Jennifer Rubin: Trump should dump adviser's populism to be successful

By Jennifer Rubin comment

US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington. Photo / AP
US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington. Photo / AP

COMMENT

Eighty days into President Donald Trump's term, he arguably has only two successes - getting confirmed a Supreme Court judge pre-vetted by conservative lawyers and returning to mainstream Republican foreign policy, even if temporarily, in launching strikes on Syria.

The unpredictable President sent to shake up Washington succeeds when he at his most conventional.

Right-wing nationalists are already squawking about the President's Syria action, which alt-right champion Stephen Bannon reportedly opposed. (Opposing one of your President's only achievements is not a smart career move.)

And it is distinctly possible this was a one-time, reflexive action as impulsive as a tweet. There is no indication, let alone guarantee, that Trump sees the benefit of an integrated approach to Syria in which more robust action inflicts real damage on Bashar al-Assad's regime and thereby pushes him to a negotiated end to the bloody war.

Eliot Cohen writes in the Atlantic this is in the category of a "pinprick": "[T]his was a one-time punch at a single target. A truly punishing attack would involve multiple targets, and perhaps repeated blows. An effective, destructive attack - that is, one that would worry the Assad regime - would have killed skilled personnel, military and political leaders, and elite fighters.

"This strike was, instead, appropriate in the narrowest and weakest sense: It went after the base (apparently) from which the nerve-agent-carrying planes that attacked Khan Sheikhoun flew. Blowing up some installations is not, in fact, 'proportionate' to the massacre of children. A warning this was; the avenging sword of justice this was not.

"Conceivably, the Syrian Government may calculate that worse will follow from a repeat offence. Just as conceivably, they and their Russian and Iranian allies may conclude that this president, like some of his predecessors, mistakes the theatre of war for the real thing. They do not."

But however tentative, the Syria strike drew bipartisan and international praise. With a strong, internationalist approach grounded in US values - not a mean-spirited, peevish "America First" stance - Trump can make America's national security policy great again.

On the domestic side, right-wing industrialists may like deregulation. Wealthy supporters may thrill to the idea of repealing the Obamacare tax on richest Americans. But neither of these do anything for the working man, and indeed Trumpcare was a dagger aimed at the heart of rural, older Trump voters.

This is what Bannon's "dismantling of the administrative state looks like" - right-wing policy on steroids.

Bannon's "philosophy" is a crock - a government for the little guy cannot be dismantled so long as the little guy needs help.

Bannon's actual formula is extreme, Darwinian, libertarian economics coupled with xenophobic initiatives (the Muslim ban, getting Mexico to build the wall). These are as unworkable as they are unpopular. (A substantial majority of Americans favour a path to citizenship and oppose the ban.)

Following Bannon's logic gets you a budget like the one Trump put forward - politically unacceptable and withdrawing services working- and middle-class Americans need (from National Parks to medical research to enforcement of worker safety rules).

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Photo / AP
White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Photo / AP

Bannon's populism isn't populism at all, and it is not popular.

Trump's agenda is in tatters and his polls numbers are in the toilet thanks to Bannon's "genius". (Perhaps Trump won despite his cockeyed agenda, not because of it?) Trump would do well to listen to what voters are saying.

In the most recent Gallup poll, for example, voters are in favour of true populist measures: "Americans are far more likely to agree than disagree with President Donald Trump's proposals to require companies to provide family leave for parents of a newborn [81 per cent approve] and to spend US$1 trillion on infrastructure [76 per cent approve]. A majority also agree with his proposal to significantly cut income taxes for the middle class [61 per cent] and to provide federal funding for school-choice programmes [59 per cent].

"At the same time, Americans disagree more than agree with Trump's proposals to build a wall between the US and Mexico [36/56 per cent], to cut federal regulations [27/46 per cent], to freeze federal civilian hiring [33/46 per cent] and to eliminate funding for international organisations that provide abortions [35/53 per cent]."

In other words, voters overwhelmingly oppose everything Trump has been doing under Bannon's tutelage.

Forget America First, tax cuts for the rich, slashing government, anti-immigrant schemes and dismantling more regulations.

Spend money on popular items (schools, infrastructure) and return the United States to a position of world leadership.

Fix Obamacare to make it more affordable for working class Americans. Aside from Justice Neil Gorsuch, notice, by the way, how much this looks like Hillary Clinton's or John Kasich's agenda.

This sure lends credence to the conclusion Trump won because voters didn't like Clinton personally.

So, if Trump governs as a centrist, internationalist then success likely will follow - as will stronger poll numbers.

- Washington Post

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