Trump’s Mid-Term Report Card

 

Two years ago, January 20, 2017, Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States, against incredible odds.  It was the culmination of one of the most remarkable Presidential campaigns in my life time, and arguably, all of American history.  So it’s fair to look back and see how he’s done so far.  Not of course by the standards of the media or the swampy establishment, but from the people who voted him in.  Trump supporters such as myself.

Specifically me.

Let’s break this down into some important categories and see how he fared.

Campaign Promises

There are a lot of ways to cut campaign promises and they are not all judged equally.  Do we give the same value to a promise made at every campaign stop versus one made once or twice?  Clearly it seems to be that we should concentrate on the handful of major ones, although the Trump unfriendly site Politifact seems to track them in a more scattershot fashion, particularly with their “Trump-O-Meter.” So some of these may be a bit subjective, but if I were to make my own list, based on the ones he seemed to repeat the most often, it would be something like this:

  1. Repeal and Replace Obamacare
  2. Build the Wall
  3. Cut taxes
  4. Get NATO to pay their fair share
  5. Infrastructure Bill
  6. Renegotiate Trade deals
  7. Appoint Supreme Court Justices from his pre-screened list
  8. Get out of Iran deal and Paris Accords
  9. Immigration Reform
  10. Defeat ISIS

In general, he’s done a pretty good job for just two years, but the ones he’s not yet accomplished yet or already failed at, are big ones.  Obamacare was an early flop, as is the wall, but the most surprising was his inability to get an infrastructure bill through Congress.  That should have been an easy bipartisan success.  The wall of course is an ongoing failure, one that should have been started in his first two years, not waited until it became politically impossible.

Grade: C

Foreign/Military Policy

Trump shocked everyone by keeping his foreign policy promises.  He moved our embassy in Israel to the capital, Jerusalem; a perennial bipartisan campaign promise that is forgotten by inauguration. But not this time; Trump actually did it.  He engaged with NATO to increase their agreed on contributions, began orienting our trade policy to put pressure on trade partners who had unfair policies, leading to a replacement of NAFTA with the USMCA (United States Mexico Canada Agreement), and has been the only US President to engage with China seriously over their unfair trade practices.

North Korea is an ongoing mess, but then it always has been.  Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton all negotiated with North Korea, all declared some variation of ‘peace in our time,’ and declared victory, only to have their efforts wind up in failure.  That may be the fate of Trump’s attempt, but he’s trying something new (Art of the Deal-type deal making) and may have better results from that, but we may not know for sure for years.

In the Middle East, Trump has turned the orientation away from Iran and back to the Sunni Arab states, mainly Saudi Arabia, at a time when Saudi Arabia’s oil power has been in relative decline. By defeating the IS Caliphate, and beginning the process of pulling US troops from Syria, he’s fulfilling yet another campaign promise and keeping the lid on mission creep that the national security establishment is trying to suck the country into.  Assad?  Putin?  Kurds?  That’s not why we put troops in Syria; it was to get rid of the Caliphate, and now they control zero territory.  Mission Accomplished.

His genuflecting to Putin is irritating however.  After watching how he dealt with Kim Jong-un, it’s clear that is a typical Trump negotiation strategy: alternate threats with flattery and nice words.  However whatever attempts at negotiations with Russia Trump may have planned has been spoilt by the absurd anti-Russian hysteria in the United States.  Trump should stop pretending there is a chance to have any meaningful relationship with the Russians.

Grade:  A-

 

Economic Policy

Trump’s economic policy can be broken down into 3 large planks:

  1. Tax Cuts
  2. Pealing back regulations
  3. Trade

Tax cuts are already accomplished and the President is doing an unprecedented job of taking advantage of his position in the Executive Branch by reducing regulations. On that point, he’s been successful in a way that no modern Republican President has been, including Reagan. Trade is an ongoing foreign policy negotiation with an uncertain future, but the goal is definitely positive and Trump is the first President in decades who has connected trade and protecting American workers.  Even if the progress is incremental, it’s going in the right direction.

