Donald Trump has been busy. From his temporary ban on refugees, Executive Orders on the ACA, the military and his tweets he has already proven his presidency will be unique. But more importantly, it shows how shrewd he is.
The idea that Trump has a brain confounds elites. Conspiracy theories abound that he is a stooge like Bush to Cheney to he is a soft authoritarian (that one was a fun read). Well, outside DC, college campuses and the liberal intelligentsia none of these things are true.
Move Fast and Honor Your Word
Since taking office Trump has hit the ground running. Most importantly, he has honored his word to the base. He’s loosened regulatory restrictions under the ACA, instituted policies to rebuild the military and actually honored his word on Roe vs Wade with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch. He has also signaled his willingness to drop GOP battles over the LBGT community’s rights by keeping in place an Executive Order from the Obama administration banning discrimination by federal contractors based on sexual orientation.
The last should anger the base but Trump is supportive of other ideas important to the right. He wants to allow churches and other religious nonprofits to donate to political candidates and causes. He also has issued tepid support for a voucher system that would allow federal dollars to follow qualifying kids to their school of choice (even if it is a private, religious school).
With base support locked in Trump can pivot to the center or he can continue a center right agenda.
The media and many on the left blame Trump and talk radio for loss of faith in Democratic institutions. In Democratic societies an honest and independent media is crucial. But today, few individuals trust the media for fair and honest coverage. This monster in the closet is one they fed and created.
Trump is not the first candidate to rail against elites and the media. But he is the first to do it well. And most likely he is the first candidate to actually act on it.
In office, he’s shown his dislike for the media. In turn, they have continued their disdain from Trump, a continuation of their coverage of the Donald during the campaign. From a reporter in the White House Press Corp demanding a truth oath from the new administration to coverage of Trump’s mistakes the media’s biased coverage just keeps showing.
Now, Trump may not garner much sympathy for his actions or words to the press but in them he cannot only take his anger out on a rotten institution but use them as a foil (see Frums article above proving my point).
It is why Sean Spicer can go out of his way to attack the press with little consequence. Past White Houses would be concerned about angering the press lest they derail an administration’s agenda by shifting public opinion. Trump has no such worry because trust in the media is at an all time low. This, again, makes them an easy foil to use and in their coverage of Trump they continue to play into his hands.
A Rattled Opposition
Thirdly, Trump’s hectic pace has galvanized the left but two weeks in and the opposition is off balance. Democrats fret about burnout among their base. The party lacks a message to oppose Gorsuch. What looked like principled opposition to their base in boycotting Trump cabinet confirmation hearings netted the party nothing but some extra free time for their Senators.
Simply saying no in the era of Trump is not enough for Democrats. The base wants action. The broader electorate dislikes Trump but wants some sort of political progress.
The idea that simply saying no is what helped Republicans make such significant gains in 2010 and 2014 is a liberal fantasy. Obama and Democrats passed major legislation in the ACA, Dodd-Frank, the Stimulus, and Cash for Clunkers . Voters obviously rejected these major pieces of legislation by voting Republican (they did not reject nothing).
Trump does not fit the typical mold of a Republican. Sure, he is a hardliner on immigration and trade, but he eschews debating gay marriage and abortion. He also is willing to spend on infrastructure, something Democrats embrace. Democrats have never battled a foe like the Donald and thus they have no plan to deal with him.
We all were given a preview of Trumps brilliance in the GOP primary. Then, as now, Trump consistently outflanked his enemies. Consider Trump’s many actions during the primary.
First, he jump started his campaign by appearing at the Mexico-Arizona border. The important thing was not his policy ideas but that he actually showed up. Similarly, Trump made news so often that he robbed any of his opponents air to breathe with his attacks on a Hispanic judge, tweets against GOP leadership and more.
It’s in the general where we really saw Trumps tactical genius at play. Despite “bombing” the debates he successfully made the choice between Clinton and Trump one about change, not style or policy. So intent on focusing on Trump’s personality and temperament was the Clinton campaign they never articulated a clear change message. And lost!
Every foe is doing the same thing as Clinton and probably thinking, they’re winning. Only problem, they’re playing right into Trump’s hands.
In truth, the idea that Trump is a dunce or that he is incapable of being an effective political leader was never grounded in reality. He created a massive business. He has been a major force in politics for decades (even if he had never run for elected office until now). If elites had noted these things they would not have underestimated him in November. They would not continue to do so to this day.
Trump has the perfect foil in the media, has the loyalty of the GOP base and many blue-collar voters and an ineffective opposition. It should not be a surprise the Donald is proving to be a shewed political operator.