September 26th, 2021


A Strategy For Trump: Escape The Washington Bubble, Tout His Agenda, Pressure Congress

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published March 7, 2017

Years ago, the political strategist Dick Morris liked to suggest that America's chief executive suffered from a split personality - a "Saturday night Bill Clinton" who lacked good moral judgment; a more pious "Sunday morning President Clinton" who was a devoted public servant.

This is one way to ponder the Trump presidency.

"Sunday Trump" is an orgy of panel shows dedicated to the controversy du jour - this weekend, Trump alleging that his predecessor ordered wiretaps for Trump Tower.

"Monday Trump", on the other hand, is all about pushing the agenda. This week, that includes unveiling a new travel ban and perhaps more details on the House GOP's Obamacare alternative.

The Sunday talkers would have you believe that the Sunday scandals outweigh the Monday activities. That's foolish. Trump can still advance his agenda despite the president's random tweeting or the opposition party throwing marbles in his path.

But how does Trump go about turning ideas into law?

One school of thought: as he's never governed, leave the driving to a pair of experienced Washington hands: House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Yes, Ryan's studied tax reform seemingly forever (actually, he was elected to the House in 1998). And, yes, McConnell does run a tight ship.

But for Trump, trusting the GOP Congress to take care of business isn't a wise choice for at least two reasons: (1) there's no guarantee that the Republican majority, generally prone to process and infighting, can settle its differences in an orderly fashion; (2) not being more hands-on with Congress, with regard to issues he supposedly desired (gun control, climate change), was a common complaint about the Obama presidency.

How then for Trump to proceed?

Last week's schedule was a good start. Two days following his successful joint address to Congress, Trump ventured to the Newport News shipyard in Tidewater Virginia and the Navy's next aircraft carrier to tout increased defense spending.

A day later, the President was in Orlando to talk education alternatives at a faith-based K-5 school.

Why are these good uses of Trump's time?

They're good photo-ops - listening to real people's real concerns. Besides, there's political value. Virginia has a gubernatorial race this fall; Orlando is part of the I-4 corridor that's crucial to presidential success in the Sunshine State.

My suggestion for Trump: spend more time on the road touting the agenda (Obamacare replacement, taxes, Judge Gorsuch), but do so even more strategically.

Where I'd start: the 23 congressional districts that elected a Republican member last fall, but also favored Hillary Clinton over Trump (according to congressional-level presidential results calculated by Daily Kos Elections, Trump carried 230 congressional districts to Clinton's 205).

Yes, there are 12 House districts scattered across America that split their ticket between Trump and a Democratic congressional candidate, but for now the drill is maxing out on cooperative House Republicans so as to get agenda items through the chamber on muscular, party-line votes if need be.

And reminding those members: their fate, in the coming midterm election, is tied to Trump's.

What would Trump's travel schedule look like? There's Virginia's 10th Congressional District, just across the Potomac River from the White House, which makes for a quick trip.

If Trump wants to relive last November, he can journey to Pennsylvania's 6th and 7th Congressional Districts, which are just outside of Philadelphia.

Trump could add a southwestern swing beginning in Dallas and Texas' 32rd Congressional District, then south to an upscale pocket of Houston (Texas' 7th Congressional District), continuing west to a predominately Hispanic corner of the state (Texas' 23rd Congressional District), before finishing in Arizona's 2nd Congressional District (who better to host a defense event than Rep. Martha McSally, a retired Air Force pilot?).

Collectively, they're seven congressional districts that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 but not Trump in 2016. Democrats, given their bleak chances of retaking the Senate anytime soon, will target these districts in 2018.

But Trump shouldn't limit his sights to the House. The Senate should also be targeted, though here the goal would be more symbolic than helping House members facing a tough re-elects.

The two states I'd target: Kentucky and Maine.

Why Kentucky? Because it's home to Sen. Rand Paul, who's dismissed the House Obamacare repeal effort as "Obamacare light".

Let's assume Speaker Ryan would appreciate the gesture of the President gently chastising Paul, an ophthalmologist who clearly sees opportunity in dumping on the House plan. Besides, it might appeal to Trump's counter-punching nature (Trump not only outlasted Paul in the GOP primaries, but received about 130,000 more votes statewide than Paul in their respective races last fall).

As for Maine, it's home to Bath Iron Works and naval shipbuilding (last fall, Bath lost out on an $11 billion U.S. Coast Guard contract).

In theory, a Trump defense build-up would travel through Maine - 16 of the additional ships in a beefed-up Navy would be cruisers or guided-missile cruisers ("large surface combatants") that are built at Bath or the Ingalls yard down in Mississippi.

Maine's also home to Sen. Susan Collins, who's potentially a moderate thorn in the GOP Senate's side (she introduced Attorney General Jeff Session at his conformation hearing, but voted against EPA Director Scott Pruitt). And she's up for re-election in 2018. If Trump flounders, Collins is in trouble in a state that Clinton carried by nearly 3% last fall.

Sending messages is part of what a president does. And in this Congress, it might be an effective strategy.

The average length of service for U.S. Representatives at the beginning of the 115th Congress was 9.4 years; for senators, 10.1 years. In the 111th Congress, House service averaged 10.3 years in the House vs. 13.4 years in Senate.

Trump could wager on well-established congressmen to deliver his agenda. Then again, 116 House members and 21 senators have no more than two years' experience.

Trust Congress to do what's best for American business? Only 179 House members and 29 senators have a business background (50 senators are lawyers).

Trust Congress to lead the way on healthcare? There are all of three physicians in the Senate and 11 doctors in the House (not counting the four dentists, three veterinarians and one pharmacist).

Trust Congress to understand defense needs? Only 102 members in this current Congress have military experience (82 House, 20 Senate. Back in 1981, when Ronald Reagan undertook his military buildup, nearly two-thirds (64%) of the 97th Congress had served.

Trust Congress to know what's best with regard to infrastructure? There are only eight engineers on Capitol Hill, seven of them in the House.

What's a new president left to do? Try praying. Then again, there are only eight ordained ministers in Congress - all in the House.

Small wonder that life beyond Washington might seem attractive to Trump at this point.

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Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he studies and writes on current events and political trends. In citing Whalen as one of its "top-ten" political reporters, The 1992 Media Guide said of his work: "The New York Times could trade six of its political writers for Whalen and still get a bargain." During those years, Whalen also appeared frequently on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, and CNBC.