Grade: A-

Immigration

If there is probably one issue that lead to Trump’s breakout success in both the GOP nomination fight and the battle for the Presidency, it was on the issue of immigration. Trump’s promises on immigration are a major reason he’s President. In office though, it’s been a mixed bag.  In terms of the powers he holds in the executive branch, he deserves an A.  He’s used the powers of the Justice Department and Homeland Security to enact policy changes in alignment with his immigration goals.  However when it comes to legislation, Trump has accomplished almost nothing…wait, I guess it’s actually nothing.  On that he would get an F.  But I can average the two to give him…

Grade:  C-

 

Political Negotiations

One of the skills that candidate Trump touted from his resume was his ability to negotiate; “The Art of The Deal” style. Whatever skills he exhibited in the business world are totally absent in dealing with Congress. Consider, Trump’s campaign promise failures are almost all ones that required Congressional legislation to accomplish, and on that score, he didn’t accomplish much. And this was with a GOP Congress.  That probably has a lot to do with why we no longer have a GOP Congress.

Trump has done great things on the executive branch side; the things he can directly control, but we’ve just had two years of GOP controlling the Presidency and Congress and nothing of importance was accomplished. It’s a wasted opportunity that the GOP may never have again in our lifetimes.

As I mentioned last month, I put the blame primarily on the GOP Congressional leadership, specifically Paul Ryan. Trump was suckered on Obamacare, with Ryan cranking out versions that couldn’t possibly pass because he didn’t WANT them to pass; he hated Trump and wanted to oppose him more than he wanted any sort of legislation. And of course McConnell and Ryan kept lying to him on the wall. That was something that the House and Senate could have easily provided early on, but didn’t because they hate Trump. Once Ryan got his tax bill through, he had no incentive to do anything but interview for post House jobs with donors. That was the only leverage Trump had and he gave it away. Trump, for his part, either didn’t recognize that the GOP Congress was opposing him, or did recognize it, but took no action to fight them. The past two years, they were the real enemy and Trump’s vaunted negotiation ability?  It was nowhere to be seen.

He’s done little better against his actual political opponents, the Democrats. He’s scored plenty of zingers, many of them hilarious and far more ballsy than any other Republican President would have attempted, and he decisively won last year’s shutdown fiasco.  But he’s had less luck this year.  In fact, based on Trump’s offer yesterday it sounds like his negotiating position is collapsing, with Trump, after careful negotiations with himself, offered the Democrats DACA, TPS, and the Dreamers; all for a measly Five billion.  Of course, it’s possible that Trump is using one of his standard tactics: making huge concessions when he knows his opponents won’t go for it, as he demonstrated during last year’s shutdown and several other previous, well publicized negotiations.  However at this point it looks like Jeb Bush doing the negotiating. I was going to give Trump a D- for his political negotiation acumen, but after yesterday’s debacle of an offer, I’ve lowered it.

Grade:  F

That’s why I have to give the Trump administration a midterm grade of C at the half way point. He’s had some spectacular successes and some spectacular failures (as this current shutdown strategy is revealing itself to be).  And it only gets tougher from here.  With the Democrats in charge of the House, it’s going to be full on war against Trump in impeachment and investigations, with no Trump friendly legislation getting through.  At least under Ryan the House was merely passive aggressive in opposing him, with a few actual Trump allies sprinkled here and there in charge of powerful committees.  Not so now.  Still, considering the opposition he’s faced, the perseverance he’s shown is simply astounding.  The guy is tough and with the odds stacked against him even more than he’s faced in his first two years, it will be interesting to see how he handles it.

 

Advertisements

A Shutdown Compromise Suggestion for the Democrats

Now that we’re into the longest government shutdown in history, it’s worth trying to imagine how this is supposed to end.  In a normal GOP administration, the constant media pressure would gradually peel off enough Republican votes that the President relents, or enough Republicans flip to allow an override of his veto, ending in Republican defeat for whatever issue prompted the shutdown in the first place.

But this isn’t a normal GOP administration…

The “Chuck and Nancy” show ended at best as a stalemate, and at worst, the Presidential response that launched a thousand memes.  The Democrats seem to think that they have the whip hand, and that normal Republican processes will lead them to fold.  Why else would Pelosi declare the wall “immoral,” seemingly cutting off any ability for her to compromise? We’ve already seen cracks on the Republican side by the usual suspects, right on schedule.

However Trump is Trump.  In negotiations, he cultivates a madman image for a reason. And as he clearly showed during last year’s Democratic shutdown, he can skillfully maneuver when motivated. Maybe another tactic is required…

So here’s my suggestion to the Democratic leadership.  I ask for no money, only praise as one of the greatest peacemakers of all time; a small thing to ask IMHO. Offer Trump the 5 billion he asked for, but require that it be fully funded by tax increases.  Send the bill from the House with 5 billion and a tax increase from whatever source, an income tax surcharge, a tax on carried interest, a federal gas tax increase; whatever the Democratic zeitgeist feels like taxing at that particular moment.

