May 16, 2017

What leverage does Trump hold in DC? We are his only hope

Having set up the importance of focusing on interest groups rather than individual personalities when analyzing the balance of forces that will shape political outcomes, let's turn to the most important individual -- President Trump. What group is he a representative of, what are its goals, and what kind of leverage do they have to wield to advance those goals?

Quite simply, he belongs to none of the interest groups. He is a total outsider beholden to none of the special interests. He doesn't represent Wall Street, the Pentagon, big oil, big pharma, the education system, the media, the Democrat Establishment, or the GOP Establishment. Instead he represents "the people," meaning average American citizens who have no organized lobby or set of institutions that advance their interests using whatever leverage they've got. A voice for the voiceless -- or as Trump put it, "The forgotten man and woman will be forgotten no longer".

What leverage did the people have to send their representative into government? It was not massive sums of donor money, connections with power players, paid operatives in the media, favors owed that were called in, blackmail material, or any of the other tools of the trade in Washington. They could only signal their allegiance to the Trump agenda -- following him on social media, tuning into his debates, attending his rallies, displaying his signs and hats and bumper stickers, choosing him when pollsters called, and ultimately casting a ballot for him on Election Day. Thankfully, it's only the ballot box results that matter as far as who ends up in the White House.

But now election season is long over, and the task is no longer getting Trump elected despite not representing any interest group. It is to actually implement the agenda for which the people flocked to him during election season. Build the wall, deport the illegals, kill the TPP and gut NAFTA, re-industrialize the economy, re-orient foreign policy away from the dead Cold War and toward fighting radical Islamic terrorism, use the military more for defense of the homeland than offense in the Middle Eastern sand pit, and drain the swamp.

So, is Trump going to give orders and the swamp will carry them out, just because he won an election? Get realistic: they will do everything they can to obstruct or reverse those orders. Just about everyone in the government other than Trump is representing one of those powerful interest groups, and the Trump agenda cuts directly against most of those group's goals.

So like hell they're going to just do what he says -- otherwise, he will... do what, exactly? Getting burned on Twitter is not going to end their careers.

It is time to acknowledge that Trump is no longer in his element like he was in the real estate industry, or the media world, where he had plenty of capital, built up over the decades, to bring to bear in negotiations and battles. He has no history of connections within the government that he can draw on -- at least, these connections are weaker than they are for the interests groups connected to the same people.

For example, Trump is connected to Rudy Giuliani, but if he tapped him to run Homeland Security in order to make serious efforts to protect the homeland against radical Islamic terrorism, he's going to find out that the GOP Establishment is connected to Giuliani also, and so are other major interest groups, given the size of Giuliani's role when he was in office. Trump's connection to Giuliani is as a real estate developer and media star in New York, where Giuliani was the Mayor, as well as being native New Yorkers. That's not enough to outweigh all the pressure that would come down on Giuliani from the established interest groups -- especially if Giuliani were to actually go about implementing the Trump agenda, rather than serve as a figurehead but otherwise do the GOP Establishment's bidding.

Who in the government, within any branch, owes Trump favors? Nobody, because he just got started in politics.

Who is he on the same team with? Certainly not the Republicans, whose party he destroyed during the primaries -- their candidates, their party leadership, their donors, their think tank policy crafters, their media outlets, and their history of results over the past generation.

That's not to deny that there are a handful of like-minded politicians who are willing to throw in with Trump, but so far it seems like it amounts to only one exception -- Jeff Sessions. Mike Flynn fit this profile as well, but we see what the Pentagon / Deep State was able to do to his role in the new government. The other members of the small Trumpian circle are also outsiders with not much political capital to bring to bear -- Steve Bannon (who at least has conservative media capital), Steven Miller (whose capital reduces to that of his former boss, Jeff Sessions), and maybe the odd Representative among 435 and who has no powerful committee appointments.

Having a say in the crucial policy battles within the federal government, let alone international relations, is a very high-stakes game that requires an ante that only the truly high rollers can afford. Lacking the degree of DC capital stored up by the likes of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, or General Mattis, Trump is unable to even enter into the big negotiations as a truly independent player representing the people.

And the outcomes so far confirm how outgunned Trump is in the great big DC battles. That is not his fault -- he wants to pursue the agenda he was elected on, but what leverage does he have to advance it, against the maneuvers of the interest groups who want the exact opposite?

The least important topics for Trump were revamping healthcare and re-writing the entire tax code. He did say "repeal and replace Obamacare" without saying anything specific, except for negotiating the price of prescription drugs, since the government is the largest single payer for those drugs (Medicare Part D) and ought to be enjoying a yuge bulk discount. He threw out a tax proposal that he talked about for a week, but never dwelled on, other than a general commitment to a middle income tax cut.

