr. McConnell’s role in keeping a Supreme Court seat open in 2016 for Mr. Trump to run on. The Court issue was crucial to Mr. Trump’s victory, and Mr. McConnell was indispensable in getting his judicial nominees through the Senate.
Mr. McConnell is wise to ignore Mr. Trump’s attacks. But that may be why Mr. Trump has recently dragged in Ms. Chao, who is Mr. McConnell’s wife. On Aug. 20 in a post on Truth Social, his social-media site, Mr. Trump said Mr. McConnell “should spend more time (and money!) helping [Republicans] get elected, and less time helping his crazy wife and family get rich on China!”
On Aug. 24 Mr. Trump escalated with a statement that “The Democrats have Mitch McConnell and his lovely wife, Elaine ‘Coco’ Chao, over a barrel. He and she will never be prosecuted, as per the last paragraphs of this story.” He then linked to a story in The Federalist, an online publication, that was full of guilt by innuendo.
Ms. Chao came to the U.S. as a child from Taiwan, not China. You may have heard there’s a difference. She’s one of six daughters of James S.C. Chao, who founded the Foremost Group, a U.S. shipping company based in New York. It’s an immigrant success story. Ms. Chao’s sister Angela is now CEO, but Elaine is neither an employee nor an owner.
The company specializes in bulk-commodity ships that carry grain and other freight. Foremost Group ships travel often to Chinese ports because much of the world’s commodity trade goes to and from China. The destinations are set by the owner of the commodities. You can’t be in the global shipping business and not travel to Chinese ports.
Some Foremost ships were built in China over the years, but we’re told the company currently has no such contracts. The company does have contracts for ships made in Japan. Angela Chao was also on the board of the Bank of China, a commercial bank, not the central bank. But countless American firms have done business with Chinese companies since the country opened up in the 1980s and there was hope for its economic and political reform.
Those hopes have been undone by President Xi Jinping and his Politburo. But doing business with China remains legal, as Mr. Trump underscored when he struck his “phase one” trade deal with Mr. Xi in 2019. Is Mr. Trump now claiming that any American who does business in China is a traitor or in bed with the Communist Party? It’s hard to believe Mr. Trump would make these accusations if Ms. Chao wasn’t ethnic Chinese.
If he believes what he says, then why did Mr. Trump invite Ms. Chao to join his cabinet? The Foremost Group’s commercial history and business with China were all known at the time. Mr. Trump also praised Ms. Chao for doing “an incredible job” as late in his term as July 2020. In April 2020 he said she was doing a “fantastic job.” Ms. Chao’s real offense, apart from being married to Mr. McConnell, is that she resigned from the cabinet after the Jan. 6 riot. Mr. Trump can’t abide that stand on principle.
Democrats in Congress tried to dig up dirt on Ms. Chao and her family, but they came up empty. They triggered a Department of Transportation Inspector General probe into several charges of misconduct. But in March 2021, after Ms. Chao had left office, the IG report concluded: “This report does not make any conclusion regarding the compliance of the Secretary or any other Federal employee with any ethical principle or rule.” It closed the probe after it found no prosecutorial interest by the Biden Justice Department.
Beyond the unfairness to Ms. Chao, all of this relates to Mr. Trump’s role in the GOP. Instead of focusing on President Biden, Mr. Trump cares above all about settling scores with members of his own party. His politics is always about himself, not a larger cause. His vendettas have already hurt Republican prospects in 2022 by blackballing good candidates and letting Democrats divert attention from Mr. Biden’s failures. No wonder Democrats are thrilled to have Mr. Trump around.