This is a true compromise.  Trump gets the wall (or a down payment on one) and Democrats get to stick it to Republicans by forcing them to have a vote either for a wall and a tax increase, or no wall and no tax increase.  Although in Trumpland that sounds like a win that Trump can live with, in Freedom Caucus land, that’s a tough vote.  A lot of these guys hate tax increases but really love illegal aliens, but have to pretend publically that they are for “strong border security,” a canard that has zero real meaning without actual physical barriers.  This actually could lead to the Republicans killing the wall.

As for me, I’m more than happy to have tax increases pay for needed government expenditures (it beats deficits) but I realize that’s not a universally shared sentiment on the right. How attractive this seems to the Democrats is directly related to whether the Democrats think that Trump and the GOP are likely to crack.  I don’t know the answer to that, but if we’re still wondering this a month from now, then this compromise idea might start to look really good to the Dems.

Predictions for 2019

With only a 40% accuracy rate for my 2018 predictions, I didn’t exactly excel, however on the other hand, I’m not putting money down on these, so why not?

Mueller’s Investigation will not show any collusion between Trump or the Trump campaign and Russia to “hack” the election.

This is in danger of becoming a perennial; however I feel pretty strongly that the end of the investigation, whenever it comes, will, try though it may, not show any collusion between either the President or his campaign with the Russians.

The House Judiciary Committee will vote on articles of impeachment this year.

I’m not going to guess whether there will be enough votes to bring the issue to the floor of the House, but the Judiciary Committee will for sure be voting on it.  It’s too tempting to leave that candy in the pantry.

Sorry Bill Maher, but no recession by the end of this year.

Maher famously said that he hoped the economy would crash so that Trump would be voted out of office, but even though there seems to be a global slowdown, I’m going to call that the US will not enter a recession this year.  Plus, just about every business and economic talking head has predicted one, so therefore it won’t happen.

President Trump will have another Supreme Court nomination to make by the end of the year.

The common pundit bet seems to be that Ruth Bader Ginsburg will have to retire for health reasons, but I suspect a possible more likely scenario is that Clarence Thomas will retire at the end of the session sometime in the spring.  Why?  It would be the perfect troll.

No Brexit.

The Brits should really just take a tip from their American cousins and issue a Declaration of Independence and GTFO.  However, in a situation in which nobody in the establishment really wants to Brexit, it’s pretty obvious that they are just trying to run out the clock and pass the buck.

Another, not quite prediction:

I wouldn’t really say this is a prediction, both because it’s outside the one year window of this post and because at this point it’s more guess than prediction, but this could move up to a full blown prediction in the future (but that’s just a prediction).

The top of the ticket for the Democratic nominee will not be a white male.  I think their time is done in the Democratic Party.

 

 

2018 Prediction Wrap Up

It’s been another so-so year in the predictions biz, which puts me way ahead of virtually any cable TV pundit.  So let’s review my predictions shall we?

Financing will be secured for a southern border wall and construction will begin.

I really held out hope that this would come true and it did provide just about the only real end-of-the year news drama, but no,  no cigar and no wall, as I begin to suspect would be the case when I wrote this.

The Mueller investigation will officially wrap up before the fall midterm elections.

This didn’t happen either.  Is it possible that Mueller really thinks there is Russian collusion, and if he just digs deep enough, he’s going to find it?  If so…what an idiot.  In any case, that invalidates my third prediction…

Mueller’s Investigation will not show any collusion between Trump or the Trump campaign and Russia to “hack” the election.  Derp.

Finally, I get one right:  The Republicans will keep control of the Senate after the 2018 elections.  But then…

The Republicans will keep control of the House after the 2018 elections.  So that’s another wrong one, but at least I’m clearer on why I got this wrong.  But as I wrote after the mid-terms, I totally underestimated

The price of Bitcoin will crash in 2018.  On January 1, 2018, the price was $14,560.84, and on December 31st, it was  $3876.60.  That sounds like the bubble burst to me.

At least 3 terrorist attacks in Western Europe with double digit casualties (Injuries and or deaths).  Although I got this one wrong, it’s happy news that I got this wrong.  Western European terrorism has continued to decline, with only 8 deaths from terrorism in Western Europe.

Kim Jong-un will still be the supreme head honcho of North Korea throughout 2018.  This seems ridiculous now but at the beginning of the year all of the “smartest people” thought there was a real possibility that Kim would be overthrown.

