Picking Up the Pieces of the Trump Agenda

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 August 29, 2017|
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Donald J. Trump campaigned on a necessarily radical approach to governing: he would listen to the vast majority of the American people and enact policies that would benefit them. The most important elements for Trump’s agenda were tougher immigration laws; revitalizing the economy and renegotiating bad trade deals; an America-first foreign policy; and repealing Obamacare (the failure of which is a blot on the president’s record thus far). Trump proposed radical departures from the accepted political orthodoxy to each of these issues when he campaigned for president in 2016. His innovative outlook on these issues gave Trump the momentum he needed to overcome the more conventional candidates in both parties while keeping the press in a perpetual state of confusion and outrage.

To achieve these policies, Trump named unorthodox leaders—most of them “economic nationalists”—to advise him throughout the campaign and once he became president. Men such as retired U.S. Army General Mike Flynn, Steve Bannon, and Sebastian Gorka were instrumental to Trump’s success.

And now they’re gone. While Trump’s success is mostly his own, the presence of people like Bannon and Gorka helped to ensure that Trump’s agenda would be implemented effectively. Their departure may herald a fundamental change in course for Trump’s administration.

 

Foreign Policy

As a candidate and early on as president, Trump (advised by Flynn, Bannon, and Gorka, among others) was unafraid to call out radical Islamic terrorism by name. That’s changed. In his recent speech announcing the “new strategy” in Afghanistan, the term never appears (as Gorka pointed out in his resignation letter). That’s quite a turn from the president’s speech at the beginning of the year, when he purposely called out radical Islamic extremism as one of the greatest threats facing the nation. (In fact, I’ve argued that the president’s entire Afghanistan policy is a serious deviation from the principles of his campaign.)

Equally striking is Trump’s turnabout on the Iran deal. During the campaign, Trump called the Obama Administration’s executive agreement with Iran on its nuclear program “the worst deal ever negotiated” and “the worst deal I’ve ever seen.” Yet he has now recertified the agreement not once, but twice! He was right in the first instance: it was a bad and dangerous deal that should’ve been abrogated on the president’s first day in office.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration has taken an increasingly harsh stance on its relationship with Russia—which is a deviation from what both Trump and Flynn outlined in the campaign. While the view often does change from the Oval Office, the fact remains that the view in question did not change until after former campaign aides, like Flynn, were forced out. These changes are not only antithetical to what the president promised us, but they are also dangerous to America’s national security.

 

Immigration

Reports are now surfacing that the president is backtracking on his previous stands on immigration. Trump has indicated that he’s open to compromise with Congress on amnesty in exchange the border wall he promised from the outset of his campaign. These reports are mostly unsubstantiated, but given the course reversals we’ve already seen, nothing can be ruled out.

Still, it’s hard to imagine such a breach of faith with the base. Millions of voters embraced Trump for his stance on immigration in general and the wall in particular.

Of course, the news is not all troubling. President Trump embraced Senator Tom Cotton’s (R-Ala.) plan for curbing legal immigration—and his stalwart Attorney General Jeff Sessions has continued cracking down on illegal border crossings. But, this is not enough to sustain the momentum that Trump voters demand. Trump needs to stay strong on immigration, the issue that is most responsible for catapulting him to victory in 2016.

 

The Economy and Tariffs

While the economy has experienced marked improvement since Inauguration Day, the fact remains that middle class jobs are still on the decline and those unemployed Americans who have abandoned finding gainful employment remains dangerously high also. In order to begin the kind of middle class resurgence that Trump envisions, he is going to need serious tax reform—particularly in the area of corporate taxes. If the president can accomplish this (and craft a budget that reduces government spending at any level), he will get the 3-4 percent growth in gross-domestic product he wanted. This, more than anything, will be what voters consider in 2020.

Also, Trump’s ceaseless cuts to the onerous regulatory state are vital, but these are being done through executive order. They are not permanent. So, Trump needs to move on tax reform, to ensure lasting victory.

For Trump to be successful, he must continue honoring the wishes and needs of the 62 million Americans who voted for him. 

