THE MORNING PLUM:
With reports coming fast and furious this morning about new tumult and turnover in the White House, the Washington chatter is focused on how the seemingly nonstop chaos enveloping the Trump presidency will damage the Republican Party in the midterm elections.
Today, Politico reports: “Many Democrats are going to run in November on being a check on President Donald Trump and the chaos they say he sows in the White House.” Politico aptly sums up the chaos this way:
The president just pushed out his secretary of state. … The Mueller probe is moving closer and closer to Trump personally … The president has toggled between completely divergent positions on everything from gun control to immigration. … A large number of government positions are unfilled … Several of the president’s Cabinet secretaries are embroiled in scandals over pricey office decorations or a penchant for luxe travel.
It’s probably true that all the chaos — the nonstop infighting; the reports of bizarre or corrupt behavior from top officials; Trump’s erratic swings in mood and on policy alike — will weigh down GOP candidates. This is likely whether Democratic candidates invoke Trump or not (and many in Trump country are not).
But Trump’s chaotic presidency is also producing uncertain and unstable outcomes for the country — and those outcomes, too, will likely figure heavily in Democratic campaigns, and in weighing down Republican candidates.
Importantly, this includes the economy. Republicans hope to sell the idea that the economy is improving, thanks to the Trump/GOP tax cuts. The idea is that Trumpian chaos may be an unfortunate distraction, but people should overlook it and vote their wallets instead, since he’s delivering, even as the media plays the elite parlor game of obsessing over insider trivia. But the tax cuts also threaten huge long-term deficits that jeopardize our future and could mean deep cuts to programs for the middle class. Democrat Conor Lamb just apparently won while emphasizing this point — deep in Trump country.
Meanwhile, Trump’s tariffs also threaten to cost more jobs than they gain and could unleash a trade war with untold destructive consequences. Everyone knows Trump did this largely on a whim with little understanding of the most cursory policy basics; here the “chaos” presidency could hurt the economy. Republicans fear this as well but have little appetite for blocking the tariffs, making Republicans complicit in that possible outcome. Though it will depend on local factors, some Democratic candidates may be able to emphasize this as a very real threat.
How about health care? Trump signed on with the GOP drive to repeal Obamacare even though he had no clue what was in the GOP “replacement.” That failed, but Trump has continued to sabotage the law out of sheer spite, even as a majority now approves of it. As Jonathan Cohn details, these efforts will likely produce rising premiums and more people (though far fewer than under repeal) uninsured. Bottom line: The Trump/GOP approach to health care is still basically shaped around angry opposition to the Affordable Care Act, and this may be politically hurting Republicans overall, but mainly because it threatens real damage to real people.
How about Trump’s continuing racist, sexist and xenophobic provocations, some of the clearest outward manifestations of the “chaos” presidency? Going full racist failed to salvage the Pennsylvania seat. Beyond that, it all stokes tensions that are doing real damage — remember his refusal to unambiguously condemn the Charlottesville white supremacists at a moment of searing national introspection? Large majorities say Trump is dividing us. The educated and suburban voters driving Democratic wins probably aren’t just personally offended by Trump’s racism and sexism — they may think it’s hurting the country as well.
How about the authoritarian tendencies of the “chaos” presidency? Trump’s efforts to discredit the legit investigation into his campaign’s misconduct are damaging morale among law enforcement. His nonstop lying and attacks on the institutional role of the press threaten to undermine shared facts as a foundation of our discourse. The corruption and self-dealing may erode faith in our system. As fieldwork by Theda Skocpol and Lara Putnam demonstrates, deep concerns about our current civic health are fueling organizing by ordinary women across the country, which may boost Democrats’ electoral fortunes — all out of a desire to reinvigorate our democracy against Trump’s degradation of it.
Media images of the “chaos” presidency are hurting the GOP — but this also reflects the very real harm it threatens to the country. And we don’t know how much worse the damage could get — on either front.
* NEXT TO GO: H.R. McMASTER? The Post reports that Trump may soon force out his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster:
The turbulence is part of a broader potential shake-up under consideration by Trump that is likely to include senior officials at the White House, where staffers are gripped by fear and uncertainty as they await the next move from an impulsive president who enjoys stoking conflict.
The Post adds, oddly, that Trump feels “emboldened” to reshuffle his team because he thinks his decisions on tariffs and meeting with Kim Jong Un as “triumphant.” All this winning …
* JOHN KELLY IS ALSO ‘ON THIN ICE’: The New York Times confirms that McMaster might be on his way out soon, and adds:
Mr. Kelly himself is also on thin ice, according to officials in the White House. He is said to have angered the president by privately saying “no” to the boss too often. Mr. Trump grew frustrated with Mr. Kelly, in part for stalling on the president’s desire for tariffs.
The Times notes that “fickle” Trump has ousted at least half a dozen of the people present at his first Cabinet meeting last June, whom Trump hailed as a “phenomenal team.”
*MOOD IN WHITE HOUSE VERGES ON ‘MANIA’: The Post story on McMaster’s impending departure also reports this:
The mood inside the White House in recent days has verged on mania, as Trump increasingly keeps his own counsel and senior aides struggle to determine the gradations between rumor and truth. … Some in the White House have been reluctant to oust McMaster … until he has a promotion … They are eager to show that someone can serve in the Trump administration without suffering severe damage to their reputation.
Sounds like the businessman president has created an awesome place to work.
* TRUMP SEEKS PEOPLE WHO ‘TOLERATE HIS MOODS’: The Associated Press talks to a number of White House officials about the impending shake-ups and reports:
Trump is reshaping his administration, seeking people more likely to fall in line with his policies and tolerate his moods. The factionalism that defined the early days of his tenure has faded and he has lost some of the close aides who could manage his volatile impulses. To some, the White House is increasing taking on the feel of a team of cheerleaders more than a team of rivals.
Just what the deeply reality-challenged Trump needs right about now.
* GOP MAY TRY ‘PHASE TWO’ OF TAX CUTS: Bloomberg reports that Republicans may try to push to make the individual rate cuts (like the corporate cuts) permanent, and will dare Democrats to oppose them in an election year:
Passing a fresh bill before year’s end to make individual cuts permanent remains a long shot, but raising the issue now lets Republicans force Democrats to take an uncomfortable stance against middle class tax relief.
Democrats can simply counter that they support making just the middle-class tax cuts permanent. The lesson from Pennsylvania is that Democrats can win by opposing Republicans on taxes.
* WHY THE WORST MAY BE YET TO COME: Paul Krugman says the GOP’s big apparent loss in Pennsylvania shows voters may be “wising up,” and ties this to the exodus of top officials leaving the White House:
With everyone who showed even an occasional sense of responsibility leaving the Trump administration, you have to wonder what comes next. In particular, regimes in trouble — like, say, the Argentine junta in the 1980s — often try to rally the public with dangerous foreign policy adventurism. Are you sure that Trump won’t go that route? Really sure?
Surely the Mueller probe advancing won’t help matters in this regard, either.