Re-shaping the entire healthcare system and surveying the entire tax code for revision -- those are clearly the GOP Establishment's primary agenda items, meant to benefit their interest groups, and are so complicated that they will surely bog down the Congress for the better part of its two-year term. And we saw what a hosing the Trump movement took in the recent spending bill -- I would not expect a whole lot better in the fall either, unless we luck into a windfall of political capital in the coming months.

If Trump had enough political leverage to get the GOP-controlled Congress to pursue his agenda, they would be spending those two years focusing on immigration / citizenship (no birthright), trade / industrialization, a latter-day Glass-Steagall Act to cut Wall Street down to size, shifting military alliances, humbling the over-reaching judiciary branch, term limits for Congressmen, and so on and so forth.

Within the executive branch, the Pentagon and Deep State have blocked his planned re-orientation of foreign policy and military affairs, have slow-walked or sabotaged building the wall (DHS solicited non-wall bids in addition to wall bids), and have not exercised Executive privilege to enforce the laws regarding foreigners coming in from terrorist-prone nations (even if it was the judiciary branch that was the main saboteur on the Muslim travel ban, DHS or DoD could send teams of armed men to enforce the ban).

So far, the only item that they are conceding to him is trade, probably because he can threaten them about losing the Rust Belt states if he doesn't have any progress to show on that issue by the next election. The GOP Establishment isn't entirely suicidal, and know that if they want to keep the White House, they need to keep those Rust Belt voters who took a chance on Trump and will immediately revert to blue states if it's business as usual on trade, manufacturing, and industry.

That is one key piece of leverage that he does have -- ability to deliver Rust Belt voters to put a Republican in the White House -- and wherever that leverage can be utilized, we can expect good work to get done, despite the interest groups being against it. Over time, this will create a new powerful interest group -- manufacturers, who haven't been a factor in government since the 1950s and '60s -- whom Trump and his successors will represent. But for now, he's getting progress done on trade and the economy without any interest group backing him, and only using his Rust Belt voters as leverage.

We were hoping that we would just elect Trump, and he would go about savaging the DC Establishment on our behalf like he was doing to them during the election season. But he has little leverage to take any of the big issues on, let alone all the ones that he promised progress on during the campaign. What leverage he does have is the support of the people. Going forward, if the Trump movement wants to accomplish anything, it is going to have to organize the Trump supporters out here in ordinary America, and send them off to battle.

First, by screening and then electing candidates for Congress who are for the Trump agenda, and not just the same old interest group puppets.

Then, by putting pressure on the other politicians. Making phone calls, spreading links over social media, holding rallies, surrounding the state capitol building, marching on the Pentagon, and the like.

The government actually is potentially responsive to the people in a democracy, if the people act like an interest group -- organizing collectively, identifying key items to be pursued, and then using their distinct leverage or political capital to advance those goals against their rival interest groups.

But the first step toward the American people taking control over the government is to acknowledge that the President is not omnipotent simply because he won an election. If he doesn't have much leverage at the bargaining table, it doesn't matter how skilled of a negotiator he is, how sharp his instincts are, how knowledgeable he is, or how selfless his motives are. In order for America to regenerate, the Establishment writ large must be cut off at the knees, and one man cannot do that by himself, especially when he arrives in Washington with a brittle-bladed sword and no armor but his own thick skin.

He must be willing to rally the troops, call in the cavalry, and march his army toward the battle lines if he wants to win. It is not enough for his supporters to catapault him over the castle walls -- he must now open the gates and lower the drawbridge from inside, and call on his men to storm the palace!

20 comments:

  1. "The GOP Establishment isn't entirely suicidal, and know that if they want to keep the White House, they need to keep those Rust Belt voters who took a chance on Trump and will immediately revert to blue states if it's business as usual on trade, manufacturing, and industry."

    They are that stupid. These are the same geniuses that are still pushing forward with the AHCA. They don't get it. They still want the same agenda of entitlement cuts, neoconservative foreign policy and lax immigration. They learned nothing the last decade. The donors don't pay them to think.

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  2. Although I suppose I should qualify this a bit... It's a bit different for some officeholders. Like Governors, particularly in states that have received money for Medicaid expansion. Even someone out of touch like Kasich at least knows that what the Republicans are talking about now would be politically toxic at this point. Congress is considerably worse than state level offices or the Senate.

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  3. "He must be willing to rally the troops, call in the cavalry, and march his army toward the battle lines if he wants to win. It is not enough for his supporters to catapault him over the castle walls -- he must now open the gates and lower the drawbridge from inside, and call on his men to storm the palace!"