Then, there is the issue of protectionism. Despite having removed Steve Bannon from his inner circle, the president apparently argued for tariffs at a recent meeting with Gary Cohn, his chief economic adviser (and one of the biggest opponents of trade protectionism). Trump did manage to overturn the onerous Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, saving the livelihoods of untold thousands of  American workers. However, that is but the start of protecting America’s industries. If he cannot enact key pieces of legislation that will protect American workers in the long-run, he will be politically vulnerable. Moreover, the abandonment of TPP occurred early in the administration, when the economic nationalist wing had far greater sway. There needs to be more movement in the direction of protectionism than we’ve had. Given the opposition from both parties (and the Chamber of Commerce) this will be one of Trump’s greatest hurdles. He must stay strong and remain committed to protectionism, and he will need people in the White House who share his vision.

 

Moving Forward

I still very much believe in the president. But, now is the time to recognize that grotesque missteps have been taken the last several months, and the pieces need to be picked up. It is obvious that the economic nationalist wing’s tenure in the White House is over. They will now use their sizable media platform to influence policy from outside the White House. As Bannon himself stated, the presidency we all voted for “is over.”

However, that need not be the end of the discussion. Trump was elected to enact a particular agenda. If he deviates too far, he will lose his critical base of support. Lose too much of that support and the president’s reelection is threatened.

For Trump to be successful, he must continue honoring the wishes and needs of the 62 million Americans who voted for him. He may not always win. In politics victory is not final and defeat is not always fatal. Trump needs to move forward now with intentions of undoing the last several weeks of turmoil. If he can do that, the recent missteps will be undone, and the movement which he leads will continue to batter down the orthodoxies of our self-indulgent political elite. This is how we will make America great again. Trump needs to return to the themes that won him office.

 

About the Author:

Brandon J. Weichert
Brandon J. Weichert is a contributing editor to American Greatness. A former Republican congressional staffer and national security expert, he also runs "The Weichert Report" (www.theweichertreport.com), an online journal of geopolitics. He holds master's degree in statecraft and national security from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. He is also an associate member of New College at Oxford University and holds a B.A. in political science from DePaul University. He is currently completing a book on national security space policy due out next year.
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9 Comments

  1. hamburgertoday2017 August 29, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    It has to be clear that, President Trump not being re-elected is the upside for the Gary Cohn’s within the Trump Administration. The Chamber of Commerce wing of the Republican Party will be happy with Trump not being re-elected as, of course, will be the Democratic Party. The MSM will miss him because he generated ratings they are unlikely ever to have again. The Parties figure that they have ignored the wishes of the nationalist-populist American voters since Perot in 1992 and can do so for another 25 years…as long as there is no alternative to the Globalist Uniparty.

    The only group that *really* stands to lose is the Republican Party as whole. Reports from the RNC indicate their fund-raising from small donors is exceptionally high. My guess would be that these are Trump supporters as Trump is the only significant difference between this period of fund-raising and prior (recent) periods. So, what is going to happen when the Republican Congress fails to deliver on the MAGAgenda? My prognostication is a generation in political wilderness. Unless, of course, a new party forms out of the Reagan Democrats and working class national-populist Republicans.

    Might Donald J. Trump run as an independent, taking some of the Republican Party apparatus with him?

    • bloatedfed August 30, 2017 at 4:48 am

      all of what you say is, sadly, true. But a Third Party run would be, IMHO, a disaster (recall Perot in 92).

      • hamburgertoday2017 August 30, 2017 at 8:37 am

        In my opinion, this may be one of the few moments in modern American politics where a Third Party might not only be possible but also viable. Not to be disagreeable, but I don’t think there are good reasons to presume that a Third Party would be a disaster. Prior to American politics settling into a ‘two party system’, America often had multiple parties, and, just as often, new parties emerged from the defeated remains of old parties. This is how the Republican Party came into being.

        I can think of a number of reason (off the top of my head) why the ‘two party system’ has endured for so long.

        The first is that, in general, if the ‘major’ parties find that a Third Party issue(s) is polling strongly, one or the other of the parties will co-opt the issue(s), thereby removing one or more of the reasons why people would vote Third Party. This has produced a situation where Third Parties end working as ‘farm teams’ for the major parties. I think that, in the case of a nationalist-populist party, this cannot be done. Neither the Republican nor Democratic Parties have shown any interest in the ‘nationalist-populist vote’ for 25 years.

