Let’s say we take the president-elect at his word, though his decision to make alt-right leader Stephen K. Bannon a senior strategist does not bode well. If he wants to bring the nation together, there’s an easy, relatively painless, puzzlingly overlooked strategy for doing so: reorder his policy priorities and begin with the things that are most appealing to liberals. (Yes, there are a few.)
Prioritizing promises with bipartisan appeal, rather than base-pleasing red meat such as mass deportation, would allow Trump to defang Democratic opposition; make inroads with many of the demographic groups he has alienated (including women); and demonstrate his independence from the standard Republican establishment agenda.
Take, for example, what might be called the Ivanka plank of the Trump platform.
With his daughter Ivanka’s influence, Trump has pledged to finally remove the United States from the two-member club of countries that do not guarantee paid maternity leave. (Right now it’s us and Papua New Guinea.) His plan would require six weeks of paid leave to new mothers.
Trump also promised to make child care and eldercare more affordable, through tax breaks.
His plans promoting “equal pay for equal work” have not yet been fleshed out. But his daughter and trusted adviser has repeatedly assured voters that he is committed to this end as well.
These policy positions were initially greeted with cynicism and surprise. They are, after all, traditionally the purview of Democratic candidates, not Republicans. But their seepage into a Republican candidate’s agenda seemed inevitable, given how popular they are.
Poll after poll after poll after poll finds that Americans overwhelmingly favor paid parental leave. A Public Religion Research Institute survey from last fall found that 82 percent of Americans believe companies should grant full-time employees paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. This includes 89 percent of Democrats and an astonishing 75 percent of Republicans.
For comparison, another recent PRRI poll found that only 29 percent of Republicans want to “identify and deport” immigrants living in the United States illegally. Yet Trump has declared mass deportation to be among his first orders of business when he gets to the White House, while he has said nothing recently about paid family leave.
To be sure, there is disagreement about the best way to implement these ideas, and many of Trump’s policy details fall short. Trump appears to offer paid leave to birth mothers only, ignoring fathers, adoptive parents and those caring for elderly relatives; among other problems, this risks making women of fertility age disproportionately expensive (and thus less attractive) to hire. His child-care tax breaks, as currently construed, would primarily benefit the wealthy.
He has also punted on questions of how he’d pay for either plan, instead citing unrealistic economic growth projections and elimination of “improper payments” in the unemployment insurance system.
So there are some splinters in the Ivanka plank. But Trump’s interest in these issues is a good start. And if he’s truly dedicated to good policy, as he claims, his team can easily find thoughtful, off-the-shelf legislative templates that achieve the same ends more effectively.
Despite an unusually divisive campaign, Trump pledged support for several other policies that could rally Democrats.
Consider his promise to end the “carried interest loophole,” which allows a small share of ultrawealthy individuals (including managers at private equity and venture capital funds) to pay lower taxes on the fruits of their labor. This feature of the tax code affects few people, but it is widely reviled, and both Democrats and Republicans support its elimination.
Putting these types of goals at the top of the pile would have enormous upside, and little downside, for the new president. They do not require Trump to cede any ground, because they are policies he has pushed all along. They are unlikely to annoy his most committed fans. Setting America on the path toward paid family leave would also make it increasingly awkward for Democrats to continue demonizing him.
To be sure, none of the policies I’ve mentioned are priorities for Republican congressional leaders. Given the blowback Trump faces for relying on so many establishment types to run his transition team, though, this may be a feature, not a bug.
As an added bonus, this plan would allow Trump to claim one of the greatest presidential achievements possible: proving that sometimes good policy can also be good politics.