Trump’s Presidency is Now on the Brink Between Failure and Utter Failure
Healthcare humiliated him. But that could just be the start.
As the fallout continues Trump’s failed presidency is glaring: less than ten weeks in, he was unable to pass a key piece of legislation. He relied on his popularity with his base to secure a deal to repeal and replace of Obamacare. But the deal-maker-in-chief could not cut the deal.
Why? Because Trump’s idea of a winning deal is one where he wins, and everyone else loses. In the case of healthcare this meant that the voters would lose and he, aided by Paul Ryan, would win. The unpopularity of the bill gave Congress little reason to bend and his inability to make the compromises necessary to push the bill over the finishing line was the final nail in a very well-sealed coffin.
Rage as he did, he cannot escape blame. He was unable to lead: his incompetence and inability to master on the detail of his own legislation sank Trumpcare.
Meanwhile, he has exposed his party as unfit to govern and divided. The question will be whether they now have a taste for division. And let’s remember, they are dividing with a president who is setting new precedence for unpopularity with voters this early in his term.
Ten weeks into his presidency and he has ratings that Obama never reached, despite dealing with the fallout from a global recession. It took George W. two wars and a hurricane to dip this low. Trump doesn’t need events to set up failure, he is a natural at it. If there is one thing that he makes look easy, it is unpopularity.
Further failure on tax reform is not yet inevitable
Healthcare was meant to be a symbolic victory upon which his presidency could build a series of larger victories on infrastructure investment and tax reform. He lost the “big Mo”.
Any party is a coalition. Republicans are no different: they split between pragmatists, populists and orthodox small-government conservatives. Trump has allowed the extreme hard right of his party to hold it ransom. What’s more rather than pouring soothing waters over the divisions he provoked them, taking to Twitter to berate the Freedom Caucus who prevented his victory.
Further failure on tax reform is not yet inevitable. As House Speaker Ryan has said, the healthcare failure makes tax reform more difficult but not impossible. However, it might be that any deal he is able to pass is far from the grand plan that he originally envisaged. Trump has a greater need for any victory and fewer cards to play.
The campaign promises were so bold: reduce the current seven income tax brackets to three, slash the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%, simplify the tax form, and a border tax. Within his first 100 days. He has less than 30 left. Already he is trying to manage expectations.
In February, he promised a tax plan by early March. Then Treasury Secretary Mnuchin wanted to enact a “comprehensive” tax reform by August. In a rare collision with the truth, even Sean Spicer admitted that the timetable was slipping.
Tax reform has defied presidencies since 1986. Will Trump be able to change to achieve it? Not if he repeats his error over healthcare.
According to analysis by the non-partisan Tax Policy Centre, 99.6% of the tax relief in Ryan’s proposal would accrue to the wealthiest 1% for ten years; in Trump's plan, it is 50.8%. This is not tax reform but just a slavish, ideological adherence to a supply side economics that squeezes the poor until their pips squeak.
Meanwhile Mnuchin has promised a “middle class” tax break but equally he appeared to say that that issue was simpler than healthcare. Yes and no. Yes, everyone wants tax reform; no, there is no consensus on what type of tax reform. What is clear is that Trump does not yet have a clear plan. Nor does his team have the expertise to sell it. He does not even have a treasury deputy responsible for tax in place.
He risks becoming an utter failure. Then perhaps worse
Trump is caught in a classic bind. He needs a victory quickly to stop the blood seeping from a gaping wound, but any quick fix will suffer the same immediate fate as healthcare.
He either needs Democrats or the Republican right to pass tax reform, two groups he just spent the last week insulting on Twitter. The question is who needs who more now? You do the math.
If he were as polite to those he needs to pass legislation as he is to Vladimir Putin, Trump could be an outstanding president. As it is, he is already a failure. He risks becoming an utter failure. Then perhaps worse.
This matters. He has thrown away the small amount of goodwill he had and now his presidency rests on two pillars. His populist base and GOP business donors who expect delivery on tax reform. Republicans' shaming compliance with Trump - on, say, his campaign links with Russian - might change should that donor base lose faith in him. The Trump resistance will grow as the threat of electoral suicide by opposing him diminishes. Then all he is left with it is a base that is shrinking as his chaotic presidency continues.
As Oscar Wilde said of the death Little Nell: it would take a heart of stone not to laugh.
About the author
Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).
A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.
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