The President’s hard-core supporters seem willing to cut him a good deal of slack. For his underachievement they will blame others: Democrats (even though they’re in the minority in both houses of Congress and in the Supreme Court), Congressional Republicans, the “Deep State” so beloved by Steve Bannon and the Alt-Right, or mainstream media (all media except Fox News and right-wing talk radio).
Yet Trump himself has created most of his difficulties. The Great Deal-Maker has repeatedly undercut potential deals in Congress with tweets coming out of nowhere. It happened with the attempt earlier this year to repeal and replace Obamacare, when Trump repeatedly rocked the boat as the Senate Republican leadership tried to negotiate a bill that would command 50 of the 52 GOP votes. They might have failed anyway, because of the cleavages within the Republican majority, but Trump certainly made it harder by publicly playing to his base on Twitter.
It is blatantly clear at this point that Trump has no clue about how to get legislation passed in Congress. Nor has he the patience to learn.
It’s happening again now, as the Republicans try to reach their Holy Grail: tax reform that would include major cuts for corporations and the wealthy. Once again, Trump’s tweets about the mortgage deduction, or the promise to lower everyone’s taxes, upset the delicate balance of negotiations within the constraints of the Budget Resolution. He thus makes it less likely that both House and Senate will agree on the kind of sweeping bill that all Republicans seem to agree they want.
It is blatantly clear at this point that Trump has no clue about how to get legislation passed in Congress. Nor has he the patience to learn. He seems to prefer scoring rhetorical points on Twitter to actually accomplishing anything legislatively.
Instead, he’s reduced to doing what he condemned Barack Obama for: issuing executive orders. Those orders (they’re called decrees in other countries), along with similar decrees issued by cabinet secretaries, are indeed consequential. Trump has cut environmental and workplace safety regulations, for example. He has cut back on several National Monuments that Obama created by executive order. But as with Obama’s orders, Trump’s can be undone by his successor at the stroke of a pen.
Trump’s failings do not excuse the incompetence of GOP leaders in Congress, blessed with majorities in both houses and unable to produce anything of substance because of divisions in their own ranks.
In foreign and defense affairs, all presidents have a fairly free hand; rather than using that free hand thoughtfully, he has preferred to again play to his base by pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and by taking such a hard line on the North American Free Trade Agreement that its renewal now seems unlikely. In each case he has given little thought to the long-term implications of his actions: catastrophic changes in climate, handing China uncontested economic primacy in East Asia, disrupting the substantial integration of the North American economies. None of this seems to matter, as long as he can rhetorically stroke his base.
In the extremely delicate and dangerous confrontation with North Korea, Trump seems incapable of resisting the impulse to provocative posturing (again, playing to the base). Given the propensity of Kim Jong-Un to respond in kind, a nuclear confrontation is by no means inconceivable.
We have a staggeringly incompetent president. He is not going to grow into the job. He has neither a moral compass nor even the everyday good sense to avoid making trouble for himself. His base cuts him a lot of slack. Will it, finally, be enough rope to hang himself?