THE MORNING PLUM:
President Trump’s first year in office confirmed what many of us long suspected: his “populist economic nationalism” was largely a scam. Trump mostly abandoned the “economic” side of Trumpism, hewing to plutocratic and regressive GOP orthodoxy on taxes and the safety net, while translating xenophobic ethno-nationalist appeals into policy and ramping up white-identity politics wherever humanly (or perhaps subhumanly?) possible.
Starting this week — with the introduction of a new infrastructure plan and the kickoff of the Senate debate on immigration — we will begin to see what Year Two of this sort of politics will look like. Here are the big developments:
Infrastructure. Trump will announce what the White House bills as a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. But as The Post reports, it will actually only contain $200 billion in additional spending, with the rest to come from state and private sources. Spending on infrastructure is to be offset by cuts elsewhere. This could result in cuts to safety-net programs or even to other types of infrastructure spending, undermining the plan’s own goals.
In the original telling of Trumpism’s most devoted evangelist, Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s infrastructure plan would call for a massive expenditure that would help shatter the two-party alignment, alienating fiscal conservatives and winning over minorities. (Trump had similarly vowed to convert the GOP into a “workers’ party.”) The actual plan will look nothing like that. While it does promise some targeted spending, and White House advisers have vowed flexibility, it will likely end up being a cronyist privatization scheme with insufficient spending directed to the sort of struggling working-class areas targeted by Trump’s “Make America Great Again” appeals.
Immigration: Trump’s conservative allies will today introduce a Senate bill in keeping with Trump’s vision, one that legalizes the “dreamers” in exchange for much of the Stephen Miller/nativist wish list. It is possible that a more reasonable bipartisan Senate compromise could emerge that protects dreamers in exchange for border-security expenditures and more limited concessions on legal immigration, putting pressure on Trump and House Republicans to accept it.
But it’s easy to envision an endgame in which the dreamers are driven underground — or only get a short-term reprieve — because Trump rejects anything that does not include huge border wall expenditures, more money for deportations and deep cuts to legal immigration, in keeping with a picture of his base’s xenophobia and nativism that is probably largely exaggerated. Whatever the fate of the dreamers, that push will continue: Trump’s budget will call for increased spending to expand detention and deportation capabilities. And a new Post report details how, under Trump, immigration enforcement has been “unshackled” to juice up arrests and deportations of the lowest-level offenders, which will also continue.
Republican deficit boosting: The White House budget calls for deep cuts to some non-defense domestic spending, including deep cuts to the safety net. But in practice, Trump and the GOP are embracing policies that will still explode the deficit. Congressional Republicans just helped pass a budget deal that busts spending caps, and the Trump/GOP tax plan balloons the deficit by delivering a huge permanent corporate tax cut that will mostly benefit the wealthiest while giving the middle class a much more negligible set of temporary benefits.
While that budget deal does fund some progressive priorities (the price for Dem support to pass it), over time the GOP’s combined deficit-busting approach could mean more pressure to cut the safety net later. (The cuts to the safety net in Trump’s budget can be seen as a preview of this.) That and the tax plan’s regressiveness could end up exacerbating inequality.
More culture wars: Axios reports today that Trump’s real game plan for the 2018 elections is to juice up the GOP base by finding new and unexpected “cultural flashpoints,” similar to Trump’s attacks on kneeling football players. One source claims Trump “is going to be looking for opportunities to stir up the base.”
And right on cue, Trump expressed sympathy for former top staffer Rob Porter, who is accused of domestic abuse, and seemed to align himself against the entire #MeToo movement. Indeed, the New York Times reports that Republicans are worried that Trump will continue to stoke polarization and anger wherever possible, making the midterms more about him and further energizing Dem voter groups.
To sum up: Here’s what all of this amounts to. The vow of big spending on infrastructure — which was central to the economic side of Trump’s populist nationalism — is likely to prove a scam. Trump will keep embracing the GOP’s plutocratic and regressive fiscal priorities, threatening to worsen inequality over time. The implementation of Trump’s xenophobic and nativist blueprint will continue in all its cruelty wherever possible. And Trump will keep up the bread-and-circuses racial and gender-oriented provocation to drive GOP base voters to the polls, even at the risk — or perhaps with the deliberate end — of further enraging the nonwhite voters, women and college-educated whites who are already alienated by a year of the same.