US Housing prices will continue to steadily increase throughout the year.  Although the latest data I can find only goes through October, housing continues to show a steady increase.

There will be an infrastructure bill that will pass with some Democratic votes.   Not even close.

So out of 10 predictions, I got 6 of them wrong, giving me a failing grade of 40%.  Not great in my own terms, but still better than Bill Kristol or any cable TV pundit.

 

 

 

How the GOP Congress Killed it’s Majority

I admit I’m not much of an affecianto of Breitbart; however they had a story that caught my eye this week

“The House GOP leadership is responsible for blocking a pro-American immigration reform package which was backed by President Donald Trump, a top House chairman said Tuesday.

The GOP leadership let the House immigration reform die in June by allowing a critical bloc of GOP legislators to split their votes between two rival reform bills, said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the retiring chairman of the House committee on the judiciary.”

This more or less confirms what I’ve suspected the past two years: that the GOP House leadership was every bit in opposition to the Trump Presidency as any roundtable on MSNBC, and has been in opposition to him and his issues, even if it cost the Republicans the House majority.

The Paul Ryan strategy was summarized at the time fairly well here:

Well, it worked.  Ryan, as Speaker of the House, spent two years sabotaging not only any Trump friendly bills, such as the Goodlatte bill, but, with the exception of the tax cuts, all other GOP priorities.  Ryan’s legacy amounts to a bunch of massive spending bills and a tax bill that won’t survive a Democrat majority in the House and Senate.  But at least his donors will be happy.

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed Ryan’s perfidy. The multiple versions of the House “repeal and replace” health care plans seemed like they were designed to fail, and they certainly did, giving Trump the first of many failures in dealing with Congress.

With control of all three branches of government, the GOP accomplished virtually nothing and gave not a single reason to motivate GOP voters.  If the Democrats had not gone Kavanaugh crazy, I wonder what the damage to the GOP House would have been.  Of course, Goodlatte could have said something about this a lot earlier, instead of waiting until he’s out the door, but that, like any Republican chances for immigration reform, is water under the bridge.

So two years wasted and no chance in Trump’s first term to accomplish anything on immigration or again, anything else now.  If any party deserved to lose, it’s the House Republicans.

About that Morning Joe Mid-Term Prediction

June 13th seems like a few years back, not merely a few months, however it stuck out for me because that day’s show had Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough go into a rant promising a massive Democratic wave this fall.” Joe even held up a newspaper to confirm the date, just like a hostage video; which in some ways describes Morning Joe fairly well.

As I had posted at the time: Challenge accepted.

In service to keeping Joe honest on his prediction, I watched the entire three hours of his show this morning.

Please thank me for my service.

As I suspected, Joe did not mention his June prediction once, although he did show a clip from the show made on the same day, one of Mark Sanford pouting after he lost his primary race, but reminding everyone of his big “massive democratic wave?”  No chance.

Of course I had made my own predictions about how the mid-term races were going to play out; the Republicans would maintain control of the House and the Senate.  So how did I do?  Well I only got that half right. The Democrats took the House, gaining 34 seats, while the Republicans maintained control, and gained seats, in the Senate.

As a point of comparison to other recent mid-term elections:

President Obama (D):

2014: 13 Democratic House seats were lost, from 201 to 188

2012:  62 Democratic House seats were lost, from 256 to 193

President Bush (R):

2006:  30 Republican House seats were lost, from 232 to 202

2002:  8 Republican House seats were gained, from 221 to 229

President Clinton (D):

1998:  5 Democratic House seats gained, from 206 to 211

1994:  54 Democratic House seats lost, from 258 to 204

So based on recent history, it’s pretty obvious that there was an opposition party “wave” in 2012 and 1994 for the Republicans.  Democrats have made up for that in Presidential year elections, but even in bad years for Republicans, the Democrats have not been able to reproduce a mid-term wave.  But a 34+ gain for Democrats this year is fairly equivalent to the damage Republicans took in 2006.

In other words, it was a fairly normal mid-term election.  It seems that normalcy was the biggest surprise of all.

 

The Trump Doctrine

At times I feel like the only person in the country not emotionally invested in the likely death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed, apparently, in quite the gruesome manner in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Instanbul, Turkey.  OK I get it, terrible story, but why exactly does this require a diplomatic response from the United States?  The US government doesn’t get involved in every foreign Coca-Cola employee in the third world who gets dragged away by a death squad.  And the death of a dissident to a despotic regime isn’t exactly breaking news.  It’s fair to say that this happens every day somewhere in the world, without the accompanying MSM hysterics.

