There seem to be a fair number of people these days loudly complaining that the unpredictable presidential candidate named Donald J. Trump has become the unpredictable president named Donald J. Trump. Imagine that.
Less than three months into their standard-bearer’s presidency, Trump supporters openly fret that the man who made billions selling customers and investors everything from condos to casinos, from steaks to university degrees, is changing course on them. Just like a real pol.
Of course, the 70-year-old real estate baron isn’t a real pol. Most pols have some kind of ideological tethering, political brand beliefs that generally guide their statements, actions and votes.
Trump, always remember, is a businessman. Successful businesspeople are tethered to one thing: success. Turtle soup may have been their beloved mother’s favorite. But if it isn’t selling, kill it and go back to chicken noodle. Perhaps you recall Trump’s four business bankruptcies when he got in too deep and walked.
Trump hasn’t been taken over by any establishment people, anti-establishment people, semi-establishment people. If he’s so susceptible to others telling him what to do, how to explain his continued often-embarrassing tweets?
Trump is just looking for a W. His early flurry of executive orders was a win. He could draft, sign and impose them all by himself.
When the Obamacare repeal came out of the House of Representatives to replace the Affordable Care Act, it was like a half-aspirin for a migraine. But Trump loyally jumped right in like a team leader, pitched political woo with spoiled rogue Republicans, drank with them, listened to them, cajoled them. He even made a rare presidential political pilgrimage to their Hill.
Of course, the 70-year-old real estate baron isn’t a real pol. Most pols have some kind of ideological tethering, political brand beliefs that generally guide their statements, actions and votes. Trump, always remember, is a businessman.
What happened? Bupkis happened. The elected Washington political establishment, which never wanted Trump in the first place, let him down because they’re more interested in being onstage professing principle than scoring any points in the larger game. It is easier to oppose than actually govern. And especially easy for Republicans to oppose each other.
Wily old Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, who throws smiles around as though they’re manhole covers, did come through, big time, with a historic Supreme Court confirmation. Trump gave him a justice candidate right out of central casting. And McConnell delivered his 52 votes plus three Dems to boot.
Trump scored his own points again with a well-planned, decisive, measured missile strike on Syria that was, most importantly, well-explained. Some in Congress whined over not being consulted. Seriously? Those people keep secrets like colanders hold water.
But now, what?
Trump the businessman-elected-president needs some big wins. His conservative consigliere Steve Bannon arrogantly played a key role torpedoing any hope of Freedom Caucus support for the Affordable Care Act repeal. That caucus, which cares about posturing, not governing, sure didn’t cooperate. But Bannon’s job is likely safe.
It seems to many that Republicans are falling into their familiar internal squabble mode, turning what could have been a historic success into a potential disaster in the 2018 midterms, just 81 weeks away.
Only Congress will be on that ballot ripe for plucking by energized Democrats if the GOP doesn’t deliver obvious results after being awarded both houses of Congress and the big white one. “It’s hard to win if you don’t govern,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel warns Congress.
An early test comes this month over a possible government shutdown that lockstep Democrats seem determined to force, comfortable in the knowledge Republicans will squabble over orthodoxy and incur blame.
So the government’s chief executive is looking around for other advice. Enter family Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Anyone who’s ever worked in politics or the mob knows the danger (and stupidity) of getting crosswise with family members of the boss.
Their Manhattan Democrat background makes them suspect to puritans. But on Trump’s renewed NATO support, he’s said that for months and, it’s true, allies are boosting defense spending. On not labeling China a currency manipulator after two years of doing so, we suspect that’s part of a quiet deal for Beijing to pressure North Korea. Early signs are promising.
On support now for the Export-Import Bank, a favorite conservative target, Trump says he did not know how much it helps smaller businesses sell abroad. So the new president is admitting to learning? Given the recent jobs/economy record of presidents who knew everything already, this is actually encouraging.
Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm.