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Have Trump’s Reversals Begun to Alienate His Base?

"He ran as a populist but governs as a traditionalist"

His campaign succeeded by identifying the anger in the country which he played to by lashing out at everyone and everything, painting a dark picture of "poverty and violence at home, war and destruction abroad". Against a backdrop of dystopia he could present himself as a savior — "I alone can fix it" — who would "Make America Great Again".

But in the process Donald Trump made extravagant claims of what he could accomplish and they became promises in the expectations of the base that
President Trump at Harrisburg, Pa., rally on his 100th-day.

elected him. Those claims could be attributed to his doing so little to educate himself about our government and the world, which he did not do even after he entered the race. Awareness might have kept him from saying "it's going to be so easy" about all he intended to do. He seemed to treat the job so off-handedly that there was at one point a flurry of commentary about whether he was only in it to show he could win and would quit once elected, that he had run only to develop the Trump brand. The one-time real estate and casino operator had become a showman, taken with campaigning and playing to an adoring audience, leading "lock her up" and "drain the

swamp" chants and playing petty tyrant commanding his followers to "get him out of here" to remove protesters. Learning the world's most important job would have to wait. All the way to inauguration, it turned out, after which it would be on-the-job training.

When Mr. Trump announced his candidacy in June of 2015, it quickly became apparent that he had only the most cursory one-sentence-each knowledge of most of what he would be dealing with were he to become president. A wall would solve the immigration problem. He would round up and deport the 11.5 million Mexicans already here. A 45% tariff against all imports from China would bring back manufacturing jobs. He had no awareness of the intertwined economies that had developed between the U.S. and Mexico over the 30 years of NAFTA, nor the retaliation against American companies operating in China that would result, nor the cost to American companies here that import materials from both countries that they build into U.S. made products.

In these early days of his presidency, we have already seen a number of reversals from those strident populist boasts. This review of them brings up the question of whether his followers are also reviewing and are wondering whether he may be letting them down. Talk radio hosts are asking the same. The quote in the headline is from Trump's friend Christopher Ruddy, head of conservative Newsmax Media.

jobs

Trump made a theatrical show of saving 1,100 jobs (which proved to be more like 800) from moving from a Carrier plant in Indiana to Mexico, but we heard nothing from the administration when a different Indiana Carrier plant began laying off workers preparatory to a December transfer of 700 jobs to Monterey, Mexico. His jawboning has, though, made a number of companies reticent about transferring jobs for fear of a Trump-induced public relations backlash.

He reversed an Obama executive order that had prohibited coal companies from dumping toxic wastes into stream beds, but has not followed up on his campaign promise to try to restore jobs. Perhaps he recognizes that market forces are closing in on the coal industry and there are no jobs to bring back, but he also did nothing to champion government payment of healthcare for miners stranded by out-of-business coal companies. He left that to Democrats on the Hill, who carved out $2 billion in the bi-partisan spending deal.

isolation

Taken in by the nationalistic fervor of aide Steve Bannon, Trump resurrected "America First" as a campaign slogan. Trump's America would close its borders and stay home from wars, calling NATO "obsolete", and placing emphasis on making America strong through Bannon's "economic nationalism".

"I said it was obsolete; it's no longer obsolete", Trump now says about NATO. "If you look at the President's position", Sean Spicer explained, "where he wanted to see NATO…evolve to, …it's moving exactly in the direction he said". The presumption that Trump is causing changes in NATO is fanciful. NATO hasn't changed at all; it is Trump who evolved. Three of the 28 countries have committed to spend more on defense, but that's not until next year.

Despite the full plate Trump has in dealing with the threat of North Korea, he is going out of his way to pick a fight with Iran, threatening to tear up the nuclear non-proliferation agreement, which would lead to Iran's immediate development of a nuclear weapon.

When Obama was considering taking action in Syria in 2013, Trump had sent half a dozen tweets arguing "Syria is NOT our problem". Yet eleven weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump launched 59 cruise missiles against Syria's Assad's regime. That was met with general enthusiasm after five years of Obama's passivity, but this and his other involvements are viewed by the media as reversals of Trump's original position of avoiding international engagement. But it is probable that, other than trade, his voters don't place much emphasis on isolation.

miles from the swamp

"Drain the swamp" was a campaign mantra, although never defined. Did he mean honesty? In October he tweeted, “I will Make Our Government Honest Again — believe me. But first, I’m going to have to #DrainTheSwamp.” Or corruption? In Cleveland he had said, "We are going to drain the swamp of corruption in Washington, DC". What corruption he had in mind he never said. And in his 100-day rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, there it was again: “I could not possibly be more thrilled to be more than 100 miles away from the Washington swamp".

But the origin of the phrase dates from 1903 and relates to control of the government by business interests. His followers have watched him surround himself with billionaires and a roster of advisers dominated by Goldman Sachs alumni/a — Steven Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, Steve Bannon, Dina Powell — a swamp that fits the definition far more than whatever it was that Trump believes he's drained. Why aren't his followers outraged by the deception?

In January, the President declared a five-year ban on administration officials becoming lobbyists after leaving government. That's a good swamp defoliant. But Trump has already waived the rule for one official who left to take a job at the Business Roundtable. Once he begins to fill posts in a government in which hundreds of positions — 200 in the State Department alone — are vacant, he will probably have to promise future waivers to attract talent that counts on the revolving door between government and lobbying as a means to make considerable incomes. Such is today's Washington.

obamacare

Trump at first accepted the failed House vote of repeal and replace of "the very, very failed and failing" Obamacare "disaster", then realized first that the failure reflected badly on him and second that he needed Obamacare's money to pay for his tax cuts, so he returned to push for a healthcare bill. Did his base hear that? Did they pick up on his saying — as he did to the Wall Street Journal — that eliminating Medicaid expansion and the subsidies that help people pay for health insurance would be for the benefit of corporations, the "hundreds of millions of dollars in savings" that would pay for slashing corporate profit taxes from 35% to his desired 15%.

Mr. Trump has been back and forth on whether the government will continue to pay "cost-sharing subsidies". This supplement reduces the insurance deductible — the amount below which the insured must pay for medical costs — and discounts co-pays for some 7 million with low incomes. Doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, the United States Chamber of Commerce (the largest pro-business lobby) all signed a letter pressing Trump and Congress to continue the subsidies.

But the President has been using the threat to terminate these payments to try to force Democrats to sign on to the Republican repeal and replace plan. It is absolute anathema for Democrats to do anything that would help do away with Obamacare. That Trump would nevertheless use those 7 million as hostages to get his plan enacted — so many of them assumed to be members of his own base — betrays a stunning disregard of the loyal voters he had pledged to help.

None of this factors in what will be the backlash should healthcare repeal and replace be passed. Only then will the abstraction of legislation settle into the reality of the lives of those affected. They will first discover the meager amount of subsidy they will receive. Ranging from $2,000 for the young to a maximum of $4,000 for the old (curiously paid to all, irrespective of need), it is a fraction of what Obamacare paid and will cause millions to lose the insurance they finally attained under the Affordable Care Act because they will be unable to make up the dollar difference. Only then will they hear that a neighbor was denied coverage because of a preexisting condition, because that has become an option for states to adopt. The question will then be whether the anger that will arise against Trump for taking away the much more generous Affordable Care Act will turn even his base of voters against him.

china

Throughout his campaign he vowed that in addition to the 45% tariff he would brand China a currency manipulator, reducing the value of the renminbi against the dollar to make its goods cheaper. But now Trump needs China's support against North Korea, so he has backed away from that charge. Besides, "as soon as I got elected, they stopped", he boasted falsely on "Face the Nation". In fact, China stopped in 2014 and has spent heavily to prop up the renminbi since. The problem, Trump now says, is that the dollar has grown too strong "because people have confidence in me".

And the tariff? Seeking help against North Korea, Trump offered China's President Xi Jinping a still better trading deal than the $350 billion imbalance they already enjoy.

spending priorities

Nothing has come of Trump's budget, but it serves to show where his priorities lie. To pay for an additional $54 billion for the Pentagon, he took the ax to almost all other discretionary spending, even his own government — a 28% cut of the State Department's budget, 31% of the Environmental Protection Agency, $1.2 billion taken from the National Institutes of Health — but most tellingly, cuts in programs that directly affect those who likely voted for him expecting his help. Various anti-poverty programs were slashed, such as those that provide free meals to schoolchildren and the elderly and help people pay for heat. Trump would cut regional development programs that benefit the states that voted for him, notably the Appalachian Regional Commission spanning 13 states and the Delta Regional Authority, serving eight southern and Midwestern states, seven with Republican governors.

tax breaks

The breathtaking tax cut package that Trump and advisers Mnuchin and Cohn rushed out so as to show some action before the first 100 days elapsed was equally revealing. Trump wants the corporate tax cut to 15% (see "Our Tax Code Is a Mess. So Will Be the Battle to Change It"). With the U.S. tax on business the highest of the Group of 20 Nations, a cut of some degree has broad support. But Trump wants his rock bottom rate to apply also to the millions of businesses that pass profits through to their owners' personal tax returs — businesses like Trump's own. In this whopping gift to himself, he would pay not the 35% individual rate he proposes but the 15% business rate.

There's more. He would get rid of the inheritance tax altogether so that all his assets would pass scott-free to his sons and daughters, and he'd do away with the alternative minimum tax, a second way of computing one's tax bill required of high earners that limits how much in deductions they may declare. This, too, would hugely benefit none other than Donald Trump as we saw when a leaked copy of his 2005 tax return (the 2-page form 1040 only) surfaced. It shows him having to pay according to the alternative schedule roughly $31 million on $150 million of income, whereas had there been no alternative minimum tax, as he now proposes, his tax bill would have only been around $5 million.

To keep his supporters from complaining about these self-serving measures that would so enrich the already rich, he has thrown them a bone by suddenly proposing that the standard deduction be doubled. Singles would deduct $12,700 and married couples $25,400 from their income tax free. But wait! Unmentioned is an earlier Republican proposal that some think may be behind this unexpected largess: doing away with the personal exemption of $4,050. Under Trump's plan a family of four would get a $25,400 standard deduction but lose $16,200 in exemptions. That's $3,500 less than the standard deduction and exemptions they have now. Those who voted for Trump hoping for a leg up probably aren't aware of that. They're just waving their signs and hollering adulation at the Harrisburg farm center.

nafta

To combat loss of jobs, President Trump promised to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), calling it "the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere". But as in all such pronouncements, he has never uttered any specifics to spell out just what makes it the worst trade deal ever.

With funding for the wall blocked in Congress, Mr. Trump saw the need to show some progress to his base, so he planned announcing at the Pennsylvania rally that he would set in motion the process for withdrawing from NAFTA. But Mexico's President Nieto and Canada's Prime Minister Trudeau headed that off with phone calls to the White House, and Trump instantly agreed to negotiate instead, to the relief of American business interests. But tinkering to reduce the trade deficit is not what his loyal following thought they were promised.

A number of other campaign pledges have been reversed of a sort that his voters may care less about. He has not appointed a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton, has not reversed Obama's Cuba outreach, says the children of illegal immigrants who would have been covered by the DREAM Act had it been passed can "rest easy" because they can stay, now approves of the Export-Import Bank that he was "very much opposed to" once made aware of its importance to companies big and small, and has backed away from urging Israel to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem after the frantic king of Jordan made him realize the violent backlash that would ensue.

apostates?

The coastal media organizations have adopted new catechisms whereby they roam the country to learn what other Americans think. So far as we've seen, those in the heartland who always disliked Trump continue to find him loathsome. Those who were always with him no matter what he said or did on the campaign trail continue to be solidly with him. Nothing that we have described seems to have made a dent. It is difficult to imagine why that will remain so if Trump doesn't turn away from his New York City financial crowd deciding policy, his picking fights that could lead to war, his spending so much of their tax dollars taking Air Force One and his entourage to Mar-a-Lago every weekend — $3.6 million each such weekend by one estimate. And now Congress has allocated $120 million of taxpayer money to to protect the peregrinations of the wealthy Trump family.

Meanwhile, the ground has shifted underneath him. A late April NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that by a 2-to-1 margin 60% of Americans think positively of immigration, oppose the Mexico wall, and favor a path to legal status rather than deportation, the highest level of support since 12 years ago. Almost the same percentage support free trade. And more now favor Obamacare than oppose it.

Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham says that, judging from those who call in to her show, none of Trump's drift away from his pledges of anti-globalism, a smaller military footprint in the world, a less combative stance against disadvantageous trade — among his followers none of this slippage seems to be changing their minds. For Democrats wondering what to do next, the acceptance by his followers of Trump's deviations from what he promised, assuming they are aware of them at all, is just baffling.

Acceptance was evident at his 100th day rally where his supporters were as avid as ever as he tore into the media (after a week of granting interviews to that same media) — the "failing New York Times", "dishonest CNN", etc. The media has refused to give him credit and “deserves a very, very big fat failing grade.” Their fake news doesn't realize that, “We are keeping one promise after another and, frankly, the people are really happy about it.”

Trump launched into his usual themes of "lawless immigrants, unfair trade deals and a corrupt Washington establishment". The scene could have been last July. He was again bragging about the size of the crowd, that “we have a lot of people standing outside”, that he “broke the all-time record for this arena”. Like the gaps along the Washington Mall at his inauguration, the rows of empty seats said otherwise. Maybe that was a silent indicator of people drifting away.

2 Comments for “Have Trump’s Reversals Begun to Alienate His Base?”

  1. The world is full of conflicts right now. Although they all have local flavor, they seem to pit those who favor change against those who oppose it. Change is coming faster and in more unexpected ways than ever before, and so those for whom it is a problem have had to rise up. Nobody’s in charge of change, so there is little they can do about it. But the no-to-change folks are frustrated and they take it out any way they can. That’s going on all over the world. Can’t blame ’em, but it is a losing cause. Like it or not, change is with us, and increasing. It’s hard to stop the tide.

  2. Have Trump’s Reversals Begun to Alienate His Base?

    Speaking for myself, not a chance.

    Why? Look at Harvard’s
    News Coverage of Donald Trump’s First 100 Days
    May 18, 2017, 9:00 am
    By Thomas E. Patterson

    An excerpt:
    https://shorensteincenter.org/news-coverage-donald-trumps-first-100-days/
    ‘Trump’s coverage during his first 100 days set a new standard for negativity. Of news reports with a clear tone, negative reports outpaced positive ones by 80 percent to 20 percent. Trump’s coverage was unsparing. In no week did the coverage drop below 70 percent negative and it reached 90 percent negative at its peak (see Figure 5). The best period for Trump was week 12 of his presidency, when he ordered a cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase in retaliation for the Assad regime’s use of nerve gas on civilians. That week, his coverage divided 70 percent negative to 30 percent positive. Trump’s worst periods were weeks 3 and 4 (a combined 87 percent negative) when federal judges struck down his first executive order banning Muslim immigrants, and weeks 9 and 10 (a combined 88 percent negative) when the House of Representatives was struggling without success to muster the votes to pass a “repeal and replace” health care bill.’

    What I take from this is that the Media is actually nothing more than a propaganda machine. The Media could save a lot of time for their audience if they simply started all their reports of with, “The running dogs of Capitalism…” At least the old Communist leaflets warned you that their articles were not worth anyone’s time.

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