    Yes! Forget trying for gentility and embrace the rough, working class thinkers: Roger Stone, Pat Buchanan, et al. Embrace "the Savages"...one of the most enduring things I've heard, from a Jones-Stone-Cernovich podcast was President Trump asking where "the Savages" had gone. Apparently, that is his nickname for his Twitter army. So adorable and now we know he cares. I was like, "Daddy!!!!"

    Before I reached your conclusion, I kept thinking of Ron Unz saying Capital reached an agreement amongst themselves to reign in their greed after the Wall Street bombings and other populist-anarchist violence. That's always the big worry.
    You see all these comfortable bastards sneering at the Populist President, sneering at the working men and women who put him there. It worries me how delusional they are, as if...it require bombs to dislodge them? That history is bent on repeating itself?

    Personally, I can't get past that my pro-life-litmus voting, full 10% church tithing, brother has to live with his in-laws because he was pushed out of a career by the Big Biz H1b-immigrant visa racket. And, yes, they were forced to train their replacements.

    He still refuses to vote for Unions, though he knows they'd benefit his family greatly, because they give money to pro-abortion candidates.

    I just want to ask the TrueCons, Reagan Battalion, Bill Kristol, David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and all the "Saints": what is your prescription for my brother? Also, never smoked, drank, no tattoos, only 1 girlfriend, waited-til-his-wedding night... He thinks you're all on the same team, he's done everything right, he's wholly principled, but you have NO WORD for the men and women like him?

    My brother's principles have cost him dearly and most of that is because of the "principled" True Conservatives whom he barely believes in anymore. Though even now he still has a little hope.

    I am filled with a special rage because I know few of them could go up against my brother, morally, but they go on and on about their virtue while pushing an agenda that punishes Good.

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    Replies
    1. Tell him to stop being Mormon. That's what I did.

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  4. Well the Senate just overwhelmingly confirmed the most anti-laissez-faire Trade Rep we've seen in generations, Lighthizer. They know what he's going to do to these reverse mercantilist trade deals, and how any new ones will look that come down the pike.

    Buy American / Hire American has won out over muh free markets.

    Obviously the GOP could take control of the Senate on the markets uber alles platform, but that is no longer tenable after Trump (and Bernie) have shifted the Overton Window on trade. Plus they are all accountable to party elites, donors, etc., who do want to keep control of the White House.

    So even if a GOP Senator would not personally benefit from accepting more protectionist policies, they're going to have to do so anyway unless they want to betray their team and lose the White House.

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  5. "We got some mofos to primary"

    We have to pick the weakest targets first, and not get distracted by revenge fantasies against McCain, Ryan, and the other traitors. What it would take to dislodge McCain, we could use to dislodge four or five other weak freshman Senators.

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    1. Agreed. Sherrod Brown (D) in OH up for reelection 2018, either we make sure he wins or make sure his opponent is Trump friendly vs Kasich friendly. That's an easy one in a swing state to cultivate for later. Let Portman be for now... But if we hear Kasich himself trying to grab that Senate seat, we keep him bullycided.

      Graham might be Cantor-able when the time comes.

      Then there's the whole No name list of Never Trumpers, house members with mostly insignificant roles. Juicy for the taking in many alreadyRed districts no less

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    2. Wikipedia has a list of Never Trumpers. We take out the no namers with <6-8 years first. Then we encourage John McCain to take enough ibuprofen to wreck his heart and kidneys and bleed out the rest from his ass

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  6. Commit to memory and study Ag's previous post: we conservatives are prone to personalizing and we must commit to studying and pragmatic real-world rationality at this stage.

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  7. He also needs to start firing people. Lots of people.

    That's not a flippant comment. There are only so many people who can be shuffled around to other trough-feeding sinecures in the swamp. Eventually it'll start hurting them where it counts.

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  8. He may need to fire lots of people, but it's not The Apprentice, the White House is not the Trump Org, and he cannot fire whoever he wants and replace with whoever he wants.

    He could do that on his campaign since he was paying for everything himself, not donors.

    Now he's up against all these powerful interest groups, and what is he supposed to do to keep them all from making offers he can't refuse about personnel? They might allow him to replace Pentagon puppet A with Pentagon puppet B, but not with Mike Flynn or someone else who goes against the Pentagon consensus.

    The most important positions have to be confirmed by the Senate, and that means they have to get past the GOPe. Other positions need security clearances, and McCain (as a rep of the Deep State, Pentagon, and GOPe) has been denying security clearances for Trumpist nominees (Jack Posobiec, Chuck Johnson).

