If the presidential term were a boxing match, the bell ending the first round just rang. Brimming with bravado, the new president leaped into the ring and established early dominance with a barrage of executive actions. Then he stumbled on immigration and was staggered after flailing wildly at Obamacare. He steadied himself with the appointment of Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court while flicking jabs at the Democrats and dancing away from disruptive campaign positions on trade and foreign policy.
And here we are: One round down, 14 to go.
President Trump’s candidacy and early months in office reflect confounding paradoxes. Trump is a fire-breathing absolutist and a pragmatic dealmaker. He is a populist rebel and a super-rich power broker beholden to the Goldman Sachs establishment. Ultimately, how these contradictory personae are resolved will determine if he can transition from a campaign fueled by grievance to the generative work of governing.
The first consideration is personnel. Trump was carried to victory by throttling the establishment. On Day One of the Trump presidency, Stephen K. Bannon and the architects of deconstruction were ascendant. Now, it appears that the more collaborative members of Team Trump may be gaining power as the realities of governing take hold. (A modest proposal: All campaign strategists — especially the good ones — should be locked in dungeons between elections.) It shouldn’t be surprising that the president appears more comfortable with his family and the type of people he has been surrounded by for 70 years than those he met over the past 17 months. Recent policy reversals on the Export-Import Bank, NATO and China’s currency argue that forces within the administration favoring national interest are beginning to overtake a campaign narrative fueled by nationalist rhetoric.
Trump is a fire-breathing absolutist and a pragmatic dealmaker.
These shifts also indicate a growing wedge between the president and the House Freedom Caucus. In his anger over the scuttling of his health-care promise, the president threatened to take on recalcitrant caucus members in 2018 if they don’t “get on the team, & fast.” The administration effort to revive a health-care deal with the Freedom Caucus demonstrates the power of these conservative voices, but it is highly unlikely to result in a bill-signing ceremony.
But Trump has plenty of latitude to buck the Freedom Caucus, if he chooses. He is unencumbered by political debt, invulnerable to traditional party threats and liberated from rigid doctrine and detailed policy positions. Despite his early stumbles, Trump could break through a decade of partisan gridlock if he employs his unparalleled political freedom to reach across the aisle.
Before investing in the idea of a functioning democracy led by Trump, however, it is necessary to ask: WWSD? (What would Schumer do?) One hundred days into a new Congress, the dominant mood in the Democratic Party is “resistance.” Still raw from the election, and re-offended on an almost daily basis, many in the Democratic base have elevated desire for the president’s failure over what could be the nation’s success.
While there is allure in retribution, Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) understands that Democrats are not very good at unified inaction. Given a real opportunity to advance their party’s policy goals, many Democrats — particularly those 10 senators running in red states next year — will not be content to glower on the sidelines. Schumer recently signaled his willingness to work with the president with a Twitter overture to a Milk Summit. “Been fighting for NY dairy farmers on this. Glad to see @POTUS join our fight to change Canada’s unfair policy that undercuts our farmers.” But the same day he gently tweaked the president: “Investing in America’s infrastructure is a tried & true job creator. @SenateDems have a plan. Where’s @POTUS’?” This is classic Schumer, who will work with the president to pursue the Democratic agenda. Trump and Schumer could start now to make progress on significant aspects of health care, immigration, infrastructure and even tax policy
Near term, there are relatively easy opportunities for bipartisan progress available in reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program and legislation to improve care for seniors struggling with multiple chronic illnesses. Schumer has long advocated for increased federal infrastructure investment. It would not be a leap for him to get on board with some Trump tax incentives to encourage private infrastructure investment. Add some long-overdue improvements in the permitting process, and you have a $200 billion to $300 billion infrastructure package that could be adopted as part of a big tax deal or as stand-alone legislation.
The election and the past 100 days have greatly strained our already fragile democracy.
It is encouraging that Trump chose to delay the battle over the border wall and avoid a possible government shutdown. During the 2013 effort to pass broad-based immigration reform, Schumer effectively led the effort striking a deal with Republicans that included more than $45 billion to enhance border security through a combination of increased enforcement, technology and physical barriers. Trump has consistently expressed rhetorical support for the program that protects “dreamers,” otherwise law-abiding, undocumented youths, from deportation. With a little careful negotiation, Democrats could accept additional investments in border security — without supporting a “big” wall — and the president could promise real protection for dreamers without supporting a “big” amnesty. These negotiations are all ripe to begin, with the full budget, the debt ceiling and tax debates not far behind. Progress on any of these topics will strengthen Congress’s ability to take on the big battles that lie ahead.
The election and the past 100 days have greatly strained our already fragile democracy. There are real opportunities to make progress, but the path of least resistance is for Trump, Schumer and the country to all fail together. That is something that all Americans should resist.