Thursday, March 22, 2018

The State of the Trump Presidency Today

Note:  On Saturday I travel to Lithuania and Belarus for two weeks to teach.  But before I go some thought on what happened with Trump this week.

Every week seems portentous when it comes to the Trump administration.  This week was no exception.  What can we make of the events this week in terms of what they mean for the 2018 elections and the future of the Trump presidency?

McMaster Out–What does it mean?
Tillerson out, Pompeo in.  McMaster out, Bolton in.  Sanctions on China.  Congratulate Putin.  Is Kelly next?  Is there an ideology guiding Trump’s recent moves with foreign policy?  At its best it signals a shift to right in terms of US foreign policy.  More specifically, it is a stronger push toward economic nationalism and unilateral policy than was the case under Tillerson and McMaster.  It also bodes for a more confrontational policy, where Bolton is critical of the Iran deal and Pompeo pushing a more aggressive stance against Korea.  In replacing his generals (who were cautious in terms of he use of hard power or military force), Trump ironically may be replacing them with civilians who are more militaristic and likely to use force to pursue US foreign policy objectives.  In short, the new Trump foreign policy is economic sanctions and force and less diplomacy.

However, we may be giving Trump too much credit here.  Trump has largely ignored the foreign policy establishment in the US and his recent moves suggest that he is prepared to act on his gut instincts, and not from anything approaching a grant strategy.  The recent moves are more likely gut reactions by Trump that perpetuate the lack of direction in his presidency that will further weaken the ability of the US to articulate its foreign policy objectives.  Don’t expect these to be the last staff replacements.

Cambridge Analytica and what it means
How will this scandal affect Donald Trump and the prospects for his participation in the presidential election-2020? How dangerous is this incident for Trump's political career?  The bigger issue is how will this scandal add to the others in terms of affecting the 2018 midterm elections.  In and of itself much of the public is either not following or understands this issue but it is part of a ongoing story about a lot of dirty things that happened in 2016.  If Democrats take control of one or both houses of Congress the Analytica incident will have helped contribute to that.  Trump’s 2020 prospects hinge more on what happens in 2018.  Moreover, the alleged  Stormy Daniels story (payment of hush money to her) and to other women along with a pending sexual harassment suit or suits will have a broader impact on how many think about Trump.

How should one assess the role of Cambridge Analytica in the victory of Donald Trump in the presidential election-2016?  The 2016 election was one dominated by the social media and fake news.  If all the Cambridge allegations are true (and more details come out), one cannot say that their role was decisive but we can say that it had a significant impact.  One cannot discount other factors such as Clinton’s own candidacy problems and strategy as contributing factors.

Stormy Daniels: Sex, Lies, and the Presidency
In 2017 I argued that 2018 would be the year that law suits would grind the Trump presidency to a halt.  There are the existing and future indictments by the special prosecutor surrounding Russian involvement in the US elections (and Trump complicity and cover up or obstruction of justice) that will include trials this year and legal issues tht will reach beyond the 2018 midterm elections.  Unlike with Nixon when a grand jury was unsure a president could be indicted for a crime and labeled him an unindicted co-conspirator, the law and legal consensus has shifted since then.  Presidents can be indicted for crimes and Trump and his old and new legal team are worried that is a possibility here and that is why Trump is lawyering up now.

Interest groups, states, and cities will challenge many of Trump’s executive orders and administrative regulations.  And of course, sex scandals will add a third set of law suits.   Including Stormy Daniels, there are three women with credible claims of sexual harassment or cover up involving Trump.  Gloria Allred is representing one of these women (Summer Zervos) who just received permission by a judge to proceed with her case.  Look to see her seek to depose Trump in the civil suit (Trump can thank Bill Clinton and the Supreme Court in Clinton v. Jones where the Court said that civil suits can proceed against a sitting president) and also look to see more lawsuits brought by other alleged victims this year.

Talk is cheap.  Let’s see who has video tape of Trump doing what.  If such tapes exist they could have a real impact on Trump.

Conclusion:  When will the Republicans Abandon Him?
Not until such time as they conclude that he is an anchor to the party.  So far his GOP base of 35-40% are with him.  The GOP in Congress is with him...sort of.  They are in denial regarding the potential damage he can do to them in the 2018 elections.  The best thing the GOP has going for them is that the Democrats need a perfect storm to take back one or two houses of Congress.  It is possible but not guaranteed.  If the GOP goes down in 2018 then they will turn on him.  Until if and then, Trump is more popular than the Republicans in Congress and the latter cannot afford to turn on him.

1 comment:

  1. I think that you are absolutely right about one thing--there is no Trump Master Plan here. Further, I am not certain that we can read too much into things such as the Bolton appointment. I do not think that Trump is any more likely to listen to Bolton than he was to McMaster--the real question is which of Trump's advisors are clever enough to manipulate Trump. And, despite Trump's apparent stupidity, he should not be underestimated here. All his life people have been trying to manipulate him. He trusts his gut, and not much more. I don't think that he trusts anyone, really. Which means that he will be trying to use Bolton, just as Bolton will be trying to use Trump. The minute that Trump feels that Bolton (or any other advisor) no longer serves Trump's purpose, Bolton will be gone.

    And what is Trump's purpose? Good question. I'm not certain that even Trump knows. Trump's ego, self-gratification, self-enrichment, self-perpetuation, the magnification of the Trump name--all of this can be summed up by the Trump legacy. He wants to be respected as someone powerful and important. A weird combination of loved and feared.

    Maybe this is more about my projections onto Trump than the actual Trump, but I think of Trump as the personification of Hofstader's classic anti-intellectual. He prizes doing over thinking, utility over right/wrong, results validate methods. Remember that Trump grew up going to Norman Vincent Peale's church in NYC (not just positive thinking, but really the founder of the Prosperity Gospel movement).