How to Right The Ship (The S.S. Trump)

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Nicholas Waddy Associate Professor of History, SUNY Alfred
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Ever since Donald Trump declared his candidacy for the Presidency, the media assault on him, his family, and his supporters has been blistering and relentless.  As a result, millions of Americans, and billions of people around the world, have developed a warped, even demoniacal, impression of the current President of the United States.  Nevertheless, given this media pummeling, Trump’s approval ratings, especially among Republicans, have held up remarkably well.  Lately, though, there have been signs that even the President’s core supporters are wavering, and his poll numbers are dipping.  We conservatives must analyze and address this alarming development in a clear-eyed way, and we must do what we can to rebuild public confidence in Trump, the Republican Party, and conservatives.

First, we must ask: why the downward trend?  President Trump and Republicans have weathered a number of setbacks recently.  The media twisted a story about Donald Trump, Jr. seeking information on Democratic collusion with Russia into confirmation of Trump’s collusion with Russia – no small feat, given the utter absurdity of the underlying logic.  Republican efforts in the Senate to repeal and/or replace Obamacare have hit a wall of opposition from recalcitrant Republicans, who are unwilling to vote for anything but a perfect bill.  As a result, it is unclear whether consistent Republican promises to abolish Obamacare and replace it with something better will be kept.  In addition, Trump’s Chief of Staff and Communications Director resigned under pressure, and in the case of the Communications Director the replacement himself resigned after less than two weeks.  This instability in the administration, combined with rumors of further dissension within the ranks, have fed a narrative of “chaos” at the highest levels of our government.

It must be admitted that some of Trump’s own actions have reinforced the media’s negative characterizations.  Trump’s tweets are sometimes juvenile, attacking his critics on a personal level in a way that is beneath the dignity of the Presidency.  Trump has also not shown the necessary discipline in articulating his positions on major issues, like the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.  He has vacillated on what the best course is for Republicans to follow: repeal and replace, repeal then replace, or sit back and watch Obamacare go down in flames.  He has also alternately complimented and cajoled his fellow Republicans, who in turn have offered him less than full support.  Trump openly critized his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.  Some Senators, meanwhile, like Jeff Flake of Arizona, have lambasted President Trump.  Others have refused to vote for Obamacare-related bills that the Republican leadership and President Trump have endorsed.  Perhaps most distressingly, Republicans have joined with Democrats in pursuing the farsical investigation of “Trump-Russia” ties.  In the process, the Republican Party has become more disunited and dysfunctional than it has been in a long time.

How to fix these problems?  The first step may well be one that President Trump has already taken.  He has appointed General Kelly, formerly the Secretary of Homeland Security, to be the White House Chief of Staff.  General Kelly is greatly respected on both sides of the aisle, and he may be just the man to bring greater discipline and focus to the executive branch.

Another key to turning the situation around may be to root out and eliminate the leaks that have fed the false media narratives about President Trump.  Progress has been made along these lines, but we are a long way from a comprehensive solution.

In addition, the installation of an experienced, competent, and less combative Communications Director, who can craft the administration’s message and do a better job of harnessing Trump’s own brand of eloquence to deliver it, will be critical.  Above all, the Republican message must be coordinated at all levels, and members of the administration, members of Congress, and Party officials should all be on the same page.  Historically, this kind of unity has not been hard for Republicans to achieve, but the Trump phenomenon has exposed fissures hitherto concealed, and frankly most Republicans have shown an inclination to flinch in response to the scale and severity of the attacks that are being launched against Trump and conservatives in general.  To paraphrase FDR, however, Republicans have nothing to fear but fear itself.  By showing weakness, they ensure that the attacks against them will intensify, and their agenda will be derailed.  By standing together, unapologetically, in defense of their principles, however, they can not only achieve their goals but also maintain the support and confidence of the American people.

The best recipe for a turnaround in fortunes for Trump and Republicans, in the end, is success, which inevitably begets more success.  Republicans should therefore gird their loins and pass some form of repeal of Obamacare.  That is a duty that cannot and should not be shirked.  Alternatively, they should move quickly to pass comprehensive tax cuts and tax reform.  This is, after all, an issue that unites Republicans and conservatives, and which appeals to large swathes of the American people.  If the Democrats want to vote against tax cuts, so be it, but Republicans have it in their power to deliver a win on this issue to the country, and to themselves.  That would be a good start to changing the political dynamics that, for the moment, have turned against Trump and his supporters. 

One way or another, though, this too shall pass.  If nothing else, we can simply wait for Democrats to squander their advantages and self-destruct, as they so often do.  No condition is permanent, especially in politics.  Trump, and Republicans, will surely rise again.

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy blogs at www.waddyisright.com.