        The second is branding. The major parties work to promote their product throughout the electoral cycle. People know (or believe they know) what the ‘Democrat’ brand or ‘Republican’ brand stand for. Third Parties have to work much harder to produce a clear and compelling brand in the public mind (example: Green Party). After the 1992 election, the ‘Reform Party’ brand was diluted due to internal squabbling and eventually died. Branding, clearly, is not a problem for Donald Trump. To a great extent, he simply added ‘national-populist candidate’ to his existing brand. A Third Party with the ‘Trump’ brand would automatically have wide name recognition. While some people feel pretty strongly about their Party affiliations, most do not and a ‘Trump’ branded party that adhered to the nationalist-populist MAGA agenda would be a strong ‘party’ brand.

        The third is that the major parties long ago colluded on barriers to entry on access to ballots in virtually every state for alternative parties. Trump has already run for office, and if he took some of the Republican Party electoral apparatus with him in forming a Third Party, this issue might be mitigated.

        Lastly, most Third Parties struggle to achieve media attention. Such would not be the case with a nationalist-populist Third Party with ‘Trump’ branding.

        The Trump/Bannon national-populist issues are, as my previous comments suggest, incredibly durable. Democratic votes are locked up in a few key states (Trumps Electoral College victory was decisive, not marginal). As for ‘Perot’ being a disaster, he actually did pretty well. Prior to his meltdown and temporarily withdrawing from active campaigning, Perot was polling at 40% (he still ended up with 16%). Perot did not have the name recognition or the campaign savvy of Donald Trump and this shows in the final results. Also, Perot did not have access to social media.

        • Peter63 August 30, 2017 at 9:03 am

          What you say is CONVINCING; but does Mr Trump or any other populist candidate have the raw
          instincts to put in place two parallel teams from the start of such a campaign? One to fight the election, the other to be totally prepared for the yet bigger fight as soon as the election is over – in the event that he wins? (Please be so kind as to read my comment on this immediately above.)

          • hamburgertoday2017 August 30, 2017 at 10:20 am

            Thank you for your thoughtful response.

            You put the problem in terms of ‘will’, but I would describe the problem in terms of ‘infrastructure’.

            The major parties raise funds, groom party members for office and then run them for office. In short, the major parties have electoral infrastructure that allows them to draw on resources both before and after elections.

            Candidate Trump ran under the ‘Republican’ brand. The problem, of course, is that there are very powerful groups within the Republican Party that did not — and still do not — want a national-populist agenda within the Party. The same goes true for the Democrats. The problem for President Trump was to find people to fill the positions in his Cabinet. It’s obvious he tried to draw on non-Party resources as much as possible. We’ll see how some of those choices work out over the long haul. Nonetheless, the non-Party Cabinet level talent pool was pretty shallow and the President was, to some extent, forced to draw on Party resources.

            To give credit where credit is due, the Tea Party has a broad (even national) electoral infrastructure as do the Christian ‘conservatives’. As I understand it, both lent electoral assistance to the Trump campaign.

            To my mind, a Third Party (or even a bunch of state-based parties) that could get names of ballots and somehow make it clear that they ‘with Trump’, could get candidates elected using the ‘Trump’ brand alone. All that would be needed would be to have a single, centralized online ‘voter’s guide’ that was able to verify that the ‘Trump’ branded candidate was indeed ‘with Trump’. Again, infrastructure.

            Victory in conflict is at least as much infrastructure (‘logistics’ in military/business parlance) and strategy. I think Bannon understands this and there are, I suspect, things in the works to provide voters with a ‘guide’ to which candidates are ‘with Trump’. The issue is getting names on the ballots.

          • Peter63 August 30, 2017 at 12:23 pm

            You have persuaded me that this is the way forward in terms of election strategy. Thank you for your very positive and insightful posts. I hope many readers in significant places study them.

            What for me remains a bit of a mystery is President-Elect Trump’s choosing Gary Cohn of the deadly squid Goldman Sachs as his in-house economic adviser; and not, say, James Rickards (of “Death of Money” fame) or Rickards’s colleague David Stockman. Why did the President not have a senior appointment for (Republican) Kris Kobach, the Kansas State Attorney who has dedicated his career to purging illegal immigration and illegal voting?

