When Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton in the 2016
presidential election, the most common complaint against
him that I heard (including from Republicans) was that he
would be a disaster in foreign policy. These complainers
would then add that they were much less worried about his
domestic policy because the Congress, led by House Speaker
Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell,
would hold him in check.
As it has turned out so far, the opposite has happened.
It seems, in fact, that today there is a contrarian imperative
in U.S. politics.
In foreign policy, President Trump has performed quite well,
certainly far better than expected. His recent and first foreign
trip was a substantial success if you hold the view that the
passive and feckless Obama foreign policy had weakened the
nation and its allies. Mr. Trump has put the U.S. back to the
front and center of global affairs, and especially in trouble
spots in the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
On the other hand, the new administration’s domestic policy
has so far been much less of a success --- but primarily
because Republicans in the U.S. house and senate are divided
and hesitant on promised reforms. Speaker Ryan was only
belatedly able to deliver a positive vote on Obamacare repeal
and replacement, and continues to have difficulty in assembling
his caucus for necessary votes on tax policy and spending
legislation. Majority Leader McConnell skillfully navigated
the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. supreme court,
and is methodically doing the same for secondary cabinet
positions. But now he faces a challenge to pass an Obamacare
repeal and replacement in the senate, and his slim majority so
far does not seem poised to agree on other major legislation.
Tweeting outbursts, and other distractions by President Trump,
have not helped. It is true that certain establishment media
attacks, and predictable Democratic Party opposition, have
not made matters easier for the Republicans, but that is not
a legitimate excuse. Those factors are a given today in U.S,
politics --- in fact, media and partisan criticism are always
a proper factor (although this does not justify egregious
news media bias.)
The bottom line is that Republicans were elected to control
the executive and legislative branches in Washington, DC on
promises to reform, transform and stabilize the federal
government and its bureaucracy. If they fail to deliver on
these promises, as I have repeatedly stated on this site, the
voters will employ their constitutional right and vote them out
of control in 2018 and 2020.
The majority of Republican legislators seem inclined to
fulfill conservative promises, but small factions within their
house and senate caucuses seem determined to thwart the
majorities. This then is the challenge to congressional
leadership --- and to the White House.
The Republicans in Congress are not the only ones divided.
The Democrats' Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren-Maxine
Waters wing wants to take the liberal party to places the
Clinton-Joe Biden wing does not seem to want to go. Mrs.
Clinton’s defeat has given the former much momentum, but
being now in the minority and out of power, most liberals
have common cause in opposing and defeating Donald Trump.
A large number of U.S. voters still agree with the liberals, and
remain skeptical about Mr. Trump and his conservative allies.
Foreign policy is always played out in a problematic and
unpredictable environment. As recently as January 20, there
was a reasonable question about how well the new president
would perform on the global stage. After George W. Bush, the
nation’s voters wanted respite from constant U.S. interventions.
After Barack Obama, the nation’s voters wanted the U.S. to
play a more central, albeit non-interventionist, role in the world
to protect our vital interests. Donald Trump has now signaled he
can lead this --- despite so many previous doubts about him.
(Nonetheless, global uncertainty is ahead.)
What Mr. Trump and his congressional colleagues have not yet
demonstrated is their ability to deal with the many domestic
problems the nation faces.
Voters care most about domestic issues. The state of business
and the economy, employment, healthcare insurance, education
issues, national security and tax policy --- these are what will
move voters most next year and in 2020.
The political clock is ticking.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.