Why you should care
It’s becoming tougher to navigate American politics as the unprecedented becomes the new normal.
President Donald Trump is off to a rocky start, even if his base is excited. Yes, the stock market is up in record territory, but so are Trump’s poll numbers — in record low territory, that is. The latest Pew poll has his approval rating down to 39 percent (versus 64 percent for Barack Obama following his first month, and 53 percent for George W. Bush).
Still, we’ve all learned not to count this president out, haven’t we? I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks in and out of Washington, D.C. — as well as on the road along with our States of the Nation team, who are reporting from all 50 states this year. Here are seven surprising developments that could await us farther down the already tumultuous road of American politics in 2017:
Given all of the early missteps from the White House, it seems likely that Trump is going to reset his leadership team at some point soon, just as he did during the election, ousting both Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort from his campaign team. And the pressure is on to bring in a David Gergen or James Baker-like figure to help make the trains run on time. While Trump clearly likes generals and business leaders, and has placed a high value on loyalty going back to the campaign, I think he could do the unexpected and bring back a former nemesis — Willard Mitt Romney.
Didn’t he dangle a plum job in front of Romney and then snatch it away, you say? Maybe. But for Trump, getting this right may mean going against the grain — and even angering supporters who protested when he considered Romney for secretary of state. Would Romney agree to be chief of staff? Maybe not. But perhaps a title like counselor to the president, along with a historic chance to help right a Republican White House, could entice him into the West Wing.
In Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, the Roman leader points out an ambitious young challenger with a famous phrase: “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.” Fast-forward a couple thousand years and Trump could say the same. The 45th commander in chief has received tremendous support from his party thus far, but there are several young ambitious politicos who never dreamed that a 70-year-old political outsider would occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Can these young Cassiuses bury their ambition for four, or maybe eight, years and let Trump play out his hand? Perhaps.
But that restlessness, that “lean and hungry look,” whether in sports, business or politics, is always interesting to watch. Who are we talking about? Not just Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, or Tom Cotton and Paul Ryan, but less well-known folks like Missouri’s new hot-shot young governor Eric Greitens, Florida’s ambitious governor Rick Scott, even Georgia’s little-known senator David Perdue. There’s lots of talent waiting in the wings, and a lot of potentially dangerous thinkers, too. And if anything changes, well … stay tuned.
The most interesting thing that I’ve heard recently was from one of Trump’s fellow billionaires who said that he was lobbying hard for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to run in 2020 — or even just threaten to run. If Trump thought he might face a serious Bloomberg challenge, reasoned the billionaire, “he would behave himself.” Would the threat of a credible and well-funded challenger affect the way Trump governs? Could such threats be part of the Democratic playbook?
Unlike in a parliamentary system, there is no formal leader of the opposition, and the Democrats could benefit from having even a nominal challenger and head of party out there criticizing — and baiting — the president every day. Would Trump better behave himself with a more corporeal opponent than just the mainstream media, or could it help the Democrats throw him off his game, and into campaign mode, even further? I’d love to see them try it.
It was interesting to see the unexpected endorsement last week of Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison’s Democratic National Committee bid by former rival Ray Buckley, a DNC vice chair. The race has been weirdly quiet the past few weeks after getting off to a hot and crowded start. Now in the final stretch, does Ellison or former Labor Secretary Tom Perez have the upper hand? And at what point will Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the true party heavyweight at this point, weigh in even more aggressively to try to tilt the race toward Ellison? Or will Hillary Clinton or, better yet, Bill try to come back in the final stretch and help Perez across the line? What about an influential endorsement from a non-politico like Lin-Manuel Miranda or David Geffen? Pay attention. This could be fun.
The head of the McKinsey Global Institute reminded me last week that formulas matter. As we talked about the unemployment rate and Trump’s challenge to the use of that figure, he told me that the vaunted consulting firm had also looked at a more comprehensive accounting of how many working-age adults are unemployed, no longer looking for work or underemployed. The figure? Not 5 percent, but an astounding 32 percent. If that number holds up, one of Trump’s first victories will be redefining how we measure that critical element of the economy. Let the debate on proper job counting begin.
While he may run into a lot of political headwind in his first year (much of it his own making), if President Trump can pull off a corporate tax deal that dramatically lowers tax rates on big companies like Apple in exchange for them bringing their overseas profits back home to the U.S., then skeptical independent voters could flock back. Why? Because Trump and the GOP could end up using nearly $250 billion in tax funds from the $1 trillion in repatriated profits to pay for a repackaged version of Obamacare (but take all the credit) and a major job-creating infrastructure program. Boom! Two major pins with one ball. Will he get it done? Keep your eyes on Apple and Alphabet (parent company of Google); if they throw their hats into the ring, then everyone is in.
In the name of creatively taking credit for things that Obama did, here is a genius idea: As the GOP looks to replace Obamacare, they are apparently thinking about reshaping and rebranding the individual mandate as “automatic enrollment” (how much better does that sound?). With individual mandates, people are required to buy insurance or face penalties.
Under automatic enrollment, states can sign them up to bare-bones plans without asking permission. Then they can opt out if they so choose, but proponents are betting that inertia will keep more people in the program than the number who actively signed up for Obamacare under the threat of fines. It’s a similar idea with a way better name. If the GOP pulls it off this summer, it could be the best political rebranding since Reagan budget director David Stockman renamed tax increases “revenue enhancements.” Billions of dollars and a 49-state reelection victory later, Stockman and the Gipper had the last laugh.
Image sources: 1) Shutterstock 2) Jennifer Graylock/Getty 3) Oli Scarff/Getty 4) Alex Wong/Getty 5) Shutterstock 6) Frank Collyer/Getty 7) Shutterstock