The government seems to be operating without a president. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican like President Trump, questions if his presidency can be saved.
The 2016 campaign continues. Trump attacks Republicans, Democrats, and the media. He implies that he has no “moral” concern about Nazi and white supremacist demonstrators. If Democrats won’t support Americans paying for the border wall, not Mexico, he will shut down the government.
As president, he offers rhetoric, not substantive proposals. He attacks Congress, creating opponents whose support he needs. He has a freer hand in international affairs than on domestic policy, but often confuses and bewilders allies and adversaries. The generals running the government must correct his statements.
After his deeply divisive remarks on Charlottesville and his collapsing poll numbers, his scripted speech on Afghanistan, where he promised, “we will win,” may have been an attempt to appear more presidential. But he reverted to form with the Phoenix rally.
He appears to believe tax reform is his silver bullet. “This is our moment,” he says. He hopes to unite Republicans and Democrats, bring back the disaffected business community and send the stock market to new heights.
Called tax reform, it is mainly a tax cut for everybody, which should be widely popular. The prospect of tax reductions originally attracted business leaders and was the basis of the Trump bump in the stock market.
A couple of aspects of tax “reform” are certain. First, everybody, from the lowest income fifth to the wealthiest tenth, will have their income taxes reduced.
The wall-to-wall tax reduction is what Trump expects should produce sufficient congressional majorities. In theory, the GOP will get behind the cut, and Democrats could have a hard time opposing it.
Just who gets most of the tax cut may prove to be the problem with this theory. The Democrats favor a tax increase on those with incomes in the top one percent, but the Trump proposal is slated to give them the biggest reduction.
This is where the idea of tax reform departs from tax reduction. While there may be cuts for all, reform is meant to benefit the rich.
Some loopholes may be closed, but lower rates and eliminating the inheritance tax on people who leave more than about $10 million will be a boon to the most wealthy. The tax breaks for the wealthiest may be what limits Democratic support.
The second key aspect of the tax proposal is that the federal government will receive less revenue. That’s the GOP’s intention, and it means deep cuts in government services.
The federal budget has three parts. The largest is required support for programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The remainder, about one-third of outlays, has been evenly split between defense and all non-defense spending. Trump wants to end equal treatment, boosting defense and slashing the rest.
While that may be conservative policy, it fails to take into account the people whose services will be cut. That was the lesson of “repeal and replace Obamacare.” So many people would have lost coverage that some legislators could not support outright repeal.
Much the same would be true with cuts on programs from agriculture to the arts, many created by members of Congress responding to their constituents. It may be difficult for them to sell tax cuts for the rich financed by reductions in services to voters.
As for the conduct of his presidency, it’s not clear that Trump grasps all of this. He has shown little interest in the substance of policies, and looks for political wins that he can claim for himself. He relishes the cheers of his dwindling core supporters more than the details of governing.
He congratulates himself for creating one million jobs in the first half of the year. That’s exactly the job growth under President Obama in the same period last year. Trump counts the gain for himself but not for the president whose legacy he would destroy.
Without tax reform success and governing as if the presidency is really a continuing political campaign, Trump could find it difficult to achieve success with any domestic policy proposals. A solution must be found elsewhere or government will remain stalled.
If a reluctant McConnell and House Speaker Ryan would compromise with Democrats, moderate, veto-proof bills could be passed. Trump could take the credit for them. As with the nearly unanimously passed bill keeping sanctions on Russia, a bipartisan approach could reduce the risks of a Trump foreign policy.
In short, Congress might be able to save the Trump presidency.