Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The other day I alluded... my most optimistic hope before the election that a President Trump would try to govern from the center and put an end to all the partisan bickering we've seen in Washington since at least the time of Bill Clinton's first term.

I really thought there was a chance for this.

First of all, Trump owed nothing to the Republican Party establishment for his success. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan needed to curry favor with him, not the other way around. Trump could have very easily played his fellow New Yorker, Chuck Schumer, off of them.

A case could be made that Trump won the GOP nomination precisely because he turned his back on such Republican shibboleths as cutting taxes on the rich, cutting entitlements, free trade, comprehensive immigration reform, etc. Trump was a free agent who mounted a successful hostile takeover of the GOP without hewing to any of its ideological orthodoxies. With a coalition of centrist Democrats and populist Republicans from districts in which Trump ran particularly well, he could have guided the country in a more bipartisan direction.

Another one of my hopes for Trump was that he wanted, if nothing else, to be judged a successful president. And how does Trump measure success? Ratings, approval numbers, good polls, etc. Unlike George W. Bush, who methinks protested too much that the long arc of history would be kind to him (like it had been for Harry Truman), Trump would want immediate gratification. So I figured he would only do what was most popular and try to leave office in four or eight years with the highest numbers ever.

So what if -- what if -- Trump had won in November and conducted himself a little more like this:

"Okay, everyone, I won the election. I won it fair and square -- it wasn't a landslide, but I got more Electoral votes than my opponent. While it's true that Ms. Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million votes that's not what we were competing for. Had it not been for the quirkiness of our Electoral College system I might have campaigned in places like California and New York and won the popular vote as well. But the bottom line is this: I won, Hillary lost, and the country remains badly divided. But I wish to be president of all Americans, not just the people who voted for me.

"So, for my most loyal supporters -- the white working class -- you will not be forgotten. I will work hard to protect your jobs, your wages and your entitlements. Unlike other Republican presidents, I'm not here just to represent Wall Street and the richest one percent.

"But to prove that I will be president of all the people, I'm going to begin by assembling a bipartisan cabinet. Like President Obama did with Robert Gates at Defense, I'm going to ask [John Kerry or Ashton Carter or Jack Lew or someone else in a high-profile position] to stay on in their job for at least the first year. What's more, I'm going to nominate Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Now, I know many of you voted for me in the hope that I would nominate conservative judges to the Court but bear in mind that three of the current eight members are nearing retirement so we will have plenty of opportunities to shape the Court to your liking.

"As for Congress, I'm going to ask for bipartisan legislation that -- for starters -- will boost infrastructure spending and reform the tax code. I'm also going to ask Congress to either come up with a bipartisan replacement for Obamacare or bipartisan fixes for the current law. I will sign no, repeat no, legislation that is not at least minimally bipartisan. The days of all this political polarization must come to an end. It's time for all of us to roll up our sleeves and work for the benefit of all Americans."

I could go on and on, but what's the point? Trump is obviously not going to be the kind of president I had hoped he might be. He could have used his personal popularity, like Bill Clinton did, to triangulate with Congress. Instead, the ultimate outsider signaled from his nomination speech at the Republican convention and his inauguration address that he was only going to serve his white, working class base (or at least talk that way). On national security and foreign policy he's chosen to listen to eccentrics like Steve Bannon rather than those who actually do this sort of thing for a living. Trump has also signaled, through his cabinet choices, that he's going to look out for the rich and Wall Street just as much or more than his Republican predecessors. His Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, is admired as a first-rate jurist but hardly a consensus choice after Mitch McConnell's shameful treatment of Merrick Garland.

So where are we less than a month into the Trump administration? Approval numbers in the tank, the first resignation of a high-level official (and whiff of a scandal), rumors of strange doings with Russia, disarray in regard to Obamacare and any other legislation, and a general sense of chaos and incompetence in the new White House.

Really, it didn't have to be this way.

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