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Opinion Stephen Bannon has a grand plan to secure Trumpism’s future. Will Democrats cooperate?

(Evan Vucci/Associated Press)


One of the most consequential decisions at the outset of the Trump presidency will be this: How far will Democrats go in cooperating with Donald Trump’s vow of a big boost in infrastructure spending? At first Democrats sounded very accommodating on this front, signaling that they were eager to work with Trump to pass a big package.

But in an interview with me, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi laid down a harder line. She suggested Democrats should reject any infrastructure scheme that amounts to a privatization plan fueled by tax breaks, which it increasingly looks like Trump’s plan will be.

“We aren’t going to use an infrastructure bill to be a vehicle for tax breaks, instead of an investment in the future,” Pelosi told me. “We know that we have to make some compromises. But the compromise is not to make infrastructure a gift of tax breaks.”

Here's what you need to know about the man who went from being Breitbart News's chairman to Trump's campaign CEO and now to chief White House strategist. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

This is potentially important, for three reasons. First, Trump’s senior White House counselor Stephen K. Bannon views infrastructure spending as not just central to Trump’s agenda, but also as crucial to Trump’s ability to win lasting popularity. In a recent interview, Bannon vowed that Trump would launch a “trillion dollar infrastructure plan” to “rebuild everything,” a move that would drive conservatives “crazy.” This, Bannon said, would help Trump lock in the support of the “American working class” behind Trump’s new “movement,” which he described as “economic nationalism.”

In other words, the key to Trumpism’s future is infrastructure spending, which will cement its appeal. The stakes for Trump’s infrastructure plan are potentially enormous, by the lights of the chief author of Trumpism’s grand narrative.

Watch Donald Trump build infrastructure of a truly destructive kind

Second, it’s unclear whether Trump’s plan can pass without the support of Democrats. It’s possible that self-styled conservative deficit hawks will actually be consistent in opposing infrastructure spending (though they may not mind deficits under a GOP president). If they do, it might require both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to pass the plan.

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Which brings us to the third point. Reporting indicates that Trump’s infrastructure plan won’t really amount to traditional government infrastructure spending backed by borrowing, but instead will be a scheme for awarding tax breaks to encourage private infrastructure projects. This could mean that non-profitable projects that are really needed don’t get done and could even create opportunities for corruption. This is why Bernie Sanders has now condemned Trump’s plan. As Paul Krugman noted, Dems should only work with Trump’s plan if it is a “straightforward program of public investment.”

Pelosi seems to be indicating that she agrees, at least to some degree — she seems to be saying that any full-blown privatization scheme will be a non-starter. Asked directly if this is the case, she demurred a bit, noting there might be certain types of “public-private partnerships” that Dems should support. But she said the general goal should be a real infrastructure package that spends on projects that create jobs, invest in the future and fulfill genuine public need. (Chuck Schumer is now striving to strike a similar balance.)

If so, it’s possible Democrats may stake out a harder-line posture that makes a real infrastructure spending plan more likely. Of course, that, too, presents a danger: Trump and Republicans may simultaneously pursue deep tax cuts for top earners and businesses while dramatically slashing the safety net and social spending in other areas, meaning Trumpism may end up morphing into a form of “Reactionary Keynesianism” that fuels growth while increasing inequality.

Trump isn’t draining the swamp. He’s deepening it.

What’s more, as Jonathan Chait notes, if Dems join Trump in passing even a real infrastructure plan, that could make Trump’s reelection more likely. So perhaps Dems should demand additional concessions before they volunteer their cooperation. It’s unclear if Democrats are going to do that, but at least they may insist on a real infrastructure plan in exchange for it. When it comes to the big picture, Pelosi told me that Democrats should look for areas to “engage” with Trump, as long as Dems never divert from their “values.” It’s a genuinely tricky spot for Dems, who have long wanted more infrastructure spending for the good of the country but may rightly worry about boosting the popularity of a man who poses a dire threat to the country in so many other ways.


* REPUBLICANS CAN DO MORE TO REIN IN TRUMP: Adam Liptak reports that Trump’s business interests may risk violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which might prohibit presidents from taking gifts from foreign leaders who might seek to curry favor by sweetening deals over market value. One expert suggests Congress step up and signal its disapproval:

“It should send a clear message to him that he should divest his assets, and that they will regard dealings with his companies that he owns abroad and any entities owned by foreign governments as a potential violation of the Emoluments Clause unless he can prove it was an arm’s-length transaction.”

This is another way in which congressional Republicans could take active steps to limit the likelihood of conflicts of interest or even corruption in a Trump administration, if they wanted to.

* TRUMP IS UNAPOLOGETIC ABOUT BUSINESS EMPIRE: This is an important Trump tweet:

This signals Trump’s family probably won’t put his business empire in a blind trust — instead he’ll blame the media and create an alternate reality around this for his supporters.


When…Trump…met with the British politician Nigel Farage in recent days, he encouraged Mr. Farage and his entourage to oppose the kind of offshore wind farms that Mr. Trump believes will mar the pristine view from one of his two Scottish golf courses, according to one person present. The meeting, held shortly after the presidential election, raises new questions about Mr. Trump’s willingness to use the power of the presidency to advance his business interests.

Nothing to see here, just the crooked media manufacturing fake scandals.

* KRIS KOBACH TO GET TOP HOMELAND SECURITY SLOT? The Post reports that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, one of the nation’s leading immigration hard-liners, may be under consideration for a top slot at the Department of Homeland Security:

Kobach entered the national spotlight several years ago when he advised Mitt Romney on the idea of “self-deportation” for undocumented immigrants during the 2012 presidential campaign. A former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, Kobach also wrote Arizona’s strict immigration law and has helped lead the fight against President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

It would be terrible news if this man is put in charge of implementing Trump’s deportation policies, and would signal that they would likely be as draconian and destructive as advertised.

* TRUMP NIXES CLINTON INVESTIGATION, REPORT SAYS: On “Morning Joe” today, Joe Scarborough quoted a source telling him that the Trump administration will not be pursuing any investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email use or the Clinton Foundation.

Nobody could have predicted that those promises to “jail” Clinton were just bluster to sucker his “lock her up” chanting supporters. (Also, this isn’t supposed to be Trump’s decision.)

* CLINTON POISED FOR BIG POPULAR VOTE WIN: According to calculations by Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, Clinton is on track to win the popular vote by around 2.5 million votes, potentially pulling in a total of 65 million, which Wasserman notes is on track with Obama’s haul in 2012.

Just in case you still cared about the niggling question of who actually got more votes in this election.