How to Right the Ship

By | 2017-08-07T13:32:13+00:00 August 3rd, 2017|
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Ever since Donald Trump declared his candidacy for the presidency, the media assault on him, his family, and his supporters has been blistering and relentless. As a result, millions of Americans—and billions of people around the world—have developed a warped, even demoniacal, impression of the sitting president of the United States.

Nevertheless, given this media pummeling, Trump’s approval ratings, especially among Republicans, have held up remarkably well. Lately, though, there have been signs that even the president’s core supporters are wavering, and his poll numbers are dipping. We must analyze and address this alarming development in a clear-eyed way, and we must do what we can to rebuild public confidence in Trump, the Republican Party, and conservatives.

First, though: why the downward trend? President Trump and Republicans have weathered a number of setbacks recently. The media twisted a story about Donald Trump, Jr. seeking information on Democratic collusion with Russia into confirmation of Trump’s collusion with Russia—no small feat, given the utter absurdity of the underlying logic.

Republican efforts in the Senate to repeal and replace Obamacare have hit a wall of opposition from recalcitrant members of their own party—elected officials who promised their constituents a fix was on the way, but who are unwilling to vote for anything but a perfect bill. As a result, it is unclear whether Republicans in Congress will keep years of consistent promises to abolish Obamacare and replace it with something better. In addition, Trump’s chief of staff and chief spokesman resigned under pressure, and his new communications director was let go after just 10 days. The apparent instability in the administration, combined with rumors of further dissension within the ranks, have fed a narrative of “chaos” at the highest levels of our government.

It’s true, some of Trump’s own actions have reinforced the media’s negative characterizations. Trump’s tweets are sometimes juvenile and it’s odd to see a president attacking his critics personally. More importantly, Trump has not shown the necessary discipline in articulating his positions on major issues, like the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. He has vacillated on what the Republicans’ best course is: repeal and replace, repeal then replace, or sit back and watch Obamacare collapse under its own weight. He has also alternately complimented and cajoled his fellow Republicans, who in turn have offered him less than full support. Trump openly criticized his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Some senators, meanwhile, such as Jeff Flake of Arizona, have lambasted the president. Others have refused to vote for Obamacare-related bills that the Republican leadership and Trump have endorsed. Perhaps most distressingly, Republicans have joined with Democrats in pursuing the farcical investigation of alleged “Trump-Russia” ties. In the process, the Republican Party has become more disunited and dysfunctional than it has been in a long time—which is quite a feat.

How to fix these problems? The first step may well be one that President Trump has already taken: the appointment of General John Kelly, his Homeland Security secretary, to replace Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff. Kelly is greatly respected on both sides of the aisle, and he may be just the man to bring greater discipline and focus to the West Wing. The next task will be to hire a communications director who can plug the press leaks that have fed the false media narratives about the president. Anthony Scaramucci had his charms, and seemed intent on rooting out leakers, but his presence became too much of a distraction and he had to go. It’s crucial for an experienced, competent, and less combative communications director to craft the administration’s message and do a better job of harnessing Trump’s own brand of eloquence to deliver it. The president is at his best when he speaks directly to the people.

Above all, the Republican message should be coordinated at all levels, and members of the administration, members of Congress, and party officials need to be on the same page. That’s a big ask. Fact is, the Trump phenomenon has exposed fissures among the Republican and conservative coalition hitherto concealed. Where grassroots Republicans have been keen to fight back against the media and Democratic Party’s attacks on the president, most professional Republicans have flinched and buckled. By showing weakness, they ensure that the attacks against them will intensify, and their agenda will be derailed. By standing together, unapologetically, in defense of their principles, Republicans and conservatives can not only achieve their goals but also maintain the support and confidence of Americans.

The best recipe for a turnaround in fortunes for Trump and Republicans, in the end, is success, which begets more success. Republicans need to repeal Obamacare, as promised. They need to overhaul the immigration system and the tax code, as promised. They need to lighten the regulatory burden and unleash economic growth, as promised. These are all reforms that unite Republicans and conservatives and, more importantly, appeal to large swathes of Americans. If the Democrats want to vote no, so be it, but Republicans have it in their power to deliver wins on these issues to the country, and to themselves. That would be a good start to changing the political dynamics that, for the moment, have turned against Trump and his supporters.

One way or another, though, this too shall pass. If nothing else, we can simply wait for Democrats to squander their advantages and self-destruct, as they so often do. No condition is permanent, especially in politics. Trump, and Republicans, will surely rise again.

About the Author:

Nicholas L. Waddy
Nicholas L. Waddy, an associate professor of history at SUNY Alfred, blogs at www.waddyisright.com.