The answer of course, is that he was employed as a journalist at The Washington Post, and in an age in which the West has abandoned religion, a new priestly caste has emerged, the MSM journalist.  That’s why the MSM has turned a minor story into a US foreign policy crisis.  This has already occupied the breaking news and top story for a week, and the new rule is if Eugene Robinson and the table at the MSNBC set are outraged, then everyone has to be.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for a sympathizer of the Muslim Brotherhood and someone who was a friend of Osama Bin Ladin, who mourned his death.  You really need to make a much stronger case to me on why his death shouldn’t be cheered, rather than causing spasms of outrage.  If there is a reason for outrage in this story, its how such a person got a green card in the first place?  Let’s investigate that.

Trump’s initial instincts on this seem to have been correct, dismissing it as not that big a deal, before the media blew it up into THE STORY of the week.  No doubt the view that this is THE STORY reflected the view of many of Trump’s advisors.  After all, doesn’t everyone seem to accept the judgement of the Post and other news outlets as to what is news, and what is major news?  It is interesting though that Trump’s default position is quite different from what the current White House line is…

Over at the Lion of the Blogosphere a few months ago, Lion did a post describing the “Trump Doctrine.

“If there is a Trump doctrine, it is that we have to accept foreign countries the way they are, and not turn them into copies of Western democracies. Russia has never had a democratic government like the United States, but the Trump doctrine is that we can still be friends instead of trying to sabotage their government for not being exactly like America or Germany.”

As a working definition, it’s not a bad one.  And why shouldn’t he define it?  It’s not as if Presidential “doctrines” are released as a White Paper or press release.  They are discovered by observing the administration in action.  Most famously the “Bush Doctrine” was ham-handedly used by Charlie Gibson in a rather famous gotcha interview with Sarah Palin in which she described the Bush Doctrine, just not the way Charlie Gibson wanted.  However the actual author (or discoverer) of the Bush Doctrine, the late Charles Krauthammer, defended Palin’s take.

But I had been thinking of this for a while.  Back in 2014, I had started, but never finished, a draft of a post called, “Realpolitik,” to describe what I thought should be the style and direction of US foreign policy.  Inspired, of all people, by neo-con former Wall Street Journal columnist and current New York Times official Never-Trumper Bret Stephens, in a column he wrote for the WSJ called, Relearning Republican Foreign Policy.  With the line, “A policeman is not a priest,” Stephens made the case for a muscular foreign policy without the moralizing and messaging of either George Bush’s freedom agenda or Obama’s “reputation of a faithless friend and feckless foe.”  This line, though, is the killer:

“Someday, maybe, a Republican will be in the White House again. If that’s to happen, Americans will need some reassurance that the GOP knows how to steer a straight course between the temptations of Barack Obama’s strategic timidity and George W. Bush’s idealistic excess.“

In probably the greatest Monkey’s Paw wish of all time, Stephen’s got exactly what he asked for in this 2014 op-ed with the election of President Donald Trump.

Stephens must be exhausted from all of his spinning around and changing positions, since in this week’s NYT post, Khashoggi’s Killing Isn’t a Blunder. It’s a Crime, Stephens is back to his neo-con roots, ready to lead a new moralistic crusade against the Saudi’s.

It’s actually fair to say that a more moralistic foreign policy has a time and place.  It was integral to Reagan’s policy initiatives in fighting the Cold War, but Reagan didn’t shy away with allying with some less than savory folk in order to oppose what he saw as the graeter evil: the Soviet Union.  But we are in a different time and place, and our foreign policy challenges are totally different than the bi-polar cold war steady state which occupied US foreign policy for decades.

In the current era it seems clear to me that not every struggle around the world is our struggle, and not every fight all over the world is our fight.  We have limited resources, not just of military might or money, but time and attention.  Time wasted on this Khashoggi matter is time not spent on other foreign policy issues like trade, or domestic ones, like immigration.  And no outcome in running down every Saudi royal guard is likely to benefit US foreign policy in the slightest.

Trump’s instincts, the “Trump Doctrine,” are Realpolitik; a foreign policy based on US national interests and practical benefits rather than ideology or faux outrage.  If the GOP picks this up as a foreign policy template, that’s yet another Trump “win.”