President Trump has been in office for 133 days and few of them have been drama-free. His administration is bogged down in errors of his own making and Republicans themselves are going to pay the price. Each and every self-inflicted wound is the equivalent of the captain of the Titanic turning the boat around to hit the iceberg again, but hoping that it, not the ship, would be sunk. It is madness, especially when the White House is considering a shakeup that leaves out changing the behavior of the president himself.
Now, people from Trump’s campaign are rumored to be joining the White House. Corey Lewandowski and other figures who did not join the administration at the outset are reportedly going to return to the Trump orbit and join the White House as part of its war room responding to the scandals that plague the administration. Not only will these intemperate Jonah Ryans fail to right the ship, their hiring sends a terrible signal to congressional Republicans.
When congressional Republicans hear that President Trump is shifting communications strategy to protect himself rather than hiring new aides to move legislation, they get worried. Intentionally or not, the White House is sending the message that it is no longer focused on accomplishing a major legislative agenda, but seeks to protect the president and his battered image.
Earlier this week, a Morning Consult/Politico poll found that 61 percent of Americans feel that the country is headed in the wrong direction. The poll found that not only are independents increasingly concerned, but so are Republicans. A certain uneasiness has set in among Republican voters and elected officials.
Despite the midterm elections being just under a year and a half away, Republican elected officials worry about their record of accomplishment, which in this legislative session is virtually nonexistent. Senate Republicans cannot return to their states and solely stand on a record of confirming Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. House Republicans wish they could have something even as substantive as their Senate counterparts, since they have passed no major legislation that has become law. GOP incumbents need a legislative record to stand on in order to put forward a campaign already facing headwinds from an energized Democratic Party. President Trump also desperately needs a legislative record to change the narrative from the Russia investigation. Today, he has Justice Gorsuch and a few executive orders. Moving away from a heavy legislative focus is a massive strategic error by the the White House.
Instead of playing defense, President Trump should look to go on the offensive. He should not try and rebut every new detail that emerges in the Russia investigation, but leave it to his lawyers—let each of them earn their $1,500+ an hour fees. Trump’s focus, as well as that of his aides, should be on tax reform and health care.
Passing tax reform now would have a double benefit. The economy itself will be juiced through passage of this sorely needed bill—the last time any major tax reform was passed was in 1986. Additionally, there would be political advantage, as the economic benefits would likely be directly felt by Americans in the latter half of 2018, which is right before they would be voting in the midterms. Republican members of Congress certainly would welcome this, as it would be some wind at their backs.
Obamacare reform would be beneficial, especially if Republicans were to make the AHCA more palatable—something accomplished not via a facelift, but a complete gut renovation of the bill—and into one that both reduces the cost of coverage while increasing the quality of care. The ship has sailed for repairing Obamacare in time to head off premium hikes in 2018, but there is still time for 2019. Coincidentally, the 2019 insurance premiums will be revealed in the week or two prior to the midterm election. Republicans now own Obamacare simply because they hold both chambers of Congress and the White House. GOP candidates will be either blamed or lauded depending on if these insurance rates rise or fall. Should Republicans pass a bill that repaired Obamacare and incorporated morals and compassion into its details, they and President Trump will certainly get the credit.
However, Trump’s own focus is not on these major and important legislative goals. Like the Eye of Sauron, the president is focused solely on his obsession: combatting any and everything that he believes somehow negates the legitimacy of his election. As a result of this, he has thrown away the majority of his political capital and severely decreased the likelihood of important legislative results.
It is fair to say that the nation would not be where it is today had Trump done three simple things: 1) not hired Michael Flynn, 2) respectfully fired James Comey in the initial days of his administration, and 3) not tweeted baseless accusations of wiretapping or illegal voters. These are the root causes to the president’s and, by extension the Republicans’, problems of today.
Trump’s scandals were largely avoidable, but it remains to be seen if there is any person capable of making him understand that fact. Nor is there someone who can make the president comprehend how he needs to be more disciplined. Without a major adjustment and shakeup in the president’s behavior, there could be major problems for Republicans; especially if voters view GOP candidates through the lens of Trump.
The White House shakeup is one that leaves vulnerable Republicans to fend for themselves and shows that the Trump administration is going to escalate the fight over the Russia investigation. It is throwing gasoline on the fire and moves away from a results-based focus. It is a worrisome problem for Republicans.
Even if President Trump’s new team were to all row in the same direction, President Trump is still the one steering the ship… and his inclination is to steer it, along with Republicans, into the rocks.