    He should purge as much as possible, but that won't get very far when he has little leverage with Washington swamp creatures, other than his Rust Belt voting bloc.

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  9. American and international hackers and cyber group, too.
    Oversight or on purpose? Part of "the people" I guess.

    This is a faction the media never discusses and until they can conceptualize them, it will remain diffuse and unknown.
    *I think this is a great thing*

    At any rate, I get the feeling that's where much progress has been, and continues to be, made for our side.
    The conservatives need to get over their distaste and realize these guys are on our side.

    Cupcakes

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  10. A.B. Prosper5/17/17, 3:27 PM

    I'm not convinced primaries are the solution any more but given the alternative is war, it is as Churchill said, To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.

    As for the health care issue, oddly I can't blame the GOP for reticence on the issue. A lot of people in the US have at best substandard healthcare and Right Wing bleats to use the tubercular illegal alien filled emergency room are going to fall on deaf ears since they are usually from the "I'm such an individualist I don't care about society crowd" or people with posh PPO's

    The GOP is used to reliable voters who don't expect results accept on the gun issue but things have changed and the politicos are in the unfamiliar position of having to make choices and live with them

    Also our political class is having some trouble figuring out who is genuinely angry with them over health care, who is AstroTurf and who is a maybe could vote GOP but probably won't

    Frankly if they are smart, they'll rally behind the President , come up with a good health care plan and deal but they aren't smart

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  11. "The most important positions have to be confirmed by the Senate, and that means they have to get past the GOPe. Other positions need security clearances, and McCain (as a rep of the Deep State, Pentagon, and GOPe) has been denying security clearances for Trumpist nominees (Jack Posobiec, Chuck Johnson)."

    Yup, it's an endless self-reinforcing loop. Like-minded ideologues retire/die/get indicted and we get more and often younger ideologues to replace the worn-out ones. When rich/powerful legacy interests offer big rewards for playing by the current system's rules, there's no incentive to break those rules unless we get a spike in....wait for it....Noblesse oblige. Or insurrection among those who've been treated like doormats for decades.

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  12. For Trump to rally his core supporters he needed to start building the wall. It is unfortunate that Trump failed in this regard. Could have used DACA as a leveraging tool, fund the wall or reverse the Obama executive order which granted amnesty to millions of illegal aliens. Trump was losing the support of Anne Coulter because of these issues. He needs to listen to her and rally his troops. Unfortunate that he gave a stupid interview with Lester. Why ? He should know the fake news networks are out to destroy him. No reason for granting an interview until the Wall is under construction.

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  13. General Kelly is blocking Trump's immigration agenda, that's what he was sent by the globalist open-borders Pentagon to do. So that problem also reduces to getting more support from the rank-and-file in order to out-maneuver the military brass.

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  14. Thoughts?
    Interesting way to look at Impeachment Fever, now starting to slow it seems, from Daniel McCarthy:

    "The brutal truth is that an impeachment is already underway—not of the president, but of Washington’s entire political elite."

    I also liked how Jack Posobiec referred to the current contretemps as a "media bubble". My thoughts exactly.

    Recall that DC is something like 94-96% Democrat (I discovered this ongoing shift continued even as Blacks began leaving in the aughts!). The Republicans are more TrueCon types... I guess we're in for a rough ride as groupthink continues making them even more delusional and abusive toward their fellow citizens and Trump.

    http://nationalinterest.org/feature/trumps-scandals-theres-still-no-there-there-20706?page=2

    Grist for McCarthy's idea: DC lib media Twitter, when they're not policing or plotting, are moaning about being underpaid, firings, or the better jobs going to conservatives, mostly NeverTrump types.
    Or just a reflection of culture downstream from politics and must shift to the Right?

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  15. By the way, Mike Cernovich is doing phenomenal work getting across how eww! journalists are. Love him! We women are so conformist, but present us with an accurate picture of the yuckiness of the gatekeepers... shudder!
    Adding "slovenly" to the mix will shake things up: dirty fingernails, oily hair, wrinkled ill-fitting clothing, you get the idea.
    These guys have so little neuroticism. Most people, especially women, have some. It's what keeps us from being dirty, smelly bums.

    Oh, and when people hit back with nasty, disgusting pictures involving feces, those are the people whose neuroticism is in the basement or they're gay. They're the unwitting accomplices ;)

    Cupcakes

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  16. Right, I'm not disputing your broader insight and the top appointments don't need the positions so terming them to have another iteration of the same step in to replace makes Trump look ineffective, but cogs further down need their jobs. They're vulnerable. Trump has a legendary eye for detail. He needs to monitor what these people a step or two down the chain are doing and be unafraid of firing them, lots of them.

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