I don’t understand how Trumpism is supposed to work. I certainly see the appeal of a populist movement that leans heavily to the right while still being heavily critical of orthodox conservatism. I can envision a strategy that eschews governing through the Republican Party despite being technically a Republican administration. But the way to do those things is to sacrifice part of the traditional Republican constituency in order to win over a healthy slice of the Democratic constituency. This is what Trump effectively did in the election, but he has to translate that into votes in Congress. It’s this last part that he’s making no effort to pull off. In fact, everything he’s done since winning the nomination and (especially) the presidency seems to be focused on alienating would-be Democratic supporters in Congress.
There are labor Democrats who would hold their nose on insults to women and minorities long enough to work with Trump on a big infrastructure bill. The same Democrats might become valuable allies on trade issues. There are more mainstream Democrats who might be enticed to work on health care reform if Trump seemed serious and realistic about health policy. There are Democrats who might provide some cover for a less bellicose foreign policy if it were coupled with less defense spending and more emphasis on diplomacy. If Trump is serious about protecting Medicare and Social Security and expanding access to affordable health care and prescription drugs, there are many Democrats who would join him.
But he’s pushed Democrats away with virtually every single action he’s taken, starting with the people he’s chosen to fill out his cabinet. He’s taken away any cover a Democrat might have had to ally with him on some issues.
This won’t work for Trump if he intends to stand up to his own party which, given his inaugural address, he apparently does.
…Mr. Trump dropped hints in interviews, Twitter posts and other public comments that he intended to push his party away from its free-market, internationalist dogma on trade, foreign alliances, immigration, infrastructure spending and prescription drug access…
…Republicans have resisted Democratic efforts to spend big on the nation’s roads, bridges, tunnels and rail lines; use the federal government’s power to bargain for lower prescription drug prices; block trade agreements; and limit foreign interventions. Republican leaders have sought a business-friendly approach on immigration laws, offering a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and tried to restrain popular programs like Social Security and Medicare.
If the president is able to blur party lines on such issues and harness an ascendant blue-collar coalition to win that clash, he will have untethered conservatism from the Republican Party and shifted the party away from the small-government approach that has been its hallmark since Ronald Reagan stood 36 years ago in the same position on the Capitol steps as Mr. Trump.
I guess what I’m saying is that I can see the desire and the advisability of blurring party lines, but I can’t see how you can govern effectively as an in-your-face take-no-prisoners Republican and expect to divide the Democrats. And if you can’t divide the Democrats because your personal style and your racist intolerant attitudes repel them, then you cannot afford to create divisions on your own side. The Republicans only have 52 votes in the Senate. That means that they need eight Democrats to overcome a filibuster. And, even if they grow frustrated with their inability to accomplish that and get rid of the filibuster, they’ll still only be able to afford two Republican defections.
These are real obstacles that will place limitations on what Trump can accomplish. And he’s created real enemies within the Republican caucus in the Senate. John McCain and Lindsey Graham basically hate him. Jeff Flake is appalled by him. Rand Paul can safely be considered a dedicated enemy. There are also moderates like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski who have both substantive and political reasons for resisting him on many issues. Maneuvering around them is possible, but much more difficult if he can’t consistently win over a handful of Democrats.
There are some Democrats who will feel political pressure to work with Trump. Certainly Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have to be cognizant that their states voted overwhelmingly for Trump. Even liberals like Sherrod Brown of Ohio have to look over their shoulder when they oppose him. Trump needs to utilize this potential strength, but he’s pissing it away as fast as he can.
The puzzle pieces don’t fit together for me. One thing Trump should look at are his poll numbers. He’s already approaching where Bush was at his lowest point, after six years of unrelenting failure. He needs to get his poll numbers up because no one feared Bush by 2006. Certainly no one feared him by 2008, and not just because people knew he was leaving office. He was a liability to his allies and a rallying point for his opponents.
That’s where Trump is starting out, and he’s accelerating the process.
I think he’s also misjudging how he should treat the media. They’re the only foil he has left at the moment, so he’s going to play himself off against them relentlessly. But he’s going to discover that the media are more influential when covering a president than they are when covering a campaign. You can’t Tweet a daily press conference, and there are many things an administration does that only reach the people through traditional news outlets. You can’t spin everything through an alternative media or through fake news, especially the less sexy more substantive and wonky stuff.
He’s even making a dangerous enemy in the Intelligence Community, which a basic concern for personal survival ought to preclude him from doing. He should be turning the IC into a loyal client, but he’s disrespecting their dead and running afoul of their core values, all while cozying up to a Russian regime they consider to be hostile to American interests. The Pentagon’s commitment to our allies and NATO is also probably greater than their commitment to Trump. A sensible president who wanted to challenge them on these things would be subtle, patient, and even conniving. Trump isn’t sophisticated enough to be conniving, and he’s the opposite of subtle and patient. He will not win a political battle with these folks, especially when he doesn’t have support in Congress and his polls are in the toilet.
Another way of putting this is that he doesn’t have as much power as he thinks he does, he’s squandering the power he does have, and he’s empowering his opponents while weakening the unity of his potential partners.
This all makes me hopeful. But it’s also terrifying because we have to rely on him to at least do some basic things competently. And there is just no basis for thinking that Trump can do this job on any level, let alone a competent level.
He’s certainly willing to get up in the morning and go to work, but he’s never submitted to the schedule-makers who rule a president’s world. A president has to do the meetings with the boy scouts and acknowledge important anniversaries and attend certain conferences and check all kinds of boxes simply to avoid offending people and causing rifts with important interest groups, constituencies, and foreign powers. A president’s time is almost never their own. Trump is going to buck this aspect of the job, and he’s going to generate one bad news cycle after another as a result.
He also needs his administration to take the lead on long-haul legislative efforts which require detailed strategy, both procedural and political, and yet he can’t maintain a consistent reality-based position on issues from one day to the next.
He can’t finesse this away by sending Kellyanne Conway out to tell people that they’re using “alternative facts.” Facts, whether true or false, don’t move processes along from beginning to end.
It’s clear already that Trump is going to fail at this job in spectacular fashion. That will limit what he’ll accomplish, which is mostly a good thing. But we’re trapped in the bus he’s driving, and we’re all going to feel the impact as it crashes over and over again.