            And others too who have been overlooked.

            It argues either a lack of ‘will’ after all; or his being caught wrong-footed by the Establishment exactly because he did not have TWO plans in mind from early on, which both in due season were maturely developed. (1) to win the election which – thank Heaven – he did; and (2, put in place between September 2015 and September 2016) to deal with the Niagara of rotten treatment by which he would be assailed thereafter.

            I specify Plan no. (2) with all the glibness of hindsight. I would have been caught out entirely, had I been in his shoes. I never expected quite such overt attack from so many establishment organs and individuals on – really – the United States Constitution and its principles.

            This, it turns out, is what the Chamber of Commerce and Wall St and the Bushes, Ryans, McCains and Romneys and most of the GOP all really think of the American tradition of self-government: that it is beneath contempt if it conflicts with what they personally happen to want. The rest of us can be forgiven for being taken by some surprise. It’s like one of those nail-biting thrillers where (it turns out) the person most threatening the heroine’s life is the man with her in the upper storey of the abandoned house whom she and we all along have supposed to be the story’s hero.

            The Republican Party could have spent the past 7 months doing drastic things to enact and back up the Trump campaign agenda. They have the whip-hand in so many spheres, while all that the Dems and the Media can do is basically to jump up and down, holler and shriek. But they – the GOP – carefully drag their feet. In the course of these 30 weeks they have achieved nothing except investigation of the President.

            If there BE a next time in which America can be rescued, this is an issue which really must be confronted and dealt with: amply and in advance.

        • Adobe_Walls August 30, 2017 at 3:36 pm

          A second party would do.

          • hamburgertoday2017 August 30, 2017 at 4:01 pm

            Agreed. But there would still be three ‘Parties’.

  2. Peter63 August 30, 2017 at 8:57 am

    I suspect that the Trump campaign agenda – excellent nearly all through – was lost long before the votes were cast in the election: something which few of us (and probably still less the President) then knew.

    In my naiveté (and I suspect his and most people’s) I supposed that if Donald Trump were elected, Big Money and everything it owns – the political class, the mainstream media, the bureaucracy (owned in turn by the bought-and-paid-for politicians) – would be very glum but would allow Mr Trump to govern. They would swallow hard as if ingesting a doorstop, but their 200+years-ingeminated instincts as Americans would respect the mandate accorded by the Constitution and the Laws.

    I was wrong; and, given how much 90% of the media behaved JUST LIKE Tass, Izvestia and Pravda in the Soviet Union, or German radio under the management of Josef Goebbels, during the sixteen months up to November 8 last, it was rather stupid of me. Given the sheerly propagandist behavior of the media during that period, I should have foreseen that these locusts don’t care two bits about the USA or what becomes of it, nor about the rule of law, nor about the Constitution, nor about the democratic principle.

    ALL they care about is the goals towards which they drive, blinded by their frantic lust for power and wealth.

    What should have been in place from September/October 2015 was a parallel team of brilliant machiavels on Trump’s side, meeting in a secret remote mansion, communicating not at all with the outside world and with each other only by face-to-face speech, pencilled notes, writing on old mechanical typewriters, and producing a super-smart 935-point plan for taking on and down the Tsunami of All-In Opposition which the new administration would get from all the above-mentioned foes of America.

    This strategy would have included the President-Elect not making any conciliatory appointments or gestures towards the Establishment at all – he had (as we now have seen for months) nothing to gain from them on any terms and not a scrap to lose by conceding nothing to them.

    ALL appointments should have gone to Trumpian radicals.

    Probably the President himself does not quite have the steel to take such a line anyway – though I am a bit surprised at his readiness to go along with some of the head winds, given how heroic it was of him to undertake the election campaign in the first place and how bravely he toughed it out against monstrous continuous calumny and misrepresentation 24/7 on most airwaves and in most print media June 2015-November 2016 in the second place.

    The significant lesson for the future is that if any other candidate ever wants to pick up the nationalist/populist baton and run with Trumpian policies – and I hope really sincere individuals WILL – the big preparation they need is not SuperPacs, a zillion dollars &c so much as Plans A, B, C and D for dealing, drastically, ruthlessly, full-time, never letting up, with the Swamp and the Establishment.

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