The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump didn’t drain the swamp. Supporters are starting to notice.

President Trump. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

Here’s the thing about campaigning as an outsider, as Donald Trump did in 2016. If you win the election, you are the person in charge. You are expected to accomplish what you said you would do, or make a darn good effort to do so. And come the next election, it’s all but impossible to pose as an outsider. It defies common sense. If the man in the White House is an “outsider,” then the term has lost all meaning.

That’s one takeaway from a recent Ohio focus group of swing voters hosted by Engagious, a political research firm. As Axios reports, the voters who voted for Barack Obama and then pulled a lever for Donald Trump still say they believe the overall economy is improving under Trump. But the longer they talked, the more it seemed they still felt left behind:

They think President Trump has failed at “draining the swamp.” They think the Trump administration is corrupt. They don’t think the GOP tax law has helped them and their families. And they’re not feeling the “booming” economy.

Not all these voters simply blame mysterious forces swirling around Trump, frustrating a well-meaning agenda. As one voter told the group, “He’s backed out of so many of his promises.”

Trump’s bogus promise to clean up the Washington swamp must be high on the list. Trump made this the centerpiece of his campaign. He was, he assured us, the ultimate insider, who would use his savvy to help the common man and woman. He understood how money works, and money corrupts. One example Trump used: how he gave money so Hillary Clinton would attend his wedding to his current wife, Melania. “I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said, ‘Be at my wedding,’ and she came to my wedding,” Trump said in 2015. “You know why? She had no choice, because I gave.”

This is one reason (beyond pure partisanship) that voters who supported Trump in 2016 forgave or ignored a multitude of scandals, most notably the pensioners and other financially desperate people who turned over as much as $35,000 for Trump University, to receive all but nothing in return. They knew he wasn’t an honest businessman. But they thought he would take everything he learned in all his years as a corrupt businessman to clean the joint up. Of course, Trump did exactly the opposite. He used his insider knowledge and connections to appoint a bevy of obscenely wealthy insiders to Washington jobs, where they all did what they know how to do best: Make money for themselves.

The cliche “shooting fish in a barrel” hardly does justice the number of potential scandals Democrats can highlight to show Trump has not cleaned up Washington. It begins with Trump himself, who still will not release his personal tax returns, even as he signed a tax-reform package into law that rained money on the 1 percent and contained provisions that almost certainly enriched his own bottom line, while giving such a small cut to the majority of filers that they don’t even notice it in their paychecks.

Then there is his cabinet of American oligarchs, the richest ever assembled. Their scandals encompass the petty (then-Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt demanding his staff drive him to pick up a fancy lotion in between helping find his wife a job) and the stupendous, such as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s shorting shares in a stock he was supposed to divest in order to serve in his job and, according to Forbes, allegedly siphoning more than $120 million from his business partners prior to taking a job with the administration. Other members of the Trump White House are intent on making sure the corporate world knows there is a “for sale” sign outside of the White House. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who is also the acting Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head, openly boasted of how, when he served in Congress, he wouldn’t even meet with a corporate lobbyist unless they donated to him. Now he has gutted the CFPB’s oversight of multiple industries.

And when Reps. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) and Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), prominent Trump supporters in Congress, found themselves under federal indictment for their allegedly corrupt financial actions, what did Trump do? He took to Twitter to blame Attorney General Jeff Sessions for endangering Republican election chances in November by bringing charges against “two very popular Republican Congressmen,” law and ethics be damned.

Trump’s presidency is government by a team of smash-and-grab thieves, intent on gaining as much money and advantage as they can while they retain access to the levers of power. Taken altogether, it’s both an affront and an embarrassment. It’s almost certain some portion of 2016 Trump voters know it, at least in part.  His personal approval ratings are falling in multiple polls. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. No one likes to feel had. Especially voters.