Trump: Bush With a Twist
Donald Trump is using a variant of the George W. Bush governing philosophy. The problem faced by both GOP administrations is the party’s signature policies (tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation, increased defense spending) are unpopular. Bush disguised this with centrist rhetoric to cover hard-right policies. Trump is using splashy, populist-sounding jobs deals (e.g. Carrier) plus the ongoing reality-show Twitter circus to distract from hard-right Cabinet picks. Andrew Prokop explains on vox.com.
President-elect Donald Trump has a problem. He’s remarkably unpopular for a new president, so he needs to win over more voters in order to be reelected. At the same time, he needs to keep a conservative coalition that wants to enact sweeping and controversial policy changes united behind him.
In recent days, we’ve started to get a sense of how he may try to pull off both.
First, Trump will use the bully pulpit — through Twitter, through the media, and through his own staged events — to preserve his brand. He’ll market himself as a defender of American jobs (with showy stunts like the Carrier deal and his dubious claim to have saved Ford jobs). And he’ll make clear that he’s still not one of the political elites, because he’ll keep flouting their rules of decorum and “telling it like it is” (by getting into feuds with media outlets, coastal elites, the cast of Hamilton, and so on).
But secondly, Trump has also been handing out key domestic policymaking jobs to staunch conservatives, effectively empowering them to carry out a hard-right agenda in a way that keeps the GOP base satisfied — but with a layer of removal from Trump personally.
The job plank of this strategy could well make Trump quite popular — because fighting for American jobs (or being seen as fighting for them) is, unsurprisingly, quite popular. A Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 60 percent of voters said the Carrier deal made them view Trump more favorably. Conservatives worried about crony capitalism and government interference in the free market might squirm, but if Trump continues to make high-profile deals (or pick-high profile fights) that he claims are keeping good jobs in the US, that’s good politics for him.
Meanwhile, the conservative agenda Trump’s Cabinet appointees appear likely to implement on issues like education, health care, and the environment is not particularly popular among the general public. But the key is that much of this agenda can theoretically be carried out by lower-profile Cabinet secretaries without much involvement from Trump himself.
Indeed, Trump’s own stunts could well overshadow this conservative agenda if he sucks up all the media oxygen with whatever else he’s doing that day. Whether it’s job-saving stunts of dubious veracity or new Twitter fights, the president may be such a compelling ratings draw that any story or controversy involving him personally will get far more attention than stories about Cabinet secretaries, regulations, or policy (just as coverage of issues was drowned out during the campaign). But the most invested members of the conservative coalition will be well aware of what’s happening, and they’ll be thrilled with it.
Cross-posted from The Sensible Center