Sunday, March 25, 2018

After the Nor'easters: Trump Caves on the Budget While the Real Storm(y) is on the Horizon

For all of the talk about President Trump almost vetoing the Congressional spending bill, what's lost is that his presidency will likely turn out to be a textbook case of an outsider with no natural political constituency unable to reorder the bureaucracy or scare enough legislators to bend to his will. After all, here is a politician who did not garner a majority of popular votes and is proving unable and unwilling to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats, who in many cases would be able to provide him with votes on legislation he'd like to pass.

Yes, he got his military spending increase, but on most other measures, including the ridiculous wall on the Mexican border, he earned the political equivalent of the Golden Sombrero, whiffing on cuts he proposed in funding for the arts, the EPA, housing and transportation, each of which received an increase in government support or the same level of funding as the year before. In effect, Congress ignored the president's request, then essentially told him to sign the bill or he'd get a worse one in return.

So much for Trump the dealmaker or politician who would come in and clean house. In fact, the only house he's cleaned is the White House by firing and replacing his staff at a rate unseen in...forever.

Congress has learned that the president cannot rally Americans behind his agenda mainly because his agenda is supported by a minority of people and his behavior has so eroded his support that Republican members of Congress are running for the doors in anticipation of a Democratic wave election in November. Trump has also shown a notable lack of policy knowledge and engagement, so trying to make an actual argument other than a particular policy is "great" or "the best" seems to be beyond his grasp. Add in the tweets that come in flurries after he's watched some outrage on FOX and you have a political environment that is unstable, ignorant and rudderless.

Just what the Founders envisioned, right?

What should make Republicans quake that much more is that they and the president should be at the height of their power and influence. One-party governance has a short shelf life as Democrats can confirm from 2009-2011. You get two years to prove your worth and Republicans understand that they have not unified the country and that the president is not going to have a coat, much less coattails in the upcoming election. For the president to be snubbed on his major priorities at this point is a major rebuke. Neither they nor he are going to regain influence. The tax cuts are in the system. If all Trump has left is to bar transgender Americans from serving in the military, then it's going to be a difficult environment for them for the rest of the year.

And that's just the domestic side. A rejection of the diplomatic order that's kept the peace since 1945 in the form of higher tariffs, a foreign policy team full of hawks, and a confrontational attitude towards China and North Korea are all causing some concern in the United States and abroad. It's one thing to shake up a moribund system. It's quite another to cause other countries to question the commitment of the United States to protocols that keep the world safe.

The president finally has a foreign policy and security team he's comfortable with, but he still sees the world as a series of personal relationships that determine who gets punished and who doesn't. Congratulating Vladimir Putin while applying tariffs to Japan makes for a contradictory signal. Gutting the State Department, leaving embassies short staffed and trusting your gut on Kim Jong-un is downright dangerous. The lone bright spot is holding China accountable for the theft of intellectual property, which has been going on since the 1990s. But that's hardly something to run on.

It's a bit too early to call President Trump a lame duck, but he's getting close. Congress passed the tax cuts, but the ACA remains, as does an un-walled border. The issue that could unite the country, an infrastructure bill that provides both jobs and desperate repairs, is nowhere to be found. And, of course, the Stormy clouds are gathering.

Donald Trump will not be a transformative leader because his worldview and policy knowledge are far too limited, and he had done nothing to unify the country. Congress just reminded him of that. The people will remind him again in November.

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