In other words, the Real Trumpism, Year Two.
* CONSERVATIVES TO PUSH TRUMPIST PLAN: The Wall Street Journal reports that Senate conservatives are set to introduce a bill that would legalize 1.8 million dreamers in exchange for the Trump/nativist wish list:
The plan … includes cuts to family-based immigration and the elimination of the diversity lottery that would ultimately reduce total legal immigration to the U.S. by about a third. … The package translates a broad framework put forward by President Donald Trump into legislation … It also seeks to speed deportations for children who cross the border alone and family units.
It’s likely the Senate will broadly reject this proposal. A more sensible bipartisan compromise will likely get more votes, and that might put pressure on Trump and the House to accept it.
* TRUMP TO DEMAND MORE SPENDING ON DEPORTATIONS: Politico reports that the White House budget, set to be introduced this week, will call for deep cuts to various domestic programs. But:
Officials said the budget would also prioritize border security — proposing to hire roughly 1,000 more patrol agents and immigration officers than its previous budget. The White House will ask Congress for a total of $23 billion in border security programs … Roughly $2.7 billion will go directly to the detention capabilities of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
This will do wonders for struggling Trump voters in Appalachia and the Rust Belt, along with those huge permanent tax cuts for the top 1 percent.
* WHAT’S McCONNELL’S ENDGAME ON IMMIGRATION? Politico also reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pledged an open debate on immigration that will last two weeks. But:
McConnell does want strong GOP backing for any final bill and will be loath to pass anything that can’t get at least 30 Senate Republicans in support, according to two Republican senators. That might go a long way toward insulating his party from conservative criticism, as well as winning over … Trump and House Republicans.
If so, it’s hardly an open process, since anything that can get 30 GOP Senators probably can’t pass the Senate, while a more moderate compromise probably can. But McConnell may be just posturing.
* TRUMP BUDGET DROPS BALANCED BUDGET GOAL: The Post reports that the forthcoming White House budget shelves a longtime goal of the Republican Party:
Trump is slated to announce a new budget plan that will no longer seek to eliminate the deficit over the next decade, forfeiting a major Republican goal … That had been a North Star for the Republican Party for several decades, and GOP lawmakers took the government to the brink of default in 2011 when they demanded a vote on an amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit the government from spending more than it takes in.
Gosh, nobody could have seen that coming. Except, you know, everybody who said at the time that the GOP calls for a balanced budget were a total sham.
* GOP RETIREMENTS BOOST DEM CHANCES: Bloomberg reports that the Dem chances of winning the House are boosted by the 33 House Republicans who have announced retirements so far, including California’s Edward R. Royce. Note:
Democrats see some of their strongest opportunities to pick up seats in six districts where Hillary Clinton prevailed in 2016 and a Republican member of Congress is stepping down. That includes seats held by Royce, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Republican Darrell Issa of California, Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania, David Reichert of Washington and Martha McSally of Arizona.
And there are likely more to come.
* THE DREAMERS’ FATE DEPENDS ON HOUSE SPEAKER PAUL RYAN: E.J. Dionne Jr. aptly boils down the situation:
When it comes to the dreamers, their fate depends almost entirely on Ryan: Will he allow passage of a bill satisfactory to the Senate and force President Trump to make a choice? Or will he insist on legislation only acceptable to his right wing?
A compromise that can pass the Senate can also pass the House, but only if Ryan allows a vote on it, and that might happen only if Trump blesses it.
* REPUBLICANS FEAR DEM ENERGY: The Post reports that Democratic House candidates are having success translating anti-Trump fervor into big fundraising hauls. One GOP operative who works for the Koch brothers’ network is candid:
“We acknowledge the left is energized right now. It’s not just marches and such that they’re doing. It’s showing in some of the recent elections. There’s no question about it.”
And, of course, this will only be helped if Trump makes good on his promise of juicing the culture wars in his own surpassingly ugly way.