Low Expectations Keep Trump Thankful
It is said that Donald Trump learned early in his career never to back down, never to give up and to always hit back harder than necessary if someone hits you. Based on the pattern of his first eleven months in office the strategy cannot be calibrated. Trump has just the one play in his playbook.
In all honesty he never expected to be president. He said last year that his post-Election Day plans were to take an immediate vacation with his wife. The surprise victory was followed by an almost non-existent transition. One year into the administration many agencies still have vacancies in key positions. The transition is still incomplete.
The White House staff is made up of relatives and a few inexperienced proteges who will do anything the president asks of them and are no doubt learning all the wrong lessons about how to succeed in life.
Trump has never even tried to surround himself with the “smartest people.” Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is no reason to place continued hope in Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis, or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Kelly is proving to be nothing more than an enabler with protocol. Mattis appears to be missing in action. Tillerson seems to think the State Department is a for profit enterprise where stock prices go up if expenses can be brought down.
From Tillerson, to press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, to the president himself, all credibility is lost. World leaders see Tillerson as an empty suit and they see the president as someone to be played and endured. Sanders is aided in her daily sophistry by the likes of Kellyanne Conway and Steven Miller. As a group they continue to rely on the election results as the best proof they are the smartest people in Washington. No one else sees it that way and they have no governing accomplishments to back up their outsized unearned egos.
Since January, no one of recognized stature has joined the administration to try to right the ship. There are no reinforcements. This is in part because no one wants to risk their professional reputation by joining the team and in part because no one of stature has been asked to join. To ask for help in Trump’s world is a sign of weakness.
President Trump isolates himself by nature. He rarely steps out of the protective cocoon of the White House and when he does, it is for a well planned trip to a friendly location, or one of his golf properties. He will spend Thanksgiving at Mar-a-Lago — his version of Michael Jackson’s Neverland. He seeks news and information only from sources that flatter him. There is no need to adjust strategy according to the polls, because he only believes the polls that show him doing well. Where he finds them is anyone’s guess, because even polls conducted by conservative sources show him at historic lows for a president finishing his first year in office.
As we head into the holiday season there is continued trouble ahead. The president may not realize this because he knows nothing of Washington or politics, but everyone else can see the crash coming.
It begins with the Alabama special election for the U.S. Senate. If Republican Roy Moore wins, it will set off a battle inside the Republican Party that will have the potential to stall all legislative business. If Moore loses, the Senate will be almost evenly split. Democrats will have no reason to cooperate with Republicans and the GOP legislative agenda will be on hold for at least a year. Trump will try to blame Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, but as the man who said he was going to fix Washington he will not be able to escape blame.
Republican governors meeting in Austin, Texas are plotting ways to keep their distance. When Vice President Pence opened his remarks to the group by offering greetings from the president, the room hardly reacted. In private meetings, according to the New York Times, Pence was urged to ask the president to stay away from states where his presence will not help and he was asked to lobby against the president’s plans to drop out of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Two years of inaction in Trump’s Washington will provide some in the party all the incentive they need to primary the president for the 2020 nomination and a long list of Democrats will also step forward to run. The next presidential campaign will begin before the 2018 congressional elections take place and members of both parties on Capitol Hill will have strong incentive to make sure the last two years of Trump’s term are a continued failure.
The special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election will persistently dominate the headlines. Paul Manafort and his associate may go to trial in the next 12 months and additional indictments are likely. As a result of President Trump’s own decisions, Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be a drag on the presidency for at least another year. Even if Trump or his campaign are never accused of wrong-doing, Trump’s mismanagement of the controversy will be an issue for his opponents.
The outlook is bleak, but Trump can still be thankful. He is — to the current great disappointment of most of the country — the president of the United States. But what really works to make him a success are his own low expectations. For Donald Trump victory is simply surviving another day. Winning means everyone is talking about you, reacting to you and you are hitting back when necessary. When your own survival is the only goal, it is easy to be on top.